Some months back, Denver resident Katerina Jeng was invited to a Facebook group called Project Boat, which gave Asian-Americans from all over the country space to talk about their experiences. "It's a place for us to chat about what’s going on with Asian-Americans in the news, and to share stories about our parents and heritage," says Jeng, who is Taiwanese and Filipino. "It was an awesome place to start thinking about what it means for me to be an Asian-American."
Jeng saw so many fascinating conversations happening, and she wanted to bring those discussions to a broader audience. So she approached Krystie Mak, one of the founders of the group, about launching a publication, and together they're unveiling Slant'd, a yearly literary magazine that will illuminate what it means to be Asian-American today.
The inaugural issue of Slant'd will showcase twenty contributors, who have created a mix of personal essays, illustrations, photographs and columns. "We have a cool piece about what a name means," says Jeng. "Immigrants often have to have their last name changed, and this piece explores what it means to change your name for someone else, and how that changes your identity. We have stories about parental love and sacrifice. Many of us are first-generation American-born citizens. Our parents are from Asia, so that creates an interesting relationship."
Jeng says that a big part of the magazine's mission is to upend stereotypes about Asian-Americans, and to give voice to a segment of the United States public that is underrepresented in the media. "There hasn’t been a true representation of Asian-Americans in the media and how multi-faceted we can be," she explains. "We want to dismantle all those bad stereotypes. Our frustration comes from seeing these representations of Asian-Americans that weren’t created by Asian-Americans. It's not a true representation of our voices. So this is us telling the world who we are — not the world telling us who we are."
This illustration, called "Salt and Pepper Chicken," comes from a series in Slant'd's first issue about a shared cultural touchstone in Taiwan and Tennessee.
To that end, Jeng, who is also the magazine's editor-in-chief, is empowering Asians from all over the country to share their paradigm-shifting accounts of their lives. The first issue will also include a story about a New York City Chinatown political movement, to combat the stereotype that Asians are apolitical, and a story about an Asian-American hip-hop producer's relationship with his parents, to take on the tiger-parent stereotype.
That goal of empowerment was also the impetus behind naming the magazine Slant'd: "We wanted to take back a hurtful stereotype and turn it something empowering and beautiful instead," says Jeng. "More symbolically, 'slanted' or 'slant' as a symbol also connotes an interruption or change, which is what we hope to do with our stories: present new points of view, incite change and, ultimately, shift people's perspectives."
Slant'd is launching just as the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Slants, an anti-racist Asian-American rock band that was initially denied a trademark by the federal government because the act's name was considered offensive. "I actually had never heard about the Slants until the Supreme Court victory — which goes to show that there is an overwhelming desire to change the Asian-American narrative, and to dismantle these stereotypes," says Jeng.
The magazine is painting with an inclusive brush: Jeng says that "Asian-American," in this case, includes South, Southeast and East Asians, and that "all of the pieces are very universal. This is bigger than one location or one state. We hope to represent the universal experience that Asians across the country can relate to and act upon."
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The editor-in-chief also says the magazine's mission feels particularly urgent and timely: "I think this is a conversation that’s always been there, but I think the current political climate really sparked the movement even more. With Trump being president, diversity isn’t as big of a mission as it was with our past leaders. We want to expose that our differences make us stronger; they make us a more diverse and beautiful nation."
And while she suspects that much of the audience, at least initially, will be Asian-American, she hopes the pieces in Slant'd have broad appeal. "Support from non-Asians makes this place more inclusive for everyone," she says. "These pieces are interesting, and you should be able to read and relate to them no matter your race."
The first issue of Slant'd has already been curated and edited, and the co-founders launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund its printing. A printed product was important to Jeng and Mak, says Jeng, because "it's cool to have something tangible to remind you of this awesome movement." The campaign blew past its $10,000 goal in its first 36 hours, and so the founders are looking at an August print date. At the outset, the magazine will distribute at outlets in Denver and New York, and then the pair will look to expand. Campaign donors also get a copy of the first issue.