One afternoon last May, Lucia Tran was outside her Los Angeles home with her dog, Harley, when she spotted Oscar, a kind and soft-spoken man who lives two doors down with his son. They live in a tightknit community, she said, where the neighbors all know each other and often share meals. During the pandemic, they all spent a lot more nights outside together, offering comfort and company as their dogs ran about.

Oscar was returning from a bike ride when Tran approached him and asked how he and his family were holding up.

Rather calmly, Oscar told her that his hours had been cut at work and he couldn’t apply for benefits because he is an undocumented immigrant.

Tran was stunned. “It wasn’t until that moment that I learned so much about him,” she said. She decided to share Oscar’s story on Instagram, asking her followers to donate a dollar or two if they could. The note ended with a final plea: “Please, please, please check on your neighbors. You never know what someone’s situation is truly like.” Within 24 hours, Tran said, she had raised around $1,600 for Oscar — money that she said was used to buy groceries and help his family.

“That’s the power of storytelling” and social media, said Tran, a 28-year-old Vietnamese American filmmaker, “to shine light on stories that are so often ignored, even if it’s in front of our faces. It took a pandemic to stand out on the curb to learn something like this, when it’s been two doors down from me this entire time.”

Amid a rise in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic, storytelling has mattered more than ever to Tran. In March, she began filming a short documentary, “In The Visible,” with her friend and director Natasha Lee. They were in the middle of filming in March when eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in shootings at three Atlanta-area spas. The shootings ignited a national reckoning over anti-Asian hate — and a conversation among the Asian American community.

“The stereotype for Asian Americans is that we just don’t talk about how sad we are, how hurt we are,” Tran said. Her goal for the short film, which featured prominent Asian American Pacific Islander voices including comedian Sherry Cola and designer Joy Cho, was to embolden the AAPI community to speak out.

“We cannot stay silent,” Tran said. “We’re taking back this narrative.”

Lindsay Watson, a 26-year-old Hawaiian actress, was interviewed for the film shortly after the Atlanta shootings. For her, the violence was a turning point: “Under the anger was a lot of sadness, and I didn’t realize that was sitting there. And I wasn’t acknowledging that part of it. It broke that day.”

Watson, who made her feature film debut in Netflix’s “Finding ‘Ohana” earlier this year, said the pandemic has also helped remind her of the stories that matter. Her goal, she said, is to tell more stories about different cultures. “I think more and more writers and directors are getting interested in telling those stories,” Watson said. “But also, if they’re not going to do it, then I’ll do it myself.”

Other Asian American female creators say they are doing the same. Take 21-year-old Calista Ogburn, a Korean and Vietnamese poet and student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. Last July, she released a poetry book, titled “this is it,” as a way to process her experiences with anti-Asian racism, both before and during the pandemic. “When I put this book out, I was reaching out for a hand saying, ‘Please listen,’” she said.

Hanifa Abdul Hameed, a 26-year-old Indian American illustrator, began creating digital art during the pandemic as a way to work through her own feelings and experiences as an Asian American. From the violence against the AAPI community to the covid-19 crisis plaguing India, “it’s overwhelming for the Asian community in general,” she said.

Through her art, Hameed quickly grew her Instagram following this past year with posts that explored themes around equality, feminism and race.

“When I was putting up work at first, I was scared that I would be the only person thinking this. That no one else would agree with me,” Hameed said. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive: “And it’s great, it feels like I’m not alone.”

Here’s more of what Hameed, Ogburn, Watson and Tran told us about crafting important narratives about the AAPI experience during a time of isolation and racial tension.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

(Munsif Husami; Washington Post illustration)
(Munsif Husami; Washington Post illustration)

How has the pandemic and rise in anti-Asian hate crimes had an impact on you as storyteller and the work you want to create?

I only started illustrating during the pandemic because I had spare time, because I wasn’t commuting for work and going outside. It started off with doodles that didn’t have much meaning, but slowly I started having my work tell a personal story. I spoke about my experience as an Asian American and touched on topics like feminism, race, colorism. As an Asian American, I felt that it was important to speak out against the hate crimes.

What struggles did you face early in your career? Are there any that you continue to face now?

I struggled with confidence and putting my work out there. Putting yourself out there, especially on social media, is hard. You have to have thick skin and be ready for people to put you down. I continue to face this to this day. There will always be someone out there who will find some fault in the work.

What’s your advice for other AAPI storytellers who might be struggling with creating or feeling heard right now?

My advice would be to not be afraid to put yourself out there. There will always be naysayers no matter what; the best way to succeed is to tune them out and continue to grow.

What’s the work or project you are most proud of?

I’m most proud of the “Vote for Aunty” artwork I created for Phenomenal along with Nik Dodani and Vinny Chhibber. I had no idea that it was going to be as big as it got, and it makes me happy that it resonated with so many people.

(Robert Ogburn; Washington Post illustration)
(Robert Ogburn; Washington Post illustration)

How has the pandemic and rise in anti-Asian hate crimes had an impact on you as storyteller and the work you want to create?

