Janel Foo is no longer interested in being a model minority. She remembers exactly when she first learned about the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes that began after the start of the pandemic last year, when 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was fatally assaulted in San Francisco during his daily morning walk. She remembers watching the video of a 91-year-old man in Oakland’s Chinatown being forcefully pushed to the ground, and the flood of emotions that followed.
“I was completely horrified that anyone could do this, let alone to one of our elders,” Janel said, who is of Chinese decent. “I cried and my heart was in pieces.”
“And then I was really angry that this was hardly getting any media coverage and that most people were not even aware of what had happened,” she continued. “That was in the beginning of February, attacks were happening daily it seemed, and I started Create to Stop Hate in the beginning of March. I feel like so many people didn’t understand why I was starting this. Even some of my Asian American friends were not aware of what was going on early on.”
Determined to no longer remain quiet, Janel launched Create to Stop Hate, which has since grown beyond her imagination, from one auction into an ongoing series, exclusively featuring items donated from Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists. All proceeds, so far more than $37K, go directly to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition dedicated to documenting anti-Asian hate and discrimination. This Friday, May 21st, begins the fourth round of auctions in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month.
Janel’s mission is about more than just raising money—she’s also committed to creating community and bringing awareness to the issue of anti-Asian hate crimes, which, according to Stop AAPI Hate, has nearly doubled over the past year, with the number of hate incidents reported to the center increasing from 3,795 to 6,603 in March of 2021 alone.
As she busily prepares to launch Create to Stop Hate’s latest auction, while also continuing to create stained glass art for her thriving business, Janel Foo Glassworks, we were able to squeeze in a moment with the Southern California native and learn about her path to activism and her plans for the future.
Tell me about Create to Stop Hate’s origin story. What drove you to create this?
Back in March of this year when all the attacks on our AAPI elders and the rise of anti-Asian hate started to surface, of course, it really hit home for me being an Asian American. I really wanted to do something to help so I thought I’d raise some money for an AAPI organization with one of my stained glass pieces. Then I thought it’d be nice to get some of my AAPI maker friends involved and maybe do some sort of group effort to fundraise. Well, this quickly turned into almost 70 artists in the initial round of auctions. I was very overwhelmed because I had never organized a fundraiser before but I decided to go for it. I have learned so much and it was been such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. I can’t believe that we have had over 150 artists participate now!
I’m inspired by the whole AAPI community and how everyone has rallied together for this cause. I felt the need to raise awareness for the rise of anti-Asian hate while amplifying the voices, art and work of the diverse AAPI community of creatives. I felt like it was our time to stop blending into the crowd and start to shine. I also thought that maybe there were other Asian Americans out there like me, that were really feeling helpless and lost when all this started to surface and were looking for a way to help their community but didn’t know how.
You’ve had some big names (Hello Ali Wong and Ocean Vuong!) donate items for auction. Is there an artist you’ve been most excited about thus far?
I still can’t believe what big names we have had in our line up. I was reaching out to people’s agents thinking I wouldn’t never hear back, and I heard back from all of them. Everyone just wants to help out and if they haven’t been able to donate, they’ve shared the auction. The support has been so amazing.
Ali Wong’s assistant reached out to me on behalf of her and I couldn’t believe it. Of course, I’m a huge fan of hers. That was kind of the turning point for me, just realizing that this was really reaching people. I can’t pick just one, I’ve been excited about so many items and artists.
You’re volunteering all your time to put this together, correct? How are you managing all this?
Yes, I’ve been doing all of this on a volunteer basis. I started this in early March and worked about 15 hours a day, every day. At that time, I was doing everything myself aside from the facts and resource research ,and all the text on the website and social media, which my brother put together for me. I’d wake up early and start working, and work until about 11pm or midnight and repeat. I was doing all the emailing, organizing, graphic design and posts by myself. I was and am very tired, but I figured I’ll sleep later. This was and is so important. The first couple rounds, I paused all my stained glass work to focus on this, but recently there’s been some glass projects I’ve had to attend to so I’m lucky that I’ve had my brother, Jason, to help me, and now he has taken on a much bigger role in this. He is just as passionate as I am about this initiative and together we make a really good team.
What do you enjoy most about doing these auctions?
