AAPI students work together on art for racial healing

Members of the Washington State University community participate in National Day of Racial Healing activities around the Pullman campus.
Roslyn Djang, Jeimei Lin, Kau’i Samio, and Heidi Lee are among members of the WSU Pullman community who worked together to paint a mural in the CUB in celebration of National Day of Racial Healing.

On Jan. 17, in a bustling hallway on the main floor of WSU Pullman’s Compton Union Building—known by students as the “CUB”—some people had stopped to stare. In between the crimson pillars was a long panel half-painted in earthen shades, periwinkles, and soft warm tones. Off to the side, the accompanying sign read: “AAPI Mural.”

Painting the AAPI Mural was among events taking place on the Pullman campus in celebration of the National Day of Racial Healing, which encourages conversations and healing around race.

According to WSU Special Assistant to the Provost for Inclusive Excellence Trymaine Gaither, this is the first time that WSU has celebrated the Day of Racial Healing.

“I want this day to be a day where we all connect as one community and take the opportunity to deepen and broaden our impact,” Gaither said in an e-mail interview with AsAmNews. “It’s important for us all to build our capacities to cultivate healing. And, healing is a process. When the day is over, hopefully, we will all feel healthier and more unified.”

Gaither brought in local artist and illustrator Jiemei Lin to lead this project based on her experience creating large-scale public murals in the Pacific and inland Northwest under the topic of racial justice. The two had initially met through Lin’s Black Lives Matter Movement mural in downtown Pullman.

Four people brush paint onto a multicolored mural.
Passersby were able to observe creation of the mural, learn, about the Racial Healing Day project, and even volunteer to complete it. Photo by Allyson Pang

In a couple of days, Lin digitally created the mural’s design. She took inspiration in the concepts of healing, recovery, and inclusivity. Certain flowers and the red-haired crane represented healing and health from traditional Asian art and culture.

The Day of Racial Healing encouraged more attention to mental health, which the Asian community often avoids, Lin told AsAmNews in an interview. She said viewers should not fear their feelings. If they felt uncomfortable or felt really good about the piece, those feelings should be embraced.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lin worked in collaboration with Fine Arts graduate student Reika Pratt, Fine Arts undergraduate student Kau’i Marley Samio, and Pullman High School junior Heidi Lee. WSU junior and double-major in Fine Arts and Mathematics Roslyn Djang also joined in after seeing the mural while on her way to get lunch.

“For me, just to have a bunch of AAPI women, Asian women…just making a huge painting in public, that’s pretty badass I think,” Lin said.

She hoped her art could empower students from the AAPI community.

Having grown up in Hangzhou, China, Lin reflected on the expectations of East Asian women and aimed to challenge them.

“It’s really nice to have a chance to work with the younger generation of artists like, for example, Kau’i from Hawai’i, she is graduating and thinking of her future,” Lin said. “It’s pretty cool to see how the next generation will take over with their work.”

One of the participating students, Lee connected with Lin while researching the Pullman BLM mural she saw when going to a coffee shop in downtown Pullman.

Lee had some previous experience with art murals, but this was her first public art mural.

“After two hours, I took a step back and I just looked at it and I was like, ‘Okay, this is really going to be a good mural,’” Lee told AsAmNews. “The color palette was just really calm and it was really therapeutic to mindlessly paint.”

Lee felt the mural challenged the constant tensions and conflicts depicted in the media, instead bringing a sense of calm and beauty in diverse cultures coming together in unity.

She said she heard passing students complimenting the mural and some even stopped by to ask questions.

Joe Hedges, associate professor of painting/inter-media and mural facilitator, expressed how the mural provided public visibility to AAPI students’ identities and challenges they may face.

“With that kind of visibility, this was a really special thing, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that on campus in my seven years of working here,” Hedges said to AsAmNews.

He said it was inspiring to see artists from different parts of the AAPI community coming together to celebrate their identities and helping with the mural.

