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ABC's of AAPIs | Coloring book helps celebrate Asian American culture

The Asian American Advocacy Fund created a coloring book to help empower members of the Asian community and teach others about their history and culture.

ATLANTA — To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a local organization took a creative approach to teach the community about AAPI history and culture. 

The Asian American Advocacy fund launched the ABC's of AAPIs in May. The coloring book reimagines the alphabet using notable figures and icons that are important to the AAPI community. 

"After the Atlanta spa shooting, which really hit home for a lot of Asian Americans, especially women here, we gathered a lot of different creatives of all different media in Atlanta. And we decided that we didn't want to be defined by our trauma, but we wanted to celebrate and highlight our culture and heritage," Arah Kang, an artist and one of the creative directors of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, told 11Alive. 

The project was designed to help the community heal in the wake of the spa shootings and years of racially motivated assaults against Asian Americans. Kang explained that the coloring book is designed to educate and empower, a consensus that kept coming up when she initially reached out to different artists about the project. 

"All we really had was maybe one or two lines or a paragraph in our history books, just talking about, like the Chinese built a railroad. And we are so much more than that," she said.

Along with her colleague, Kavi Vu, Kang worked with artists across the metro to bring the project to fruition. The collaboration included around 30 artists, writers, and students. 

One of the artists involved in the project was Leah Abucayan. The California native and Georgia transplant told 11Alive her letter had a specific intention. 

"I specifically chose the letter P for Philip Vera Cruz because I wanted to represent my Filipino heritage. Being from California, I actually know people who are generationally related to the people who worked with Philip Vera Cruz in the farmworkers movement. So it was something that I really paid homage to," Abucayan explained

She's also been busy working on another project, a mural on Buford Highway in partnership with Living Walls. Recently, she says, she wanted to do more with her art. 

"Since COVID happened and like everything with Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, I've just shifted toward using my art platform and seeing how much impact it's gotten on social media," Abucayan added.

Contributing to the coloring book, she says, was another way for her to do this. She also likes creating something that will help give future generations something she longed for when she was a child. 

"It's surreal because it's something that I know we all wanted as kids, to feel represented in, like, a coloring book or a kid's thing," she said.

In addition to the book launch, the project includes a 150 ft. long mural along the Atlanta Beltline. The installation, which will be on display until June 30, puts the sketches from artists like Abucayan on a larger platform. 

In keeping with the mission of educating future generations, local students were also contacted about the project. Melanie Zhang, an 11th grader at the Westminster Schools of Atlanta, told 11Alive she was eager to get involved. 

"I volunteered and I actually did the research for letters M and J, and that's really how I got involved," she explained.

Zhang is a member of the East Asian Affinity Group at her school called Mooncakes. The faculty advisor for the organization helped get Zhang and her classmates involved. It was a learning experience in more ways than one. 

"The one I did the research for, Jhumpa Lahiri. I was not aware of her, and I think I was really I really enjoyed learning about her when I was researching."

Zhang added she hopes the book will offer people who don't identify as AAPI the chance to learn more about the diversity that exists in the community. 

"I think that's what makes this book so significant, because it really teaches people, not just in the AAPI community, but outside the AAPI community too, that many Asian Americans have really made a significant impact on American history," she said. "And I don't think many people are aware of that because Asian-American history isn't really covered in the typical history classes at school. And I think it's just great that we get to recognize them and share that with everyone."

The ABC's of AAPIs coloring book is available for sale here. 

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