As a kid, I remember moments of feeling like a foreign exchange student in my own home.

I say that with a lot of love as I’m incredibly close to my family. But as the only one in my family born in the United States, I don’t think I realized until I was well into adulthood that the threshold of my home represented an invisible transition from the outside Western world and the Japanese home in which I was raised. Upon entering, you left your shoes neatly at the door and were immediately struck by the smell of Grandma’s kitchen and the sound of my mother teaching Suzuki violin to her young students in the back of the house.

When I walked in the door, we spoke Japanese and NHK (the PBS of Japan) was perpetually on the television. My family members are shy and the Japanese culture is inherently reserved. With no one big on chit chat…one had to get really comfortable in quietude.

The outside world was comparatively fast and loud. I spoke NorCal-inflected English peppered with “hella,” “rad” and “bad” (which of course meant good), participated in competitive sports and longed to fit in amongst my predominantly white friends. This led to a series of unfortunate decisions including a bad perm to counter my naturally stick straight hair combined with Sun-In hair lightener which, for the record, did not result in the bright blonde hair as advertised, but rather a muddled and chaotic orange that is flattering to exactly no one.

All of this was pretty confusing and horrifying to my family.

I think for the few other Asians and Asian Americans in my school, I could feel us all trying to figure out how best to be accepted by the majority white world around us. This was a time when there were no Asians on magazine covers and little if any representation on television or in film, at least which wasn’t centered in stereotype.

In the classroom, Asians were contextualized primarily as wartime opposition, and never as contributors to the fabric of this country. As such, my classmates and I longed not to be seen as the “other,” so I’m ashamed now to admit that we didn’t band together. Instead, I believe we may have distanced from one another in an attempt to somehow dilute our Asian-ness.

I remember there were other Japanese American families around but I didn’t feel overly connected. I later realized that much of this was rooted in their family heritage having lived in the United States for generations and having endured the dehumanization of the WWII internment camps. They had their homes and possessions irrevocably taken and, despite being born in this country, their loyalty was called into question. This was an undeniably devastating time for their families and their community.

My parents, who were living in Japan during WWII, had a radically different experience and trauma from this same conflict. We shared the same face, but completely different histories.

Since then, with decades of lived life, a deep appreciation for my culture, and the incredible benefit of being in a position where I get to swim in a universe of stories, it makes me realize the radical importance of Chimamanda Ngozi’s notion of “The Danger of a Single Story.”

As Asian Americans, we represent more than 20 distinct countries of origin and an even greater number of cultures and ethnicities. Our route of passage and reasons for coming to America are vast. No one story could or should express the experience of all Asian Americans.

At Netflix, we’ve long believed that more people should see their lives, and experiences, reflected on screen. We want to open the door to more stories by, for and about the AAPI community. Thanks to stars like Ali Wong, David Chang, Tan France and the cast of “Bling Empire,” we’re offering new glimpses into different communities through jokes, food, fashion, music and more.

With films like “Finding ‘Ohana,” we’re celebrating Hawaiian culture. With rom coms like “The Half of It” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” we’re ushering in a new generation of leading ladies. In animation like “Over the Moon,” we’re reimagining heroes.

What really motivates me is thinking about how we can create more opportunities for people to tell their stories and connect those stories with people all over the world. Across documentaries, stand-up, series, and films, we are putting different types of stories and storytellers out into the world, and we’re just getting started.

We’re excited to bring you new films and series from your favorite voices including Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, Mindy Kaling, Sydney Park, Nahnatchka Khan and Jesse Q. Sutanto, Jimmy O. Yang and Darren Barnet, Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, and Lana Condor.

As part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we want to celebrate these stories and creators that introduced new perspectives to our members around the world. That’s why we’re excited to launch our collection “Celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Stories.” We hope this will inspire more storytellers to define their stories on their terms.

We also want to continue building conversation and solidarity within the AAPI community, which is why we’re partnering with Act to Change to sponsor the third annual national AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate. Join us and Act to Change on May 18 to take a stand against xenophobia and racism.

Lisa Nishimura is vice president of documentary and independent films at Netflix. For more information on AAPI Heritage Month programming:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *