LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. — Kri Chay, a Kansas City-area gym owner and entrepreneur, started his clothing line AZN PRD in April 2021. He was motivated to create the brand after reading about an Asian American hate crime at the height of the pandemic.
“Something popped up on my phone. I was on Instagram and I read it, and it showed an Asian lady, 71-year-old Asian lady, get punched in the face by some random dude on the streets of San Fran,” Chay said. “My heart started beating real fast, and I just got angry.”
Chay says racial slurs, microaggressions and stereotyping were the norm while growing up in a predominantly white environment in Iowa. He wants to use his online platform now to speak out against that same hate.
“Even though I was born and raised here, I feel like an outsider sometimes, and I feel like I don’t fit in,” Chay said.
A portion of all his sales is donated to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations across the country to support their missions. Going forward, his next goal is to collaborate with Asian American artists for unique designs while also showcasing the talents of the AAPI community.
Even though he says community support can be inconsistent at times, Chay's mission is to proudly share his heritage every month of the year.
Chay's teenage daughter has been his biggest motivation.
“I want to bring us up more so we’re not just looked at as somebody on the side,” he said.
He is set to launch the first-ever Taste of AAPI event at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, at his gym located at 1036 NE Jib Court, Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
There will be authentic cuisines from various Asian cultures for visitors to try. Chay decided to host the event after seeing virtually no celebrations planned throughout the city for AAPI Heritage Month, which is celebrated in May.
But on Saturday, Cafe Cà Phê, a Vietnamese-inspired coffee shop, hosted the official AAPI Heritage Month celebration in conjunction with Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation.
Bety Le Shackelford, director of community outreach for Cafe Cà Phê, says she and others decided to host the event so that the younger generation can be immersed in other cultures starting at an early age.
She says the responsibility is on both sides to share and receive cultural knowledge.
“It means the world to be able to look around and see so many people come and support, and celebrating who we are and being proud of who we are,” Le Shackelford said.
For Asian Americans like Hanna Lee, such events are a way to feel connected to her roots and give her a community to be a part of.
As a Korean adoptee who grew up in a predominantly white environment, Lee often felt isolated when hearing about Asian American hate crimes during the pandemic. She wrote her book "The Ones Who Misbehave" as a way to cope.
“It was very hard for me to have any support when the anti-Asian hate started, and I really used it as a time to process everything I was feeling in a healthy way, and it turned into a book,” Lee said. “Honestly, it’s a complete life change for me to have the support and see so many amazing people coming out, participating in events like this. It's building community for me to be a part of.”