Peel back the turquoise-and-yellow cover of Banana issue 3 and you’ll find an energetic assortment of “all things AZN,” as its creators put it. Since 2015, the magazine has been showcasing Asian-American creative culture with the aim of breaking down tired and offensive stereotypes.
The mag’s makers, Vicki Ho and Kathleen Tso, balance their contribution to the indie publishing scene with demanding full-time jobs (Ho works as a fashion publicist in New York City and Tso at a digital marketing agency), but it’s safe to say that their time and effort is paying off. While the first issues were crowd-funded and distributed by independent means, Banana is now funded by its sales alone (it’ll be stocked in Barnes & Noble and distributed in Europe by Antenne Books).
Though NYC and suburban Texas—where Banana’s editors lived as kids—are worlds apart, Ho and Tso’s experiences as young girls were similar, and their increasing irritation with the media’s Asian caricatures sowed the seeds for Banana. As they grew up and began working in fashion, they felt a distinct lack of representation in the creative industries. “There’s probably not enough Asians making executive decisions on creative,” say Ho and Tso.
There’s just not enough spotlight on Asians in the creative world. We’re hoping that Banana will create awareness and acknowledge that there is immense talent in the Asian community and that we all deserve a seat at the table.
Although neither come from a publishing background, the pair sees their inexperience as a benefit. “It’s been a blessing because it’s allowed us to experiment and think differently about what a print magazine should look and feel like,” they say, counting the Facebook Indie Publishers Group as a savior.
Working full-time in digitally focused industries has also revealed the value of the printed medium. “As both of us work with how immediate and click-bait online information can be, we also knew we couldn’t get Banana’s message through in an engaging and meaningful way if we went digital,” explain Tso and Ho. “Our content doesn’t need to get watered down and we don’t need to add SEO tags to reach our audience. For us, Banana is also a physical platform that documents what was relevant in Asian culture year by year; it serves almost as a collectable item. Our hope is that people will look back at the magazine in five or ten years and see what was important to our culture.”
In issue 3, you’ll find a narrative of life growing up in a Chinese take-out restaurant, profiles of the locals that represent the next generation of NYC’s Chinatown, interviews with Asian-American creatives about “Asian Glow,” and a chat with the illustrator behind the cover, Shawna X. “We’re very lucky to have a huge local NYC community of friends and supporters who are making waves in the creative industry,” say Tso and Ho about how they source their contributors. “We put out a casting email to a few friends early last year for Asians who get red while drinking for our Asian Glow feature for example, and the recommendations just rolled right in.”
Banana slots in neatly with other independent titles that focus on under-represented cultures or topics traditionally ignored by the media: in the UK, Nii Journal is highlighting people of color in the creative industry, and in a more light-hearted way in Hamburg, Germany, MC1R offers advice and role-models to those with red hair. “It’s been such a shock for us about how well received Banana is in our community,” say Tso and Ho. “We get a lot of supportive emails from strangers everyday and it helps validate the hard work. It takes a lot for people these days, even us, to sit down and write a thoughtful email to complete strangers just because. We get a lot of emails from individuals who talk about how they wish they had something like Banana growing up.”