How Yuri Kochiyama Inspired this Young Oakland Artist

Kathy Liang's self portrait (Tony Nguyen)

This month Kathy Liang will graduate from Oakland Tech as a part of the class of 2020. She and her fellow seniors will walk out of their classrooms and into a world of uncertainty. Fortunately, at 18, Liang is already extremely focused on her path.

A small portion of Liang's journey has been documented in the newly released short documentary film, I See Me. The film focuses on one of Liang's latest pieces, a mural inspired by a quote from the late civil rights leader Yuri Kochiyama.

“So, transform yourself first," reads the Kochiyama quote, "because you are young and have dreams and want to do something meaningful, that in itself, makes you our future and our hope. Keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross borders.”


Liang says the quote spoke to her because it "encompasses how adult allies should support youth, because when youth grow, they bloom and they thrive."

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Liang is an artist-in-residence at Banteay Srei, an Oakland-based organization supporting Southeast Asian women and girls on the path to self-empowerment.

Through Banteay Srei, Liang was connected with the filmmaker Tony Nguyen. Nguyen is a vet on the Oakland film scene: he's the organizer of the short film festival Oakland Shorties, and the director of Fresh Frozen —a short documentary about the soul food restaurant Catered to You.

Nguyen says it was important to publish Liang's story right now. For starters, May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month; May 19th is also Yuri Kochiyama's birthday. But also, Nguyen says that while the world is so wrapped up in COVID-19, he wanted to remind viewers that issues around gentrification and displacement persist in many urban cities, like Oakland. Lastly, Nguyen says he wanted to do something for the class of 2020. "A lot of students are graduating into a word of uncertainty, and Kathy is one of them," says Nguyen. "What does their future look like?"

Kathy Liang painting an image of herself boxing
Kathy Liang painting an image of herself boxing. (Tony Nguyen)

Liang plans to take virtual classes this fall through Wesleyan University, during which she'll focus on sociology, American studies and studio arts. And of course, she'll continue to put out art with a message.

In fact, Liang currently works with UCLA's Asian Pacific Coalition to illustrate stories of racism and bigotry during this pandemic; the pieces are published on Facebook and Instagram.

Liang's art is political in nature, and looks to fill a void in telling the stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders in America. "My work prioritizes the Asian experience in America," says Liang.

Before graduating high school, she's already making waves.