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More Than A Monolith

‘The Blanket Identity’ film project emphasizes passions, individuality among AAPI community
The Blanket Identity Project founders
Top left: Iris Li, Kaitlyn Ng Bottom: Ria Upreti

The term “Asian American” is commonly construed as a catch-all, shoehorning people of many cultures and experiences into a single group and muddling distinctions. To help broaden our understanding of the various cultures within the “Asian American” monolith, three UT Austin students created a film project called “The Blanket Identity.”

Produced by Cockrell School of Engineering students Ria Upreti, Iris Li, and Kaitlyn Ng, “The Blanket Identity” features  interviews with members of the AAPI community with a particular focus on their passions and interests.

“We wanted to create a video-based film project that looks at the intersection between Asian identity and people’s passions, and how those things influence or don’t influence each other,” said Upreti, a mechanical engineering and linguistics senior.

The idea for the project, said Upreti, stemmed from a conversation with Li about their identities in contrast to what they were seeing in the mainstream.

“We started talking about how much we both wanted to do a project that was on our own terms and that we had some ownership over,” Upreti said.

In December 2020, the trio began their search for documentary subjects to interview, reaching out on social media and through email campaigns, with some help from the Center for Asian American Studies.

After recruiting two Radio-Television-Film students, videographer Hayden Rhodes and film editor Michele Davis, they began making their short documentaries and posting them on YouTube. Most, but not all, feature UT Austin students and faculty.

all members of UT's Blanket Identity
All members of “The Blanket Identity. Top left to right: Kaitlyn Ng, Michele Davis, Iris Li, Ria Upreti, Hayden Rhodes

The short films feature people of various cultures and identities discussing their unique passions, which range from music production, to business ownership, to linguistics, mental health and more.

“The idea to focus on both heritage and passions just shows each person’s uniqueness and makes it more nuanced,” said Ng, a civil engineering senior. “I just really appreciated how willing and open people were to talk to us.”

While filming the interview, Li, a chemical engineering senior, said she learned so much from the various people of Asian descent who openly shared their life experiences.

“It just made me realize that people do have such different backgrounds, even though on the surface, we are all marked as being Asian or Asian American,” Li said.

The project has since come to an end as the founders have graduated this spring and are embarking on their careers and graduate school. Visit the project’s YouTube channel to view the six mini documentaries, which will also be archived at the Center for Asian American Studies.