Angel Trazo (she/her) is a queer, second-generation Filipina America born and raised in the Bay Area. While at Colgate University, a college in upstate New York with a total of 9.25 fellow Filipinos and no Asian American Studies courses, she was pressed to understand what it meant for her to claim an Asian American identity. This exploration resulted in her senior Studio Art Thesis titled Where Are You From?, an interview-based graphic novel featuring personal short stories of 49 Asian American and Asian International students. Since graduating with two degrees in Biology and Studio Art in 2017, she has continued creating works centered on Asian America including her debut children’s book, We Are Inspiring: The Stories of 32 Asian Americans Women. She is currently a Master’s student in Asian American Studies at UCLA working on an ethnographic project which explores the bond between boba and Asian American youth in her hometown, San Jose, California.
- What inspired you to write this book?
In the summer of 2018, while perusing Recycled Bookstore in San Jose, I picked up the children’s book Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison and immediately fell in love. Her book inspired my frenzied search for something similar, only written about Asian American women. I left bookstores empty-handed and webstores with an empty cart. In popular women’s empowerment children’s books, I found only one or two Asian women represented, if any. Asian American women were even less represented. Online, with the exception of NBC’s “Asian America: A to Z,” I struggled to find a comprehensive list of more than five Asian American women.
To put it bluntly, this dearth of literature f**king pissed me off. I felt angry that no one had made a children’s book focused on Asian American women, or if they had, that they exotified its protagonists as girls “from far away” who did nothing but eat “ethnic food.” I knew there was more to the lives of Asian American women. Powerful, brave, and inspiring Asian American women. Women who follow their dreams, exude creativity, and fight for equity. Who recently made American home or hold roots generations deep. We Are Inspiring grew from a selfish desire to make the book I felt was missing from American children’s literature.
In the two weeks between the end of a summer internship and the start of graduate school, I aggressively researched and sketched the stories of Asian American women. I took a break once school began, but used my bits of downtime to launch a successful Kickstarter in November of 2018. The support from family, friends, and soon-to-be friends who supported my Kickstarter pushed me to complete and self-publish We Are Inspiring.
In American literature and textbooks, the histories of ethnic minority groups and women are constantly erased or overlooked. What could I, some random Filipina American (then) 23-year-old from California, do about this? Well, I can write and draw. We Are Inspiring is my little part in combating erasure and shedding light on Asian American history. It is the book I would have wanted as a child and still want as a 24-year old today. On the back cover of my book, I wrote, “I wondered why I couldn’t find this book anywhere… I realized it was because I hadn’t made it yet.”
- Are you planning on writing a follow-up?
I would love to make a sequel featuring other Asian American heroes because there are so many I haven’t written about yet! I also aspire to create a children’s book featuring Asian American activists and the history of Ethnic Studies.
- What is the most positive reaction you have gotten from this book?
I love when people gasp or get excited when they see the page of someone they love in We Are Inspiring. When this happens, I clutch my heart because this is so validating (and I’m pretty dramatic). There was also this random dad who saw me telling someone about the book at my favorite Korean restaurant in San Jose (shout-out to Danbi Korean Restaurant), and he got so excited about it that he advocated for my book to be stocked at his local library.
- Who are some Asian women you look up to?
My mom. She grew up in a small town in the Philippines and got into the top law school, Ateneo de Manila University. At Ateneo, she was surrounded by children from rich families who dressed to the nine while she wore the same two dresses on a rotation because she had to save money for rent and transportation. After graduating from law school at the top of her class and reaching her dream of becoming an attorney, she treated herself by splurging on all the designer clothes and Filipino food she wanted. She is my #goals.
Helen Zia. I dedicated two pages to her story in We Are Inspiring. Her book Asian American Dreams (2000) was the first Asian American history book I ever read and it undoubtedly changed my life. I have been lucky to see her speak in person twice, both as an undergraduate student at Colgate University when the club I was a part of, the Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity, invited her to speak on campus, and as a graduate student at UCLA when she visited Professor Lily Welty-Tamai’s Asian American Women class. I make so much fanart about her she probably thinks I’m creepy *wide-eyed blushing emoji.*
My main graphic novel and comic book role models are Thi Bui, Malaka Gharib, Mariko Tamaki, Debbie Tung, and Jane Mai. I also am so inspired by fellow San Jose native and Filipina American, Genevieve Santos; I have SO many of her adorable stickers. And of course, I look up to the amazing Katie Quan who has such a smart and inspiring comic series (@thisasianamericanlife) and who heavily influenced my path toward Asian American Studies back in 2017.
But this is just to name a few! If I had to name all of the Asian artists, scholars, friends, and family I look up to, we’d be here for the next ten years.
- What is something you hope to see this magazine accomplish?
I hope that the stories in Overachiever Magazine continue to reach Asian women and femmes around the world and help those in our community, and honestly, any person who can relate, feel validated and seen. I appreciate the content OM creates and curates by and for Asian women and am excited to add one more story to the collection.
- What is the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
Something along the lines of “Why do you have to add words to your art? Just paint watercolor portraits of Asians instead.” This critique from an art professor when I was in undergrad sticks with me to this day because since then, I’ve done nothing but add words to my art. I refuse to be silenced in that way ever again.
- What is a story you want to tell someday?
I would love to tell my own family history and coming-of-age story in a style similar to I Was Their American Dream (2019) by Malaka Gharib. Interestingly, I wrote a somewhat similar book called Where Are You From?: Short stories about being Asian in America (2017) as my undergraduate senior Studio Art thesis but have yet to formally publish it.
- What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
It is always important to listen to critique. However, how an artist or writer responds to criticism and advice should depend on whether this feedback from a good place — a good place meaning the person providing feedback understands where you are coming from, respects you as much as you respect them, and desires to see you grow.
Sometimes, criticism comes from a not-so-good place. And you’ll know, deep down in your gut, when this is the case.
The number of times someone has devalued my art style, the stories I hope to tell, and the dreams I have: countless. I have been told that my drawings are flat out “ugly” or told “Is there even a market for a book about Asian Americans *laughs patronizingly*?” (add these to question 6). However, of the negative feedback I receive, I have learned to differentiate between the constructive and the not-so-good/destructive, the latter sometimes stemming from a place of pettiness, competitiveness, immaturity, bullying, low self-worth or pent-up anger which a person projects onto me… etc.
It’s difficult not to take criticism personally, but it helps to know the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism.
- What is your go-to coffee order?
I’m not much of a coffee person, but I do have a somewhat unhealthy boba addiction. I love mango green tea (with or without milk), roasted oolong milk tea (with boba and/or red bean), and the “Liquid Gold” (honey, milk, tea drink) with honey boba from Teaspoon.
- What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Asian women today?
I feel that the largest problem facing any community is divisive competition, which is honestly an issue in most communities united by identity politics. This kind of toxic competitiveness often manifests in insincerity, pettiness, bullying, and a “cancel” culture in which a clique of folks exclude, shame, and trash-talk others with the goal of dominating and regulating a community. Especially in communities where visibility or financial resources appears limited, folks tend to claw their way to the top. I’ve never been one to build solely transactional friendships or push others down for the sake of lifting myself up (crab mentality). Luckily, I have found friends in academia and local creative networks who desire to uplift other Asian women and femmes and to continue fighting for a positive cycle of community care where folks pass down knowledge, grow together, and stand in solidarity with other marginalized communities.
Find Angel and her work here: