AAPI Voices Echo at WonderCon 2022: A Panel Discussion

From Left to Right – Back to Front: Ariel Landrum (therapist); Stefanie Bautista (educator); Leo Partible (filmmaker); Mark Nazal (filmmaker), Trung Nguyen (artist); and Lorran Garrison (school psychologist)

On Friday, April 1, 2022, a remarkable panel discussion, “Celebrating AAPI Voices in Media,” occurred at the Anaheim Convention Center during WonderCon 2022. Held in Room 208 from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM, this event brought together a diverse group of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) creators, each with unique perspectives on their experiences, representation in media, and hopes for the future.

Among the esteemed panelists was Trung Nguyen, an artist who brings his creative vision to life through various mediums, including his most recent graphic novel, The Magic Fish. Mark Nazal, a talented filmmaker, utilizes his craft to tell compelling stories that resonate with audiences. Leo Partible, a multi-talented individual, is a comic book creator, filmmaker, and member of Nello Bravo Arts, contributing to the artistic landscape in diverse ways.

Ariel Landrum, a dedicated therapist, offers insights into mental health and the intersectionality of AAPI representation. Stefanie Bautista is an esteemed educator who imparts knowledge and fosters understanding within her community. Lorran Garrison, a respected school psychologist, and co-author of Little Brainstorm, combines expertise and creativity to advocate for inclusive and empowering education.

Together, these panelists exchange vibrant discussions on their experiences and perspectives as members of the AAPI community. The panel began with a land acknowledgment, recognizing the indigenous tribes that have been stewards of the land where the event was held. The panelists then introduced themselves, sharing their backgrounds and experiences as members of the AAPI community.

Ariel Landrum, a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist of Southeast Asian descent, spoke about her experiences growing up as a diaspora and the challenges of entering spaces that don’t fully understand her. She also discussed the difficulty many in the AAPI community have in discussing mental health and feelings.

Stefanie Bautista, an educator and co-host of the podcast “The Happiest Pod on Earth” with Ariel, shared her love for Disney and the importance of representation in media. She shared her journey from being a public school teacher to a program manager for a public charter school, focusing on after-school programming and extracurricular activities that engage students in non-traditional ways. As a Filipina born and raised in Los Angeles, Stefanie expressed her excitement to hear from other AAPI creators and her commitment to using her platform to elevate their work.

Trung Nguyen, a cartoonist, and author, shared his transition from working in the nonprofit sector in pediatric therapy to becoming a full-time graphic novelist. During the panel discussion, he emphasized the importance of telling authentic stories that reflect the diversity of the AAPI community. He pointed out that it takes multiple projects over time to become mainstream, as people must repeatedly build an association of relevance and identification with what they see.

Trung stressed the importance of finding narratives that define AAPI as people, making distinctions, and embracing who we are, regardless of where we come from. His insights highlight the need for diverse and authentic representation in media, particularly for the AAPI community.

From Left to Right: Ariel Landrum (therapist); Stefanie Bautista (educator); Trung Nguyen (artist); Leo Partible (filmmaker); Mark Nazal (filmmaker), and Lorran Garrison (school psychologist)

Mark Nazal, a filmmaker and founder of a production company focusing on authentic Filipino American stories, emphasized the importance of representing AAPI communities in a multicultural setting. He noted that while Asian Americans have been present and working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry for a long time, it’s significant to see more Asian faces and stories on screen today. He highlighted the importance of focusing on diasporic Asian identities and ensuring that Asian Americans are represented in industries within the United States rather than relegating Asian stories and faces to mainland Asian nations.

Leo Partible, a filmmaker, comic book creator, writer, artist, and actor, echoed Mark’s sentiments. He shared his goal of elevating Asian males in Hollywood, who he feels are often overlooked and sidelined. Leo highlighted the need for decision-makers in large companies to understand the significance of telling these stories with authenticity.

He shared an anecdote about the creation of the character Bishop in the Marvel Universe. Originally, Bishop was supposed to be Filipino, but the idea was dismissed by Marvel editors unfamiliar with Filipinos. This incident underscored the lack of awareness and representation of the AAPI community in mainstream media.

Leo also discussed his journey as an Asian rocker in the music industry. He was signed to a record label that didn’t know how to categorize him or his music. This experience led him to work on his own rock and roll movie, inspired by his experiences and his late wife’s experiences as a music and film industry publicist.

Leo’s discussion points underscore the importance of representation and authenticity in media. His experiences highlight the challenges AAPI creators face in various industries and the need for increased understanding and representation of the AAPI community.

Lorran Garrison, a school psychologist in the public school system, shared her unique background. She delved into the concept of neurodiversity during the panel discussion. She explained that the term was coined by sociologist Judy Singer in 1999 and referred to the diversity of human brains and minds. Neurodiversity is often broken down into two categories: neurotypical, which refers to individuals whose brain functions and behaviors are within the norm, and neurodivergent, which was initially used to refer specifically to individuals with autism but has since broadened to include any significant deviation from what is considered typical.

She preferred “neurovariance” over “neurodivergence,” as she feels it is more inclusive and doesn’t imply separation or otherness. She emphasized the importance of recognizing and celebrating the diversity within our communities, including neurodiversity.

As a representative of the Pacific Islands, she grew up on the island of Guam in a family of Vietnamese Americans who migrated during the Vietnam War. Her father, an African American World War II veteran, raised her. She uses narrative gaming and other therapeutic methods to help her students in the educational and mental health service arena.

The panelists’ diverse backgrounds and experiences contributed to a rich and enlightening conversation about the AAPI community in media. They shared their journeys, work, and hopes for increased representation and understanding of the AAPI community in the future. The panel discussion is a testament to the diverse voices within the AAPI community and the importance of amplifying these voices in media.

The panel discussion is a must-watch for anyone interested in the experiences of AAPI creators and the representation of the AAPI community in media. It provides valuable insights and perspectives that can help us all better understand and appreciate the diversity and richness of the AAPI community.

Check out the panel video below!:

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