Utahn celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with photoshoot project

May 2, 2022, 7:27 AM | Updated: 8:05 am

SALT LAKE CITY — May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and a local photographer is highlighting the contributions, achievements and voices that make up Utah’s AAPI community.

Janessa Ilada is providing a creative space for Asians and Pacific Islanders to share their personal experiences, one portrait at a time.

“With the rise of Asian hate and attacks on Asian women, I wanted to do something to advocate for the Asian Pacific Islander community,” she said.

Ilada invited AAPI folks to take part in photoshoots throughout the Salt Lake Valley as part of her “Call Me By My Name” project.

As a Filipina American woman who grew up in West Jordan and attended school in Draper in the late 90s, she says sometimes it was easier to suppress her cultural identity to fit in.

It was common for some to change their names.

“In conversations I’ve had with friends, I learned that some of my friends who have Western sounding names actually had their name changed when their families immigrated to the U.S,” said Ilada.

This project reminds AAPI people that they have a rich heritage they should never forget.

“Our names were given to us for a reason. Our parents chose our name and these names connect us to our family,” said Ilada. “And most importantly, the fact that these names aren’t uncommon back home. Where our parents come from, our names are actually very common.”

“If I were back in the Philippines visiting my family, my last name is pretty well-known. But here, it is unusual because there’s only one out of maybe less than 10 of us here in the state of Utah where a lot of people would say what’s that last name all about?”

Last year, Ilada created a photoshoot at the Bonneville Salt Flats with women of AAPI descent wearing their heritage attire. She said the moving piece shows representation matters.

There are over 80,000 Asians and 38,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who call Utah home.

She’ll finish up photo shoots this week and put them into a collage to display. It’s her way of giving back to her community and sharing her culture with others.

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Utahn celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with photoshoot project