IN COMMUNITY | Embracing Cultural Identity UPRISERS x PacSun Event Recap

May 30, 2024Team UPRS


Saturday, May 18th ‘Embracing Cultural Identity by UPRISERS 🌸’ at the PacSun Flagship store in downtown Los Angeles

We came together at the PacSun Flagship store in downtown LA to honor the 112-year history of the Southern California Flower Market.

“In a rapidly developing downtown we don’t know if the flower district will continue to exist. For the past five years I have worked with my team to document and tell the story of a piece of history that could have gone overlooked. It is my hope that this contribution to historic preservation will shed light on our history before it gets displaced by rising rents and inflation. The more we are a part of this story the more we recognize how complex and messy it is to solve. The solutions are all imperfect but there’s value in trying and that’s what makes our community so beautiful.” — founder of UPRISERS and 4th generation Japanese and Okinawan American, Michelle K. Hanabusa

With inspiring guests like Chef Tuệ Nguyễn, Asia Jackson and Erick de Vera thoughtfully moderated by LA Times columnist Frank Shyong the community discussion touched on a variety of topics. From the challenges of learning our own history to the significance of representation to the responsibility of our cultural identity in the new world of Asian American capitalism we are grateful to PacSun for giving us space to embrace our identities through our relationship with community.


Chef Tuệ Nguyễn, whose father was a nail tech, shared the history of the nail industry in the Vietnamese American community.

“An American actress came to one of the refugee camps and she was trying to teach Vietnamese women skills, any skills just so they could find work. And nails just happened to stick and then ever since then the nail industry has been dominated by Vietnamese women and men.” - Chef Tuệ Nguyễn

Hearing about the roots of this survival skill for Vietnamese immigrants in America made us curious, so we fact checked Tuệ’s story and according to this 2019 NPR article that featured a documentary called Nailed It by Filmmaker Adele Free Pham, in 1975, Tippi Hedren was doing humanitarian work and she got the idea to get her personal manicurist, Dusty Coots, to come to the refugee camp in Northern California and teach these women how to do a manicure as it would be done in Beverly Hills.


Frank mentioned the clustering of immigrants in certain industries, like the Vietnamese in the nail industry or Filipinnos in the nursing sector.  And each panelist shared their experiences about learning about their communities roots in the United States and how it shaped not only the job opportunities but also the stereotypes of their ethnicities. 

Asia Jackson shared ‘I grew up knowing that there were so many Filipino nurses, I just never knew the why,’ and went into learning about the history of that industry in her community. 

For those interested in learning more the UPRISERS Book Club strongly recommends Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History by Catherine Ceniza Choy


And if the survival strategy of immigrant communities is to continue as the unspoken labor force of the United States, Frank asked ‘How do we create representation in other industries and spaces?’ 

‘For me I wasn’t interested (to be a nurse). At that time (during the pandemic) I launched Garden & Seeds as a passion project and it was an affirmation for me to follow something more fulfilling for myself and a sense of purpose rather than let me just go here… I think it’s important to have cultural identity where a Filipino kid sees me up here as a designer and not in the medical field.’ - Erick de Vera

But it’s not the only thing we need to be talking about because the right representation also matters.  


“Everything I do and everything I make I ask myself is this going to push my culture forward in a positive light? Or is this going to continue this negative narrative of my culture? It comes with responsibilities.” - Chef Tuệ Nguyễn

While selling Asian culture has been a time-honored survival strategy for the nation’s early Asian American pioneers from Thai food in Hollywood, to the Chinatown gift shop, today we have several pairs of Lunar New Year Air Force Ones available for sale every year and survival is no longer the context. Asian Americans have become some of the biggest suppliers of commodified Asian culture, and we are also its biggest consumers. 

“I think that exploitation is a really huge thing to worry about when we are talking about selling culture and monetizing culture. Do I think it’s inherently problematic for Asian Americans to go out and do things and sell parts of culture? No, I think it’s something to be celebrated and I think that by offering to our community, we are celebrating it all together but at the same time I think it’s really easy for it to be exploited.” - Asia Jackson


Our t-shirt capsule at PacSun ‘Find Beauty in the Imperfection’ is dedicated to the 112 year history of the Japanese immigrant-founded Southern California Flower Market. As UPRISERS continues to be committed to historic preservation and community sustainability we are grateful to our partner PacSun that a percentage of proceeds will benefit Kizuna —a 501(C)3 non-profit organization building a future for the community through the education, empowerment, and engagement of the next generation. 

A very big thank you to Asian Founded for helping to curate an awesome lineup of small businesses: Cocodealers, Drink Narra, Gabriela Sage, Squigs Beauty, and We Share Records

We’d also like to acknowledge the Consulate General of Japan Los Angeles representatives and next generation JX committee working towards bridging relationships between Japanese Americans and Japan.

We deeply appreciate the Ohara School of Ikebana’s Kyoko San for designing beautiful ikebana arrangements that we had on display at the event. 

Thanks to all who joined us and supported our mission! Let's continue to embrace our legacy and empower the next generation. 🌼💫

UPRISERS Pacsun AAPI T-shirt

A percentage of proceeds will benefit Kizuna —a 501(C)3 non-profit organization building a future for the community through the education, empowerment, and engagement of the next generation.