At the height of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month (APIHM), Asian creatives were spotlighted at the forefront of Twitch, and for many of them, it was their first time celebrating it.
As the uber-popular platform rings in its 10th anniversary, we’re celebrating by learning more about your favorite streamers.
For many viewers such as myself, the ethnicity of a streamer doesn’t matter. The reason why we yell “That’s my streamer!” is because we like them for their authenticity and personality. Throughout moments of everyday chatting and hijinks, anyone who tagged along was there for a good time.
But it isn’t always fun and games. This past year’s rise in anti-Asian hate continues to throttle the Asian community and leave a great deal of people, especially elders and women, feeling vulnerable, isolated and afraid. Compounded with the effects of lockdowns, Twitch boomed and some viewers have turned to the platform as a means of escape and companionship.
Variety gamers AtomicMari (Mari Takahashi), Snowlit (Snowy) and BlacKoreaNate (Nathan Thomas); travel vlogger Bawnsai (Jenny); former sushi chef TheHungerService (L.A.); and fitness aficionados TominationTime (Tom and Helen) shared their struggles with the wave of violence, how they still show up to stream and why members of the Asian community need each other now more than ever.
Across the board, five of the creators described their struggles with identity, throwing around familiar terms that generations of Asian kids across the globe have heard time and time again.
L.A. felt a “tug of war” between his Filipino roots and American upbringing. Mari felt “a constant struggle of dismissing and rejecting parts of who [she is].” Nate always had to “prove [himself] to be worthy among [his] peers” and “often tried to hide what [he] was mixed with.” Jenny felt a deep loneliness of not fitting in anywhere, even when it came to family. Snowy’s classmates made “fun of the shape of [her] eyes and face.”
It’s an enduring tale of constantly facing microaggressions at home and at school while having to dual wield two different cultures. One demands you to forget parts of your Asian heritage in order to “assimilate,” yet if you don’t know enough of the latter, you risk feeling “not enough,” and a foreigner in your own family — much like what Snowy and Jenny faced.
“When I graduated high school, I traveled to see family in China on my own for the first time. Everyone, including my own family, saw me as a foreigner,” Jenny said. “The way I dressed, how I carried myself, my broken Mandarin. I was an outsider in the place I was born, how could this be? I felt so lost.”
Despite being a month dedicated specifically to APIs, Mari explained that she would celebrate APIHM quietly, “as if not to take up too much space.”
But the playing field is different now, and the Asian kids who struggled have grown up.
Tom and Helen take pride in their immigrant parents for setting the precedent. Snowy and L.A. continue to educate themselves about the systems of racism and self-discovery. Mari sees the title of “Asian American” as being “synonymous with pride.”
“I wear it on my kimono sleeve and sing it from the rooftops!” she said. “Each of us is distinct and different — our cultures, who we are, what we like, what we’re into are aspects that make us multifaceted and unlike what the world pushes us to be. We’re not cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all and I love seeing everyone’s uniqueness celebrated.”
And despite the lack of Asian representation in the media when she was a child, Mari says it’s our responsibility to shape its present and future.
“As content creator[s], we don’t wait for someone else to tell our stories or to give us a spot on a show as a token person of color — we write, star in, and produce so we can use the voices we’re given.”
Hard Discussions with Chat
As much as Twitch can be a place of entertainment and escape, L.A., Mari and Snowy believe that when you have a platform, you need to use it to talk about tough issues.
“It starts with standing up and being loud,” L.A. said. “The AAPI community is not going to idly stand by and allow this to happen and we should fight it either through awareness campaigns and marches to actively help the community through volunteering or monetary donations.”
Mari echoed this sentiment and urges everyone to keep the same energy going until something changes. Having hosted charity streams to benefit #StopAsianHate, she has vowed to continue doing so beyond APIHM.
“We went from being nearly invisible to super visible since the start of the pandemic, due to scapegoating driven by racist rhetoric,” Snowy said. “The racism and hate we’ve been facing during the pandemic isn’t new; it’s over 150 years old, and it’s part of American history. We need to speak up in order for things to get better, and we need to share our experiences and help create change at a grassroots level.”
Instead of immediately jumping into cancel culture, fitness duo Tom and Helen strive for content that focuses on unity. They believe fitness and the goal of self-improvement make for common ground.
“Hate is a symptom and not the cause,” they said. “Stopping the hate requires understanding how did the hate get there to begin with?”
To prevent perpetuating the cycle of violence, Nate advises that we never “stoop down to [the haters’] level.” He believes that’s what negatively impacts our power to change.
Snowy was loosely following reports on anti-Asian hate and violence throughout the pandemic, especially when news broke of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings where six Asian women were confirmed dead among the eight killed and one wounded.
