Photo collage of a hand holding a phone with TikTok open and two content creators: Nadya Okamoto and Kate Hina Sabatine

How TikTok has helped build community among AA+PIs

And why banning the app could take it all away

Content creators like Nadya Okamoto (left) and Kate Hina Sabatine use TikTok to address Asian American advocacy and representation.

Photo illustration by Ryan Quan

When it launched in 2016, TikTok joined the myriad social media platforms as a way for users to share content, whether that was dancing to newly released songs, talking about their recent breakup, commenting on the actor in that one movie, or singing their heart out. Quickly, however, it became so much more: a way to connect with people, alike or different, transcending the physical and geographical boundaries that often keep us from doing so.

However, this app that is currently used by more than 150 million people in the United States, is in danger of being banned by the U.S. government unless it is sold, due to concerns of national security.

When considering the possibility of a TikTok ban in the United States, it’s clear that we stand to lose more than just a favorite pastime. Content creators would lose a crucial stream of income, businesses would forfeit a valuable advertising platform, and everyone would be deprived of the opportunity to develop friendships, connections, and relationships through the app. For many, particularly marginalized communities who don’t feel reflected in the world immediately around them, TikTok has become a community that would evaporate with the ban.

Many Asian Americans are familiar with that feeling of not fitting innot being Asian enough, but also not feeling American enough. Growing up, we may not have been able to accurately (if at all) speak our parents’ or grandparents’ languages or may not resonate with our cultures of origin as much as we think we should. On the other hand, we were never quite American enough either, with families who many not have understood the relative importance of wearing certain brands or bringing certain foods for lunch. As we’ve aged, we can let go of some of those concerns, but insecurities still remain, in the form of Asian stereotypes and feeling the need to conform to certain standards of academic or professional success.

It wasn’t so long ago that Asian Americans were siloed as they grappled with these feelings, particularly for individuals in small towns with few other AA+PIs. Obviously, we are not alone, but it wasn’t until TikTok that it became so obvious. Content creators who post videos about trauma, celebration, or funny stories from their Asian American experience have comment sections filled with “OMG YES” or “thank god I’m not the only one.” We all relateit’s just that we haven’t had a platform on which we could share these experiences so wholly until TikTok.

The hashtag #AAPI on TikTok has cultivated more than 50,000 videos, with individuals sharing their stories with the public of being an Asian American, whether that is sharing relatable tidbits on how different life was for our parents or grandparents in Asia or talking about Asian representation in film and media. The “of course” trend also was used by many Asian American content creators to talk about relatable experiences within the AA+PI community, for example sharing that “We’re Asian; of course we have crippling anxiety because of our intergenerational trauma.” Many Asian Americans on TikTok also talk about their relationships with their parents and family and how family expectations may have left them with lasting trauma. Videos like these serve a major purposeto normalize the Asian American experience so we don’t feel so alone. TikTok offers the opportunity for people to bond over these shared experiences, and alleviate the mental health burden of that isolation.

Furthermore, TikTok provides a platform for Asian American advocacy, reaching millions in moments. Nadya Okamoto, a leading activist in menstrual equity, uses TikTok to encourage social change to her four million followers. She shares that TikTok has allowed her to form a “supportive network of like-minded individuals who are passionate about sharing their stories.”

I have collaborated with other content creators to amplify Asian American voices,” she explains, “to share our stories, and raise awareness about important issues such as anti-Asian racism and mental health.”

@nadyaokamoto Shoutout to all the dads who are period positive and all the moms who have the default responsibility of teaching their daughters about periods. Happy #mothersday yall do so much for us! #periods And yes i gave him a copy of my book period power and a box of @It's August ♬ original sound - Nadya Okamoto

Kate Hina Sabatine, an Asian American TikToker known for their comedic skits and content on topics of queer identity and representation, explains that TikTok has provided them with an opportunity to see the Asian American representation that they never saw when they were younger. “TikTok is a very intimate way of being on social media,” they explain. “It’s the oversharing that makes you feel genuinely connected.”

By banning TikTok, Asian Americans could lose those deep connections, leaving many to experience that feeling of isolation once again. Abandoning TikTok would mean leaving behind a sense of community and identity for the very people who need it the most.

Published on June 3, 2024

Words by Suhanee Mitragotri

Suhanee Mitragotri is a student at Harvard University studying neuroscience and global health & health policy. She has experience writing for The Progressive, The Lancet Neurology, New ScientistTechnology Networks, American Medical Student Association, Knowing Neurons, Conduct Science, Harvard Health Policy Review, and The Harvard Brain.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.