Cassandra James On 'Navigating' Being Trans and Asian in Hollywood: It's 'Pretty Lonely and Pretty Isolated'

James spoke on a May 5 panel featuring at Dotdash Meredith that also featured authors Devi S. Laskar and Katie Zhao, ESPN staff writer Joon Lee and media mogul Benny Luo, addressing the shift in representation

Cassandra James attends The 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton on April 02, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty

During Asian American and Pacific Islander Month in May, Dotdash Meredith (PEOPLE's parent company) hosted a panel to bring together prominent voices within the AAPI community to discuss representation in the news and media.

Moderated by Clarissa Cruz of Entertainment Weekly, the May 5 panel featured authors Devi S. Laskar and Katie Zhao, ESPN staff writer Joon Lee actress Cassandra James and media mogul Benny Luo.

The virtual roundtable discussion comes amid a nationwide reckoning with anti-AAPI racism spurred by a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the course of the pandemic era. According to Pew, about a third of Asian Americans say they have changed their day-to-day routine in fear of violence.

But with the rise in hate crimes has come an impetus to increase the visibility of AAPI people and issues; Laskar said she has witnessed an increase in media portraying AAPI stories.

"I feel like, now, we've had in books and in film, we've had just so much impact over the last few years, where a few years ago I wouldn't have even dreamt that we would have so many Asian authors, so many Asian-based films," Laskar said. "Having people who look like us covering the news and being part of the media, it's always just been a really upward trajectory."

Luo, founder of the leading AAPI news site NextShark, agreed with his panel colleague, noting that he has noticed an increase in AAPI journalists and content.

"I've definitely noticed a larger interest in Asian-American coverage," he said. "I mean, I see a lot more Asian-American journalists across different platforms, speaking out and being able to cover stories that they identify with."

James, a Canadian-American trans and AAPI woman currently starring in General Hospital, shared that she often felt unseen in her journey to succeed as an artist.

"My experience has been pretty lonely and pretty isolated. Absolutely, I do echo what everyone has said, that representation is really, really shifting, but I'm still very used to being the only Asian in the room," she said. "I'm certainly the only trans Asian in the room, almost all the time. And I just feel a sense of responsibility and I just want to bring my authentic humanity to what I do. I think sometimes when our identities are politicized, for me as an artist, as an actor, it can be kind of daunting and it's hard to navigate at times."

Lee took notice of a decade-long development of media dealing with Asian-Americans and their sense of belonging.

"I think we're also seeing a thematic shift happening across all these industries and the types of Asian stories that are being told, because I remember growing up that there was not a whole lot of Asian stories, period," he said. "And then, over the course of the last decade or so, I think there's been a lot of stories that hint at the theme of belonging and what it means to be Asian-American and feeling like an outsider."

Zhao shared a victory of her own as an Asian American authority, saying that she was honored to be part of a social media post by a major bookseller that highlighted Asian authors.

"The other day I was tagged in this Barnes and Noble post where it was a full table of just Asian authors and their books and it's just amazing," she said. "Even though it seems like change is happening pretty slowly, and it is probably slower than we would hope, it's just amazing to take a step back and get feedback from other people outside of the industry who can sort of tell us and share how positive we've been able to impact them."

If you've been attacked or have witnessed an attack, please contact your local authorities. You can also report your incident here. To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Stop the AAPI Hate, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, and Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council.

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