Chapter 1 / Sharing Stories
Incredible Humans: The Asian Experience through the lens of Sophia Li
Words: Talya Wong
Interview: Sophia Li
Photos: via Sophia Li for VOGUE magazine
With the horrific and exponential rise of active violence towards the Asian diaspora and the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on people of colour and on women, we wanted to find time this month to use our platform to celebrate the stories of Asian individuals bringing awareness to both the Asian and the female experience through their openness and their work.
We are grateful and honoured for the words and stories of some incredible Asian women in our community that are sharing the diversity and power of the Asian experience through their lens.
To round up our Incredible Humans series we hear from Sophia Li, a multi-media journalist, film director, and climate optimist out of New York. We have been long-time fans of Sophia's work and her unwavering contributions of using her voice to stand up for people and planet, encouraging her community to stand beside her and take action along the way. We're grateful to have her share her perspective with us, through the lens of a Chinese-American.
OCIN: Can you share with us a little about your heritage? What was it like growing up for you?
Sophia Li: My heritage is literally my instagram handle: @sophfei. Soph is my American nickname and Fei is my Chinese nickname, I'm Chinese-American and feel 100% Chinese while also feeling 100% American. Growing up, I was born in the US but spent a few years living with my grandparents in China. In the US, I have lived in states like Minnesota to Tennessee to Texas so I really understood what it was like to be the only asian in my classroom while simultaneously spending every summer in China.
OCIN: You’ve done a lot of great work as a multimedia journalist and film director; a public domain that has been largely occupied and driven by non-BIPOC folk. Since you first got started in this line of work, how has your personal experience as an Asian woman in that space evolved?
SL: The biggest thing that has contributed to my evolution in this space is the fact that I started to embrace my story and true identity rather than the identity society was giving me. When I embraced my multi-cultural, multi-faceted creative ways is when I truly found my voice.
OCIN: You call yourself a ‘climate optimist’ – can you explain the importance of this title and what it means to you?
SL: I call myself a 'climate optimist' because I believe we have the full power to mitigate carbon emissions and reverse the climate crisis, just like we had full power to cause the state of our climate as we know it. It's important to have a hopeful yet realistic outlook on the climate crisis, humans are more motivated to create fundamental change when they believe change is possible, not when there's a doomsday scenario looming.
OCIN: In one word, how would you describe your relationship with the Earth?
OCIN: What one sentiment do you want everyone to know about their role and impact on the Earth? On their community?
SL: That we ourselves are mother nature, every action we take has a direct reaction in our environment.
OCIN: How has being Asian impacted your experience as a journalist, film director, and climate optimist?
SL: Being Asian is fully my identity so it has impacted all of my professional roles. As a journalist, Asians understand what it means to be invisible or silenced so I feel more motivated to give everyone a voice. As a film director, I observe and ask Qs and think for the collective vs. the individual story that is a result of Asian culture. As a climate optimist, I see some Asian communities directly experiencing the climate crises firsthand while other Asian communities like Japan are putting forth climate positive solutions in real time-- even turning waste into drinking water!
"I'm choosing to challenge myself: what I can continue to unlearn in order to learn again, what preconceived notions am I challenging in relations to myself, race, identity, the world we live in, and what even is "normal." And in doing so, hoping to give permission to others to challenge themselves as well in this ever-evolving journey."
OCIN: What empowers you about being Chinese? About being a woman?
SL: Those two are my identity markers and it's empowering because if I'm not myself as a Chinese woman then I can't stand for anything if I'm not even empowered to stand for myself.
OCIN: This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is to choose to challenge, to change. As a female leader in the Asian community, what are you choosing to challenge?
SL: I'm choosing to challenge myself: what I can continue to unlearn in order to learn again, what preconceived notions am I challenging in relations to myself, race, identity, the world we live in, and what even is "normal." And in doing so, hoping to give permission to others to challenge themselves as well in this ever-evolving journey.
Head to our Magazine to read the rest of our Incrdible Humans series, featuring Natasha Jung, Michelle Mishina, Stella Kim, and the team behind Chinatown Today. In support of Yarrow Society. Head to our IG for more.