Before March of 2020, I was going through a six-month writer’s block. With the former president in office and consistent rise of hate crimes targeted [against] Asian Americans, the pandemic sparked my inspiration for my next poetry book, “this is it.” It was certainly difficult and challenging to navigate my emotions while writing the poetry book, but it ultimately led me to find a sense of purpose during the covid-19 pandemic, especially with everything feeling so hopeless.

What struggles did you face early in your career? Are there any that you continue to face now?

I struggled with writing a lot of poems. Since I knew I wanted to publish “this is it” on Amazon by the summer of 2020, I only had a few months to plan, design and publish the book. Remembering previous racist encounters and translating the circumstance and emotions into poetry was hard. I would keep asking myself: How can I find the right words to describe what I feel? Are there any right words? Ultimately, I stopped asking myself questions and I just wrote whatever came to mind. I learned that letting go of those inner questions and thoughts released the tension I felt.

Now, the main struggle I face is wondering, what next? Do I write another poetry book about anti-Asian racism in the United States? I still seem to be asking questions, so maybe I need to let go and write.

What’s your advice for other AAPI storytellers who might be struggling with creating or feeling heard right now?

Inspiration can be found in the little crevices in places we often overlook. Despite what anyone tells you — keep going.

What’s the work or project you are most proud of?

I am most proud of “this is it”! It is everything I needed it to be and more.

(Conrad Torres; Washington Post illustration)
(Conrad Torres; Washington Post illustration)

How has the pandemic and rise in anti-Asian hate crimes had an impact on you as storyteller and the work you want to create?

The pandemic really did that thing of opening our eyes to what’s really important in life. For me as an actor, we balance this hard life a lot of the time. We’re always trying to find the next job and working our butts off to get there. I have had auditions and roles come through that are not my background and who I am, and not stories I feel like I can align with. Since the pandemic, it’s amplified overall the stories I want to tell.

What struggles did you face early in your career? Are there any that you continue to face now?

My first few years in L.A. were pretty rough. I moved out here on my own. My ultimate goal was to find this happy medium out here where I could live and work, but also have that sense of home and honestly it took a while for me to find Hawaii people or people of the same mentality and background.

Going into my career, I was not getting the roles I wanted because of what I looked like. You never saw a role for a Hawaiian. I’m lucky enough because I am multiethnic, I can play a lot of different roles. So I was getting cast for Asian. It was always Asian girl or Indian or Hispanic.

What’s your advice for other AAPI storytellers who might be struggling with creating or feeling heard right now?

Stick to who you are, and make sure your agency is understanding of who you are. My big thing is to be vocal with them. A lot of people are afraid to talk openly with their team. I have had to have conversations with my own team about things about being Hawaiian. I can’t expect them to know. I’ve had other friends who are too afraid to speak out because of this idea that “I work for my agents, I work for my manager.” No, they do work for you. And that’s how you want your team to be.

What’s the work or project you are most proud of?

“Finding ‘Ohana” was my dream project. And we all say that about a lot of projects, but I really mean that. The day that ended up in my inbox, where I saw in big bold letters, “looking for real Hawaiians, real Pacific Islanders,” it stood out compared to other casting calls. There was a lot of fear at first, because our movie was going to be one of the first movies on a big platform that’s going to tell the story of Hawaii and try to educate the world about the language and some of our cultural practices, and that’s a big weight to carry. I just wanted to make sure we did it right.

(Emily Young; Washington Post illustration)
(Emily Young; Washington Post illustration)

How has the pandemic and rise in anti-Asian hate crimes had an impact on you as storyteller and the work you want to create?

I am so deeply inspired by humanity and what humanity has to offer. I know it’s often hard to notice when there is so much hurt and so much pain, especially in a time like this. But it’s there, and when it’s not there, we must offer it if we have the privilege to do so. What I’ve witnessed in the past year has only elevated my desire to bring comfort to those without any.

What struggles did you face early in your career? Are there any that you continue to face now?

I still struggle with knowing my worth, and proving my worth to the world. When I was younger, I felt intimidated trying to “break” into the industry. I didn’t know it was possible. But I was a loud kid. I wanted to do things no one else wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories, I wanted to change the world. I still do. And every day, I have to get up and chip away at the many glass ceilings in place. As a woman and person of color, there’s more than just one glass ceiling.

What’s your advice for other AAPI storytellers who might be struggling with creating or feeling heard right now?

For me, storytelling is my way of processing and healing. As a first-generation Asian American, I inherit a lot of generational trauma. I think that’s the same for so many other first-gen kids. My parents come from war, and that fear and horror doesn’t really go away even when I never lived that experience.

If you’re an AAPI storyteller who’s struggling to share their story, know that someone’s listening even if they’re not saying anything.

What’s the work or project you are most proud of?

It’s silly, but when I was 16, I created a print publication called Zooey. I ran it for about five years from my senior year of high school to when I graduated from UCLA. It was distributed to 200-plus stores nationwide. I learned how to manage a team, produce film and stills, and craft stories. Because of Zooey, I learned the importance and the art of being a storyteller.

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