Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2022

During the month of May in the United States, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a period for recognizing the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPIs) to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Celebrate this month’s heritage with us by acknowledging local designers, creatives, artists, organizations and small businesses within the Houston AAPI community. 

Jon Luu

John Luu is a designer and art director in Houston, Texas. He currently works at Schlumberger where he works on video and multimedia campaigns for marketing and communications. Born in Alabama and raised in Texas, John graduated from the University of Houston. John has served on the Houston chapter of AIGA and on the national board of directors. He is the proud father of two daughters.

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you?

Duality is a quality that was always there. 

Growing up in Alief, in southwest Houston, I was always aware of cultural enclaves that provided a sense of place and being. It was always there and I’ve always gravitated towards AAPI enclaves out of a sense of shared experience, presumed normalcy of that experience, and not feeling the need to explain yourself. I think that was why I was drawn to Otis College of Art and Design in LA for college initially and, later, the University of Houston’s design program.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

I did a career day at my daughter’s class back when she was in the third grade. I had a recent demo reel of some project highlights and the subsequent Q&A went way over my time allotment because the questions kept coming. When it was done I was gathering my things to leave, it was 10:30 am, when my daughter asked me to hang around for lunch with her friends. It was cheeseburger Wednesday. 

What drew you to your creative field?

I went to art school thinking I was going to be an artist. Commercial arts as I understood it in high school had no appeal to me. In college, however, the most interesting work I was seeing was what the design kids were working on so I gravitated towards those courses. The formal rigorism of those foundational courses still applies in my day-to-day life. 

After college, I was always drawn to multimedia as a broad topic; video, motion graphics, Adobe Flash, interactive applications. A lot of technology has fallen by the wayside but I’m still drawn to moving pixels.

How does your heritage impact your work?

I like to think I’m pretty smart but I know that hard work has often been the tie breaker for me. 

Intermixing the specific, the personal, and the universal into my work and walking clients and stakeholders through that process seems to resonate. There’s always something to latch on to.

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

Being very adaptable, and having the ability to figure things out on the fly has been crucial this year. Also having the ability to seize opportunities when they present themselves has been invaluable in 2022. 

I enjoy finding out what clients are passionate about outside of work. Usually it informs a lot about their preferences, point of view, and personal goals, and it usually provides an opportunity to uncover mutual interests and cultivate a shared sense of purpose. 

What AAPI designers and creatives inspire you? Why does their work resonate with you?

What intrigues me are career stories within the creative field that were an attempt to placate and ultimately subvert parental expectations. Two examples would be John Maeda and Viet Thanh Nguyen. Maeda’s parents wanted him to study computer science at MIT even though he was more drawn to art and design; he figured out a way to combine both. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s parents weren’t fully on board with his academic and literary career until he won the Pulitzer. 

Following our personal passions is an American attribute, while at the same time not wanting to disappoint our parents’ professional aspirations for us is a familial one. So, examples like the ones above always resonate and make me smile. 

Where do you find inspiration?

I like to read.

What’s next on the horizon?

Looking forward to some time off to recharge.

Sandy Pham

Sandy Pham was born in Houston, Texas, and studied advertising communications at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at University of Houston, where she received her BFA in 2010. She has designed for a wide range of industries spanning from translation services, nonprofit marketing to aviation application to now leading product design at Umbrage, a studio that develops and distills software solutions for its enterprise clients. Sandy’s practice has been notable for her strength in visual communications, drawing on references from a diverse range of art principles, aesthetic and product resources.

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you? 

Being Asian American has meant to me living with dual identity. I see life through a multi-lens perspective — there are pros and cons of every culture, and the most important thing is to embrace it all because that’s what makes us unique and beautiful. I am first-generation Vietnamese, and there have been times in youth where I have felt a longing to be less of one thing or another to fit in a particular mold. Thankfully with time, my views have changed. I draw strength from my heritage, family and peers; an ability to speak in two languages fluently; and excitement in my fellow Asian community as we embark on barrier-breaking journeys.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

I have been honored to work with such a diverse collection of people and industries over the years and also a successful migration from being a marketing designer to product designer. I look forward to being more connected in the local design community to give back what the city has provided for me all of these years.

What drew you to your creative field?

Pursuing a career outside of a creative field was never an option for me. I was drawn in from day one with crayons as a child. I love everything about visual communications and the ability to express oneself via a message that could be seen and felt. This humanistic approach is applicable to so many aspects of my work in product and also in exploring the details of daily life.

How does your heritage impact your work?