“It’s those little things—whether it’s painting a mural or stopping to share a moment of real solidarity,” he said. “It’s those little things that add up and move the needle and make things a little better for the next generation.”

For Lee, she felt the most connected to the mural’s center depicting a woman wearing a hanbok, or Korean traditional dress.

“I got to paint her so I thought that was really personal because I’m Korean,” Lee said. “It was cool to see that my culture was a part of this huge beautiful mural.”

This mural provided an opportunity for anyone to educate themselves on issues on race, Lee said.

“I think it’s important that people understand the fact that silence only helps the oppressor,” Lee said. “It’s not enough to be just ‘I’m not racist.’ You have to be anti-racist and you have to constantly fight against it and call out racism whenever and wherever you see it.”

Being part of the BIPOC community, Lin said she encourages White people to be involved in the racial healing process. She believed that when trauma happened, both sides were affected, which meant both required healing.

“Even though it sounds like it’s ‘our thing,’ without the involvement of Caucasian people, I don’t think that’s a real racial healing day,” Lin said.

Allyson Pang.

By Allyson Pang, AsAmNews contributor, WSU alumnus (’22 BA English/Creative Writing and Communication), and WSU Pullman Civic Poet 2021-22

This article first appeared in AsAmNews.

A step toward change

Two student artists shared their thoughts about contributing to the racial healing-themed mural.

Mathematics and fine arts major Roslyn Djang was on her way to get lunch in the CUB when she saw a handful of people busily painting a large, colorful mural in the hallway. She stopped to read the description of the project and immediately felt moved to help complete the painting.

“I’ve been wanting to celebrate more of my heritage, so this turned out to be a great opportunity, ” said Djang, who grew up in the Tri-Cities area. “I’m half Chinese, but I didn’t grow up in that culture—except for the food.”

Djang added vibrancy to the flowers and human faces in the design while painting alongside fellow student Kau’i Samio, a member of the mural creative team, who also shared some thoughts about the project:

“My name is Marley Kau’imaeolekukunaokala Tein-Chee Samio and I am from the Waimea Valley of Kaua’i. I am a fourth-year student majoring in psychology with a minor in fine arts.

“Being offered this experience was a dream come true because it was my first mural painting. However, being told that it was to bring awareness to violence towards my own culture and to celebrate National Day of Racial Healing, it made this opportunity all the more worth it. To do a mural is one thing, but to make a movement through it is how you leave an impact on the world.

“The experience had felt like a variation of performance art; something I’m used to because I’ve been a hula and ori Tahiti dancer since age three. It was surprising to look over my shoulder and see how many people stood behind us just to watch us paint. But, when they asked us what it for or about, being able to educate them felt liberating. I owe it to the amazing team, Joe (Hedges), and Mei (Lin) for making the experience one that was full of smiles, laughter, and new friends. Every second we spent on working on the painting, I kept asking myself ‘Am I really living a dream right now?’

“I think the painting forces viewers to recognize the violence of the racist acts towards the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community and, more importantly, to show the beauty in creating peace between all of us. Personally, I see a parallel. I was born into three different cultures that all fall under the AAPI category: Chinese, Filipino, and kanaka Hawai’i (Hawaiian). Coincidentally, National Day of Racial Healing and the anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom is on the same day. As Hawaiians, we use this day to mourn the day Hawai’i became a state, to mourn our ancestors who died from the diseases brought over by the people who colonized us, and to mourn the land that was lost along the process as well. Therefore, doing the mural on this day was more than I could ever ask for.

“As a voice for the Hawaiian people, I share an old Hawaiian saying, ‘Aloha kekahi i kekahi,’ ‘to love one another.’ There are many who visit Hawai’i to experience paradise and demand Aloha right off the bat, but that is not the case; Aloha is free, but it must be earned. To me, the painting does represent allyship and understanding, however, that’s just the first step. What we need is change for the better: equity and peace.”