In May 2020, the Asian American Journalists Association San Francisco Bay Area chapter (AAJA-SF) launched Rising with the Tides, an inaugural storytelling project designed to support Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) storytellers and amplify stories of the local AAPI community. Made possible by the support of Comcast California, this project was a direct response to challenges our members had been facing: a global health crisis, an alarming rise in anti-Asian sentiments, increasing layoffs in the media industry and budget cuts for freelance journalists.
AAJA-SF put out a call for story pitches about the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the Bay Area that reflected the themes of “Resilience” and “Solidarity.” We especially welcomed stories that illuminated the urgency of dismantling racism in America and explored themes of solidarity between AAPI and Black communities. In August, we awarded $1,000 to 7 different journalistic projects that we wanted to see out in the world.
These are those stories.
By J.P. Dobrin, Stephanie Tangkilisan, and Cecilia Lei
An intimate portrait of Sok Khoeun Loeun, a formerly incarcerated refugee who faced deportation to Cambodia, despite being a U.S. citizen. After spending years trying to rebuild in a country his parents fled from decades ago, he discovers he was wrongly targeted for deportation by immigration authorities. He returns to the U.S. five years later, and is forced to re-contemplate the meaning of home and family, all while navigating the uncertainty of the future.
Co-director J.P. Dobrin is a multiracial documentary filmmaker and photographer based in Oakland, California. His visual work has been commissioned by the New York Times, PBS Frontline, Time Magazine, KQED and the International Rescue Committee. His most recent documentary “Irse – Leaving Venezuela” premiered in June 2020 on Al Jazeera Witness.
Producer Cecilia Lei is a freelance multimedia reporter/producer focused on immigration and criminal justice stories. She currently works with KQED News and Vox’s Today, Explained daily news podcast. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and a current AAJA-SF board member.
Co-director Stephanie Tangkilisan is an award-winning filmmaker born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. She’s a graduate of Columbia Journalism School’s documentary program during which time the first film she directed, received a $50,000 Criminal Justice Grant from Vital Projects Fund. The film was distributed by The Intercept and First Look Media, and earned acceptances from 7+ film festivals. She was recently approved with an O1 extraordinary ability visa for the arts and working on a documentary series for Vice News.
Roots in Suburbia: Youth Mobilization in Fremont — NBC Bay Area
By Kitty Hu
The suburban town of Fremont, California, has recently found itself in the center of Black Lives Matter protests, art collectives, and local elections. We follow four young people who are challenging the town’s normalized complacency by calling for social change in their communities.
Kitty Hu is a Chinese American filmmaker and visual journalist with roots in the Bay Area, California. Having grown up as the daughter of immigrants, Kitty’s work applies documentary tactics to amplify stories at the intersection of justice and human relationships, looking at topics like labor, housing, migration and sustainability. She can be reached on Instagram, Twitter, or via her website.
In Oakland, Breaking Down Barriers With Cookies — The New York Times
By Shuang Li
Asian-American and Black leaders described how the combination of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement is changing relations between the two groups.
OAKLAND — When Black Lives Matter protests erupted in downtown Oakland, Alicia Wong and her husband, Alex Issvoran, knew what they could do to support the protesters — make fortune cookies.
Their company, the Fortune Cookie Factory, is one of the oldest family-run businesses in Oakland’s Chinatown. They created new recipes and stenciled “BLM” in gold letters on each one. Next came new fortunes. Instead of Chinese proverbs, they searched classic texts and films of civil rights leaders. From Martin Luther King Jr. came: “Today we know with certainty that segregation is dead. The only question remaining is how costly will be the funeral.”
Shuang Li is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay area. After almost a decade as a video journalist at Reuters, reporting throughout China, Shuang completed an MJ at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, focusing on documentary filmmaking and investigative reporting.
Bayanihan & Resilience — NBC Bay Area
By Jocelyn Tabancay
Penny Baldado is a trans, Filipino immigrant and the proud owner of Café Gabriela in Oakland. Since the pandemic hit, Penny found ways to keep the café open and prioritize communities in need. Penny’s selfless approach to the lockdown has deepened community bonds and provided hope amidst the darkness.
Jocelyn Tabancay is a Filipino-American multimedia journalist. She loves telling stories at the intersection of inequality, race, and health. Jocelyn got her start in journalism by making short documentaries on deportees in Tijuana, Mexico. More recently she has reported on all things COVID-19 related in Modoc County for the Investigative Reporting Program in partnership with the New York Times. Jocelyn currently attends the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley. Her work has been published by KALW, Oakland North, and El Tecolote. She speaks Spanish fluently and Tagalog clumsily.
Bay Area hip-hop dance groups fight for Black and Asian solidarity — San Francisco Chronicle
By Erin Woo
When George Floyd was murdered, the dancers at Full Out Studios didn’t want to stay silent.
The Oakland dance studio formed an informal board to discuss their options, sparked by a “base-level decent human reaction of being disgusted” by Floyd’s killing, said Full Out co-founder Rocko Luciano. But the staff — multiracial and led by three Asian American studio owners — was anxious about saying the wrong thing. For a few days, they waited to see if other studios would speak out, but they saw nothing on social media.
Four days later, Full Out posted a statement of solidarity with the Black community on Instagram. And then, Luciano said, “we put our money where our mouth was.”
Erin Woo is a senior at Stanford University, where she reports and edits for the campus newspaper, The Stanford Daily. She previously interned at the Mercury News and WNYC and plans to pursue a career in journalism.
By Helena Ong
In the past decade, California has struggled with teacher shortages, recruiting Filipino migrants from abroad to teach in Bay Area schools. But in San Francisco, Filipino-American teachers are challenging what they see as an exploitative relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines, leading a “Filipino-American renaissance” in education.
Helena Ong is a journalist in the Bay Area. She is a recent graduate of Pomona College, where she served on senior staff for the student-run newspaper. She has previously worked at San Francisco Public Press, World Policy Journal and NBC4 Los Angeles.
By Sonia Paul
As a landmark lawsuit forces U.S. law to contend with how it should define caste-based discrimination, this story examines caste and caste discrimination within the Indian diaspora — particularly among those working in tech — through the lens of Indians in the U.S. who stay “ closeted” or “pass” for being of the more elite castes traditionally associated with the Indian American model minority. Against these personal experiences, the story would also unravel how caste is not just a personal issue but a systemic one, and how it’s historically transpired in U.S. policy and tech over the years until now, creating the present stakes.
Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist and audio producer based in Oakland, California. Her stories have aired and been published in numerous outlets, including NPR, 70 Million, Studio 360, WIRED, The Atlantic, Harper’s and The New York Times. She previously lived and reported in Japan and India, and her work has also been recognized and supported by the Association of Independents in Radio, Religion News Association, Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and International Women’s Media Foundation, among other organizations.
Rising with the Tides Story Editor
Thanks to our partnership with Comcast, we were able to work with a Story Editor to support our storytellers over the course of three months with story concepts, editing and pitching. Thank you, Neeti!
Neeti Upadhye is a Bay Area native and independent multimedia journalist who has worked in mediums ranging from print to virtual reality. She was previously a video journalist at The New York Times, where she produced immersive stories for ‘The Daily 360.’ Her focus is currently on exploring the queer experience within the South Asian community. She is currently based in Mumbai.
This project was made possible in partnership with Comcast California. Special thanks to our media partners, NBC Bay Area and Asian Pacific America with Robert Handa.