Battling conflict with art: how USC students deal with Asian hate

As part of the group DAY, USC students host cultural events to share their experiences and struggles.

Discussing cultural differences isn’t easy, but art may be the way to go.

In the coming months, USC’s chapter of Dear Asian Youth (DAY) will attempt to do that through their first ever art exhibition called “Culture Wars.”

Founded by 16-year-old Stephanie Hu in 2020, DAY started as a poetry blog about Asian hate in America and the feelings of grief, anger, and healing that surround it. Finding that her words resonated with many, DAY soon evolved into a literary magazine, before becoming a full-fledged nonprofit organization complete with international chapters and over 104,000 followers on Instagram.

Today, the club has over 150 chapters worldwide, one at the University of Southern California.

Yi-Ann Li, who Hu inspired, brought the non-profit’s goals to USC’s campus in September 2020.

“Dear Asian Youth USC is a space for anyone who identifies as Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) to share their stories and voice — to talk about their triumphs, their struggles, what makes up their world and identity,” said Li, who is the current co-president of the USC chapter. “DAY USC is an inclusive space striving to uplift marginalized communities through writing, art and various forms of creative expression.”

The chapter holds events such as weekend socials and movie nights, as well as hosting guest speakers.

This March, they will have a member from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum come and speak for Women’s History Month in March.

As for the upcoming exhibition, it’s all about using art to discuss cultural conflicts.

As Lily Muscarella, Lead Curator for DAY USC, said, “Ultimately, this exhibit will serve as a window into the cultural issues of today, both educating and raising awareness.”

For DAY USC, many of these conversations revolve around an issue close to their heart and behind the founding of the organization — Asian hate in America.

“The culture wars are a constant discourse within American popular culture; however, we do see notably contentious periods of cultural dissents, such as today.”

“Culture wars,” according to Muscarella, refers to the ways in which art serves as a mirror of society, as explored in the exhibition context. For the group, it is a way to engage art with identity, politics, and economics.

Recently, DAY USC has brought light to a variety of these issues ranging from the Queen of England’s recent death and her relationship with colonialism, all the way to the representation in this year’s Oscar nominations.

However, this exhibition isn’t specifically intended for professional and world-renowned artists to display their work. Instead, it’s all about young and under-represented artists getting exposure.

“The idea of a student-led exhibition of this scale largely stemmed from the lack of accessibility for emerging artists to showcase their work to the world,” said Mindy Dang, DAY USC Director of Programming. “In an increasingly polarizing and violent America, our curation team recognizes an urgent need for a safe space to stimulate conversations free from the narration that the media doles out.”

And, DAY USC doesn’t shy away from conflict.

“This exhibition is essentially an invitation for conflict — and I love it,” Dang said. “No longer hiding behind screens, we bring the issues onto the table and prepare the community to come together to educate their friends and be educated by their foes.”

Students interested can submit art about their own experiences. Submissions can range across all art forms for the exhibition, including film, painting and sculpture, and are due by March 17.