“I cried so much in the days and weeks following that, both in person and on stream as I discussed everything with my community, and I couldn’t understand why until I started reading and learning and understanding — about the AAPI experience and about the history of racism against AAPI,” the wintry streamer said. “I learned that what I had experienced was called collective trauma, and I was hurting and grieving alongside the AAPI community.”
Most of the streamers admitted that they don’t worry about the risk of violence against APIs mostly due to their locations within predominantly large API populations or because they personally haven’t witnessed or experienced it. However, some still worry about their parents and friends.
“Possible violence still concerns me because all it takes is one person to have a bad day and many lives could be affected,” Nate said, in reference to the euphemistic terms used by Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office police on the Atlanta spa shootings.
Snowy’s anxiety and fear “skyrocketed” after the incident to the point where she felt uncomfortable walking to her neighborhood mailbox. She constantly carries a stun gun and pepper spray, which she says “hasn’t erased the anxiety, but it’s at least bearable now.”
Dropping the Ban Hammer and Toxicity IRL
While most of the creators don’t experience blatant racism, Jenny and L.A. aren’t opposed to swiftly banning unwanted users from their chats.
Jenny in particular has experienced the brunt of it online. In the past year, she’s gotten “more nasty comments” than she’s ever had on stream and social media while she explored Asia.
“Mostly about eating bats, or ching chong ‘jokes,’” the well-versed traveler said. “I think because my stream title usually says that I’m in Taiwan, or because they see a thumbnail of an Asian person, they come to our channels to say racist things. It is really disheartening to see.”
L.A. explained that when backhanded comments are made during his stream, he tends to “[err] on the side of education.”
“In general I tend to be very aware of certain comments made in my stream that might be backhanded and I address them as I need to,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t know what they say is potentially harmful.”
In Tom and Helen’s experience, they noticed a “downtrend in racist trolling,” which they figure is due to Twitch’s moderation team.
Tsunami of Support
Beyond the occasional online trolls and taunts, the creators continue to make a safe space for their viewers.
“I do the same thing I did during the Black Lives Matter movement. I kept streaming,” Nate said. “I try to be the light during darker times to give my viewers somewhere safe to be during chaos and stress.”
Although it’s hard to stray away from the news cycle and the breaking stories about anti-Asian hate incidents, Snowy has learned to pace herself with activism and issues she cares about.
“Sometimes it’s hard to stomach when it’s still happening so frequently, while it seems like the rest of the world has moved on just because it’s not trending or ‘severe enough’ to warrant people’s attention,” she added. “Nowadays, I try to strike a balance between living my life and being vocal about stopping anti-Asian racism and hate.”
Instead, she aims to focus on what she can do at the moment and take it one day at a time.
As L.A. persists in following the news and staying involved, he makes it a habit to check up on his friends and family around the U.S. and also facilitate a dialogue with his chat.
“It’s been stressful and I’ve been super frustrated with all the incidents, but I’ve been redirecting that frustrated energy into streaming,” the food creator said.
When it comes to the divisiveness they’ve seen on social media, Tom and Helen encourage more introspection. They advise not to get wound up on what we can’t control, as well as the external stresses that result from that.
“Physical fitness and health is one avenue for self-improvement, which we believe will empower individuals to make the world a better place,” Tom and Helen said.
Jenny found it incredible to see the amount of noise that Asians are firing back at the hate. Especially with the younger generation, she takes pride in how much more open they’ve become in speaking out against injustices.
“The best thing I can do despite everything is to continue streaming” and presenting “all the amazing things Asia has to offer,” she said about its history and culture and “drool worthy food.”
Although the rise in violence made Mari feel “impotent and useless,” seeing the “tsunami of support and folks taking action” gives her the drive to rally on. During the hard days, she remembers the resilience of the community.
“One person can’t fix everything, but a whole lot of us together can be a force to be reckoned with,” she said.
For all the viewers, streamers and allies who might feel lost: this is your community. It’s one that has gone through incredible hurt throughout the pandemic yet still persistently bears tremendous strength and beauty. Horrific incidents have swarmed some of the most vulnerable members of the community, causing outrage and pain. But remember that it’s OK to be scared, it’s OK to be angry, it’s OK to feel the need to retreat.
As Snowy and L.A. said, it’s understandable to keep learning and take it all one step at a time. Mari and Jenny understand how difficult it can be to keep pushing forward, and how we’ve all gone through similar motions. Tom and Helen believe in you and want you to be the best version of yourself that you can be. And Nate hopes to give you shelter during the dark times.
If you feel like you need a companion along the way, they’ll be here.
Featured Image Designed by Grace Kim