Collage of some of our favorite Asian creatives

Year of the Dragon: What It Means for Asian creatives

From television to coffee, we're showcasing the formidable spirit of Asian creatives in the Year of the Dragon

Words by Vandana Pawa

The Year of the Dragon has arrived, and with it comes hopes of vitality and creativity flourishing. 

It’s commonly recognized that the animal symbols of the Chinese zodiac cycle every twelve years, but it’s lesser known that each animal is also affiliated with a natural element: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. For the first time in sixty years, the wood dragon has returned to center stage, bringing good fortune for all. 

The wood dragon last made an appearance in 1964, and the face of pop culture shifted as its energy moved through the collective consciousness. Beatlemania was sweeping the world, Andy Warhol was painting portraits of Marilyn Monroe, and Susan Sontag was writing her Notes on “Camp.” The unlimited potential for artistic prosperity returns as the dragon makes its way toward us, but this year, we’re claiming it for ourselves. 

In recent years, creative work by Asian artists and makers has taken the spotlight for, what feels like, the first time ever. Southeast Asian musicians are creating bangers across genres and touring stage plays across the United States. Artists are telling the stories of other artists as documentary filmmakers like Eunice Lau showcase the journey of aspiring rappers in Atlanta. The 2024 edition of the Sundance Film Festival marked the premiere of a number of Asian American stories and Asian co-productions from Bhutan’s Agent of Happiness, to India’s Nocturnes. Legacy television shows like American Horror Story have South Asian leading stars for the first time, with Maaz Ali making history in his ongoing portrayal of the character Kamal.

In "Cambodian Rock Band," the cast members double up as musicians in the live band. From left, Abraham Kim, Joe Ngo, Brooke Ishibashi, Jane Lui, and Tim Liu.

Margot Schulman

In Brooklyn, coffee creative Sahra Nguyen is redefining the caffeine scene with her specialty Vietnamese coffee company, Nguyen Coffee Supply. Meanwhile on the West Coast, perceptions of Asian food are changing due to the work of food influencers like Victor Xie.  Across the world, cookbooks by AA+PIs are taking over shelves. Asian representation has even made it to the adult film industry

According to Jonathan H. X. Lee, a professor of Asian American studies and folklore at San Francisco State University, a Chinese folktale positioned the dragon as one of 12 animals racing toward the Jade Emperor in a competition that would ultimately determine the order of the zodiac signs. As it flew overhead, the dragon noticed the rabbit struggling to swim in a river below. Instead of racing ahead, in an act of selflessness, it blew a breath so powerful that the rabbit reached the shore before the dragon itself. 

In Chinese culture, these mythical creatures are said to be confident, formidable, and have an incomparable charisma that ultimately leads them to success—but the generosity showcased by the dragon cannot be understated. For the up-and-coming Asian artist, this collection of characteristics just might be the perfect recipe for everything one needs to not only make their creative dreams come true, but to make them matter. What are the stories that live inside of us, waiting to be told? What are we creating, and who are we creating it for? What can our communities harvest from our work? What do we owe them, and what do we owe ourselves? As Asian creatives face the challenge of bringing their art to the world this year, may the energy of the wood dragon carry them through. 

Published on February 8, 2024

Words by Vandana Pawa

Vandana Pawa is a Bangkok-born, Brooklyn-based culture and fashion writer. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @vandanaiscool.

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.