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I love posting the auctions in the morning and watching all the items get bid on. The bidding wars are so fun to watch, especially during the closing of the auctions. Most people seem to be having a lot of fun participating and bidding and engaging with the bidders and artists. It’s been so incredible to discover so many artisans and makers within the AAPI community and make new Asian American and Pacific Islander friends. I don’t have many Asian American and Pacific Islander friends, and I honestly didn’t ever think that was something that I was lacking in my life, but I’ve discovered that it was something that I was actually missing, and it’s been nice to talk to other people that I can really relate to on that level.
I haven’t bid on anything myself and it’s not because I don’t want to, but I just decided to not allow myself to do so, but I have purchased many goods from the artists to support them outside of the auction.
You’re about to start Auction 4, do you have any plans of stopping?
We are doing Round 4 for Asian Heritage Month and after this round, we’re going to take a little break, but it’s a break so we can plan the future of Create to Stop Hate. I have no plans of stopping. The fundraiser has been so well received, I feel like there is a need for this platform for AAPI artists, and I would love to see where this goes and how we can continue to grow. With things looking like they may return to a bit of normalcy, I would love to plan some in-person events in the future.
What’s some feedback you’ve received from the public?
I’ve gotten such nice emails, messages and shout outs on Instagram feeds from people. One email in particular came from someone that found us through Instagram. She told me that the increase of anti-Asian hate crimes has had her attention and has made her feel outrage, but she was confused and didn’t know how to best support in a meaningful way. She said that she isn’t much of an activist type of person, but when she found our initiative, it was exactly what she was looking for. This is exactly why I created this.
What are you most proud of in regards to Create to Stop Hate?
I’m most proud of bringing together this talented community of AAPI creatives and providing a place for artists to be heard. I’m proud of having a place for people that are looking for a way to support the AAPI community to come to get information and discover our huge community of artists, and I’m just proud of building this initiative that started as such a small, simple idea. I honestly would have never thought I was capable of starting something like this and the success and reception of this has come at a time when I am prouder than ever to be Asian American.
Have you ever experienced any racism personally?
When I was a kid, I got the pulling back of the eyes and kids pushing their nose down in my face and mocking the Chinese language, mocking my last name “Foo” and constantly getting mistaken for the “other Asian girl.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time, a lot of it was internalized, until recently when everyone started sharing their stories and so many resonated with me.
Recently, I haven’t experienced anything. I am hyper aware of being Asian more than ever ,and I feel like sometimes I’m getting stared out for being Asian but I don’t know if that’s just me being self-conscious of who I am.
What’s one misconception about Asians you’d most want to correct?
We all look alike, because really, we all look so different. I was always getting mistaken for the other Asian girl in my class who wasn’t even Chinese, or the other Asian girl on my soccer team who had long hair when I had short hair.
Beyond bidding on an item or donating money, do you have any other suggestions for people who want to help?
Support the AAPI creative community, buy from AAPI artists and support AAPI-owned businesses. Share what’s happening to our AAPI community on your social media. These anti-Asian hate crimes are still not getting the media coverage they should be. We need to keep spreading the word and making other people aware of what’s going on.
You’re an accomplished stained-glass artist. Can you talk a little about your work and how you got started in the medium?
My journey with stained glass started by me going back to school in my early 30s to “find myself.” I have a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and Merchandising from San Francisco State. I moved back to Southern California and worked as a wardrobe stylist for many years before I got eager to pursue other interest. I decided to go back to school and enroll in a jewelry design certificate program at Pasadena City College. It was in a studio course called “Crafts” that I was introduced to stained glass through one of the course’s projects. The appeal to stained glass for me was immediate. It was like everything I loved to do my whole life in one medium—design and building something with my hands. I loved the way I could juxtapose colors, shapes and textures.
After I finished the jewelry program, I took stained glass classes at a local stained glass shop until I felt like I was in a good place to practice on my own. I patiently practiced until I felt comfortable enough to start selling my work, and in 2015 I started Janel Foo Glassworks. I went back to wardrobe styling while I was getting my business off the ground and there came a point when glass took over my day job and I was able to go full-time.
I love how stained glass has a way of transforming a room no matter if it’s a huge stained glass installation or even a small suncatcher, it creates a mood and I love the way stained glass will transform depending on the light.