When mired in the present, it may be easy to become myopic. It may be easy to not see how the foundations laid by prior generations contributed to today, and in turn how the projects we start today contribute to the future. The importance of beginnings has been brought to the forefront by the Asian Student Committee’s (ASC) magazine, “Portrait.” The magazine, which debuted on Feb. 7 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, focuses on the theme of origins. Like a campfire on a cold night, the magazine and its theme drew Asian and Asian-American students together to share stories.
But what exactly is the Asian Student Committee? If it sounds unfamiliar, it is because ASC is a sub-group nested within the Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA). “ASC has been around for a long time—it’s the magazine that is new,” former ASA president Nicole Kormendi ’20 explained over the phone. Komendi continued, “ASC is an opportunity for general body members to be involved in planning their own events. For example, there used to be an ‘Asian Quilt’ literary magazine that almost digitized but didn’t.”
Current ASC chair and Editor-in-Chief of “Portrait” Alex Kim ’21 shared via email how she was inspired to head an ASC project: “I had a chance to take a look at the old archives compiled by old ASA Executive Board members. While flipping through old posters, letters, meeting agendas, pictures and documents from 1970s to early 2000s, I felt like I was reliving their times, and it made me feel emotional.” Kim expanded, revealing how these artifacts inspired the project. “I wanted to continue the legacy so that future generations…look at them and understand the history of the Asian community at Vassar.” So, her decision to create the beginning-themed magazine makes sense: It promises to leave a tangible, creative and vibrant snapshot of the Asian community for Vassar’s posterity, while also paying homage to ASA’s long history.
Kim described the undertakings of past committee chairs, who focused on specific themes and raised funds toward organizations like Mental Health America. To follow in those predeccssors’ footsteps and build a lasting legacy, Kim said, “I decided to publish the very first magazine that addresses issues about Asian/Asian-American identities and cultures at Vassar…I have some previous experience in magazine making, and I wanted to do something more visual and aesthetic than a newspaper. The magazine medium gives us more flexibility to experiment with designs and content as well.”
Lead designer Am Chunananda ’22 came to the interview more than ready to discuss the magazine’s design. Armed with a hard copy of the magazine to physically demonstrate her points, she explained, “It’s worth noting that Alex came with a certain visual style that I think was largely inspired by some of the other magazines she’s read, like Korean magazines or other Asian magazines. When I was trying to draw inspiration, I was referring to Nylon Japan, the Japanese version of Nylon magazine, and other student-made magazines.”
Later in the conversation, Chunanada opened the magazine and flipped through until she found the Migration Stories section. Divulging what she referred to as a “spoiler,” she explained, alluding to writers featured in the article, “The imagery of the migration stories was symbolic … I decided to incorporate elements from each person’s portrait. For example, like Rachel’s rectangular shirt pattern—I pulled that out … this ruffle is from Kelly [Zhang ’21]’s top…Spencer [McGrath ’21]’s flannel…and so it goes on for every person. Then, in the title page, that’s when they’re all brought together with the footsteps as well. And the timeline color scheme is mostly from Johnson [Lin ’21]’s and Spencer’s color scheme as well.” Her elucidation of the cultural and aesthetic aspects behind her design choices showcased the power of the magazine medium.
All the planning culminated in the official launch of “Portrait” at the Loeb. Kormendi commented, “The vibes were energetic and positive, even a little bit overwhelming. It was super powerful for Asians and Asian Americans to be given the space to express themselves and have their voices heard.” Speaking about the magazine’s broader purpose, Komendi added, “Beginnings are valuable for connections to history. We all have histories going back through generations, and it’s important to remember and draw on that our experiences don’t start with us and we are contributing to those experiences.”
Following the success of the first issue of “Portrait,” Kim hopes to publish a second edition that connects Vassar Asian Pacific Islander alumni with Vassar’s current Asian student community. She and the rest of ASC remain optimistic despite uncertainty about high costs and future ASC leadership. At this pivotal point, the magazine will function not as the beginning of a stale end, but as the culmination of a meaningful beginning.