My heritage oftentimes brings diversity into my workplace and the perspective I am able to bring to the table. At a time when the tech industry is striving for inclusiveness, I’m thrilled to be a part of the process of trying to make products that are better for underrepresented communities and working towards products that improve the lives of everyone.

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

In the past year, my creative practice has had to evolve to be one that’s adaptable towards a more remote environment. People used to be able to brainstorm, whiteboard, and collaborate all in-person before the pandemic. These days, we push ourselves to use tools to accommodate for creativity and ideation that works with remote teams and clients.

What AAPI designers and creatives inspire you? Why does their work resonate with you?

An AAPI designer who inspires me is Natasha Jen, a partner with Pentagram since 2012. I am a huge fan of her work, diverse portfolio and aesthetic. While our paths are not exactly the same, Natasha’s work resonates with me as it is parallel in craft of identity, fashion and interactive graphics. Visual arts is something I keep up with often. 

Another AAPI creative who I have been following and love is Ashley Park. Her latest role on Emily in Paris, a Netflix special, has won my heart in terms of screen presence, fashion, and singing talent. She has many interviews on owning her power as an Asian American actress that really spoke to me. I think it’s important to not only use your own story in terms of representation but to also amplify voices that have reach. And if I can help in any way to boost these stories, I’m more than glad to do that. My all-time favorite song from her right now is “Mon Soleil.”

Where do you find inspiration?

A typical creative, I find inspiration in everything. From fashion to movies to travel, my work brings in things that I love from all sorts of details from life. I love to blur the lines between schools of thought to bring to life something interesting that may cause an emotional connection.

What’s next on the horizon?

Next on the horizon is more travel — more juice to the creative process and possibly coming across new faces and stories.

Sharon Chu

Sharon Chu was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and has been working with 5+8 for three years. She lives with her fur baby named Jake and enjoys discovering new creative outlets like cyanotype, painting, embroidery and cross-stitching, raising plants, and jewelry making. Her weaknesses are well-done book bindings, paper, handwritten notes, and bread.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

My proudest accomplishment is finding a creative agency that aligns with my value of work-life balance, supports my career growth and interests, and always has my back. I have a place of belonging in this creative field where I can freely express myself, work alongside other highly talented creatives, and ideas are openly said and received. So much love for this team — I’m glad to have found my dream job.

What AAPI designers and creatives inspire you? Why does their work resonate with you?

Dana Tanamachi. Her work resonates with me because she often works with her hands and is inspired by traditional Japanese patterns for her projects. Bringing a touch of her identity within her work encourages me to stay true to myself, what I believe in, and what my values are.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration through the great outdoors whether it’s taking a walk, exploring the trails, or collecting unique bits of nature. So much of what motivates me has come through those discoveries.

Nicholas Nguyen

Even though Nicholas Nguyen graduated with a BFA in Design from the University of Texas, he’s worn many hats throughout his career. This includes being a graphic designer, creative director, recipe developer, travel writer, photographer, artist, and more across the fields of publications, advertising, and higher education. He’s currently the Digital Media Program Manager for the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design. When he’s not exploring creative outlets, he enjoys being a cat dad, traveling and trying new foods. View his work at nicholasdnguyen.work.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

As the former creative director for Pilates Style magazine, I was proud to help produce cover stories and cover shoots that challenged the idea that Pilates was an exercise form meant for thin, white women. We searched for teachers, both renowned and new to the industry, who represented the idea that Pilates was really for every body; all ages, all races, all genders, and all body types.

What drew you to your creative field?

My older brother, who is ten years older than me, took art classes in high school, and he would draw cartoon characters for us. As a kid, I was fascinated that he could reproduce the art I’d see on Saturday morning cartoons; this inspired me to pursue art as I entered middle school. Around that time, I started to dabble in Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop because of MySpace and LiveJournal, making my own graphics for websites. I originally intended to major in painting at UT, but after finding out about the design program there, I thought it was a good marriage of all the creative things I was interested in up to that point. 

How does your heritage impact your work?

My Asian American heritage had a huge influence in my decision to pursue art and design; it is a rich source of inspiration for me. Early on, I drew upon my Vietnamese culture as I developed my fine arts skills to tell stories about my family and my experiences growing up. I think a lot of Asian culture emphasizes filial piety, which in some way nurtured my creative spark. Aside from being inspired by my brother to take up art, my mom has a crafty streak as do a few other relatives like an aunt who made jewelry or a great uncle who was a painter. I think by seeing these forms of creativity in my own family, I felt encouraged to create a path parallel to theirs, and naturally, I want to make them proud with the work I do.

Where do you find inspiration?

I always find inspiration in good stories, whether it’s from a movie, book, or from someone’s real experience. I’m currently obsessed with the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. I think there’s a lot of inspiration to be found by staying current on what’s going on in pop culture, fashion, and entertainment. When possible, I also enjoy checking out senior design shows. Seeing how young designers create fresh work and utilize emerging technologies and skills is inspiring and motivates me to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn something new.

Dan Vo

Dan Vo is a UH Graphic Design program alum. He currently works in UX/UI.

How does your heritage impact your work?

I have a responsibility in making sure we’re represented well at the table, and informing others what it means to us.

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

As time goes on, trends come and go, but the basis of design is to improve an experience for someone. Honestly, most of the driving motivator for me is just being irritated by something that exists and knowing I could make it better.

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you?

I was the first of my generation to be born here. My parents had to grow up fast through a war and left everything behind to start over in an entirely different country, to give me the opportunities they didn’t have. I’m the first of my family to have majored in art and make a living in a creative field; it’s a privilege that is afforded to me by both my own hard work and those before me. Being Asian American is about honoring both where I came from and who I’m trying to be, while helping others like myself carve out their own paths.

What’s next on the horizon?

One day I’d like to have a successfully run design collective. But I also spend a lot of my free time practicing martial arts and using design to provide knowledge to others in our practice.

Jean Lin

NYC-born and Taiwan-raised, Jean Lin is a full-time marketer, working at HungryPanda as a Marketing Associate, and running Sphyrn Marketing, the only Taiwanese American owned marketing firm in Houston. She obtained a microbiology degree from Ohio State University and landed a job at Houston Methodist Research Institute. Through running social events during her leisure time, she rediscovered her passion for writing and connecting people. Sphyrn Marketing was formed with the help of many of her past event participants. She then left the sciences field to focus on building her profile in marketing, by organizing pop-ups and promoting various Asian-owned businesses.  

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you?

It means dual responsibilities both as American and also Asian. My existence bridges two very different cultures. Sometimes, this experience would make me feel alienated, but I’ve learned to celebrate how unique it is to be a chameleon, navigating through the nuances of culture differences.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

Sphyrn itself is my proudest creation despite the hardship that comes with it. 

What drew you to your creative field?

A little more than a year ago, someone participated in my event and encouraged me to pursue possibilities outside of research. I have always enjoyed writing and put my creativity into designing events and activities. However, it was that specific moment that made me realize there is a strong demand for my creativity. I then understand this is my calling.

How does your heritage impact your work?

People are more willing to work with Sphyrn when I state that I’m a Taiwanese American female entrepreneur. Perhaps it has a lot to do with how Taiwanese are the minority within the minority. But I prefer to believe that it is a collective effort, as we build recognitions for Taiwanese food culture and hospitality.  

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

The past year has pushed me into challenging myself in unexpected ways. I had no experience in graphic design, website building, videography, or music editing prior to Sphyrn and yet each project forced me to expand my skill tree (this reference is for all the gamers, lol). Every time I tell myself that I have probably reached the level cap, something new occurs. It’s stimulating, exciting, occasionally painful, but nevertheless rewarding.

What AAPI designers and creatives inspire you? Why does their work resonate with you?

I am a huge fan of James Jean and YuTsai. As I stated before, there aren’t too many of us in the US. Both of them came from my hometown, Taipei. It’s an international city however it is also very conservative in some ideologies. I feel for their struggle in the US and celebrate their successes. 

James Jean’s art style is constantly evolving and I love how he never limits himself to a certain type of art form. He did some of my favorite graphic novel covers, movie posters, and murals in LA. None of those would have happened if he wasn’t willing to collaborate with other creative people. I remind myself everyday to be open-minded and acceptive of changes despite the initial discomfort that may occur. 

YuTsai is known for being the judge of the American’s and Asia’s Next Top Model. He also came from a STEM background but found his passion in art and photography. Three years ago, he hosted a bilingual program, Street to Kitchen Asia, showcasing the history and culture behind Taiwanese street food with such thought-provoking insight. Can we carry Taiwan with us? Can we let the world learn about Taiwan in a less intimidating way? He proved it to be fun and possible. 

Where do you find inspiration?

I read copiously to compensate for the fact that I didn’t grow up in the US. I also watch a lot of movies and shows to keep up with what is current. It is my firm belief that knowledge is power and imitation is the first step before creation. 

What’s next on the horizon?

With COVID abating (fingers crossed), we are hoping to get back on doing much larger events (500 – 1K people). 

