Perpetual foreigner’: Photos explore Asian American belonging in everyday spaces

Andrew Kung was a teenager visiting New York when he was first called a racial slur.

The Chinese American photographer grew up in San Francisco’s Sunset District, home to a large Asian population, which “almost felt like a second Chinatown,” he said in a video interview. He was surrounded by people who looked like his parents and grandparents, and who ate the same food as he did. But, on one of his first trips to the East Coast, Kung was crossing the street when a sanitation worker yelled at him, “Get out of the way, chink!”

“That was really the first time that I was like, ‘Wow,'” Kung recalled, “Even in a city like New York, I feel like the ‘other.’ I almost feel hyper-targeted, when I felt so invisible at the same time.” A rash of anti-Asian hate crimes during the Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a nationwide discussion about the often overlooked struggles of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. Even now, more than a decade after a teenage Kung was first called a racial epithet, people are still experiencing racialized physical and verbal attacks, especially in diverse places like New York City.

“It’s another reminder that we are perpetual foreigners,” said Kung, who moved to Brooklyn in 2016. “We’re told to go back to our countries, when this is our home country.” This idea has directly inspired Kung’s latest project, “Perpetual Foreigner,” a collection of over a dozen photographs of Asians occupying “everyday American spaces,” like parks or beaches, that Kung said usually elicit images of White families and individuals. “I wanted to put Asian faces and Asian bodies in those spaces,” said Kung, who writes on his website that his work aims to “normalize Asian American beauty, belonging, and individuality.” “These are the spaces that we inhabit,” he said. “And we deserve to be just as American as anyone else.”

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