Vania de Perio

Vania de Perio is a Filipino interior designer who recently moved to Houston, Texas. She is currently working at Eklektik Interiors focusing in residential, where she enjoys the connections she makes with clients and collaboration with builders while creating a functional, aesthetically pleasing space.

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you?
Being AAPI means staying proud of who you are and where you came from. I love the pride we all have of our family and culture. Even though we all have different backgrounds, we know how to come together, share great stories and of course food!

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

My proudest accomplishment in my career thus far would be gaining independence and confidence. Even though I’ve been out of school for two years, there was a time I had to figure out my standing. I questioned myself, wondering if I knew what I was doing or if I was where I should be. It’s scary to ask those questions because you start to lose confidence in yourself. Eventually, I was able to figure out where I was lacking and push my confidence out of me.

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

As a residential interior designer, I’ve managed to learn more than design this past year. I’ve witnessed what actually goes on behind the scenes when you build or renovate a house. As with any other jobs, I’ve encountered many obstacles to fulfilling a project and I’ve sat down to figure it out myself so I can assist my contractors or builders how we can move forward.

Talha Khawaja

Talha Khawaja is a native Houstonian whose family background is from Pakistan. Talha works in IT during the day and in his free time, likes to travel and create digital video and photo content.

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you?

Being an American Asian, I feel like the label encompasses an entire continent of different cultural roots. Being from a family that has roots related to Pakistan, India, and other Muslim countries, I feel that we always have a story behind how we were brought up and I find that special.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

My proudest accomplishments of my career would have to be that I achieved a skill that started as a hobby, and turned it into a passion – even though my day job consists of something totally opposite of being creative. I find the balance, and it keeps pushing me to be a better creative every day.

What drew you to your creative field?

Passion for showing the world through my eyes or to showcase what ideas I have when looking at digital content, and being able to express my creativity to the public.

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

I have transitioned more to video vs. photos. I believe it is far tougher having to create a story with video so that I can stand out. 

What’s next on the horizon?

To travel to Asia, Europe, and South America.

Miguel Guerrero

Miguel Guerrero graduated with a BFA in graphic design from the University of Houston block program. He is currently a motion designer for Drunk Elephant.

What does being Asian American or Pacific Islander mean to you?

Community, adaptability, diversity, boba tea.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

Being awarded the AIGA Emerging Designer Award. There are SO many talented designers in Houston, it meant the world (and still does!) to be recognized by the community.

What drew you to your creative field?

I was a very anxious child growing up. I would spend hours and hours organizing my toys and clothes, I hoarded random items because I was afraid of throwing things away. Eventually, I realized that I craved order to counterbalance the lack of control I had over my brain chemicals. I found that making things with my hands really grounded me, and that I had a natural inclination towards visual arts. I started exploring a lot of different mediums in school, but it wasn’t until college when I found graphic design. It felt like I found a medium that was at the intersection of order and expression.

How does your heritage impact your work?

I immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines when I was ten years old. I felt like an outsider having to conform for much of my adolescence, considering perspectives that were radically different from my own was how I adapted. The world is so big, and design is all about considering a multitude of perspectives.

How has your creative practice changed or evolved over the past year?

I’ve stopped prioritizing work over my mental and physical well-being. I love design but—like many people who have struggled with their mental health—I started to feel I’ve stopped prioritizing work over my mental and physical well-being. I love design but—like many people who have struggled with their mental health—I started to feel just pixels at the end of the day.

What AAPI designers and creatives inspire you? Why does their work resonate with you?

PIA ROQUE is a tattoo artist I’ve been following for a while. Her recent work reminds me of Filipino tribal tattoos, but done her way. I love whenever the traditional and contemporary converge. And I love when I can recognize an artist’s voice just by looking at their work. When I finally muster up the courage to get my first tattoo, hopefully it’ll be from her.

Where do you find inspiration?

Lately I’ve been gravitating to Y2K graphics as inspiration (think Kentaro Mori, the iMac G3 or the cover for Bjork’s 1995 album POST). I’m a Gen Z/Millennial cusp, so I was only starting to develop an awareness of visual culture in the late 90’s early 2000’s while this was happening around me. The maximalism and experimentation at the onset of the digital age feels so fresh and exciting in comparison to the corporate/tech aesthetic that has dominated the digital space and visual culture for the time I’ve been studying design. It’s nice to see grunginess and a little bit of digital STANK make a comeback.

What’s next on the horizon?
I’m going to Europe in June!  If you see this please DM me cool buildings to visit while I’m there.


Thank you to all of our participants for sharing their experiences with the AIGA Houston community.

Design by Miguel Guerrero.

By aigahouston
Published May 23, 2022
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