I’m talking on the phone with my sister as I walk to the subway station, but once I’m about 10 steps away, I tell her I have to go. No one on the train wants to hear about my dating life or what I thought of Iron Fist. But to ease the awkwardness of everyone ignoring everyone else, I’ve started listening to podcasts to pass my daily commute. I started with classics like Serial and This American Life, but soon I stumbled across the Potluck Podcast Collective. When I listen to Asian American stories, views, and voices, I feel less like I’m riding among strangers and more like I’m talking with friends. So for those times when you’re riding alone, check out one of my favorite Asian American podcasts below.
Ada Tseng, founder of the calendar series Haikus with Hotties, remembers Saturday mornings as a kid when her parents made her go to Chinese school. Now a writer and a journalist, Tseng has partnered with film scholar Brian Hu to, as they say, “teach your unwilling children about Asian American pop culture history.” Following their theme of going to school, each season, or course, is on a different topic, from Asian American comedy in season one to Asian Americans in love in season two. In each episode, called a lesson, Tseng and Hu discuss a film from the Asian American canon that they love and think everyone should watch. In the end, it illustrates that there’s a much richer history of Asian American storytelling than Hollywood currently shows us.
“No more excuses, Hollywood,” is the website tagline to Melissa Powers and Matthew Eng’s podcast. Powers and Eng, both writers and creators, are tired of the film industry’s sad attempts at representing Asian Americans. So they came up with Asian Oscar Bait, a weekly podcast that pitches Oscar-worthy stories starring real-life Asian Americans to the listening audience. Each episode opens with recent news related to Asian American representation in entertainment. Then, they tell listeners a story of an extraordinary Asian American. In addition to being incredibly well-researched, these real-life stories sound like Hollywood blockbusters, full of action, romance, and even scandal. Each episode ends with a dramatic reading of a scene from an imagined movie script, a sneak peek of a film that might one day win an Oscar.
Co-hosts Katie Zhu and Nicole Zhu are closer than friends; they’re sisters. Listening in on their conversations, I feel like I’m in a room with my own close friends, people who went through the same experiences I did growing up and who don’t feel the least bit awkward talking about it. And by “it” I mean everything from family to dating to politics. The sisters and their guests, which have included authors, artists, and even their parents, address all facets of the Asian American experience—the sweet and the sour. Honest conversations like these are as important as they are rare, for showing us that we don’t bear these experiences alone.
The #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast grew out of an online conversation between activist-storyteller Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and writer-comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh. The titular hashtag reflects the contradictory perceptions of Muslim Americans. To the Muslim community, they are bad for their American ways; to non-Muslims, they are good for keeping Muslim values. Co-hosts Ahmed and Noorbakhsh come together to talk about this balancing act, among other issues, drawing on anecdotes from their own lives and those of people they meet. Together, they paint an honest and sympathetic picture of what it is to be a Muslim American woman in the U.S. today. Living in fear often emerges as a common theme, but they face it with humor, solidarity, and a call for political and community engagement. This is real talk at its finest and essential listening for any American, Muslim or otherwise.
Blogger Phil Yu and writer/columnist Jeff Yang both have a history of giving readers the raw, angry truth about the Asian American experience before coming together to host this podcast, which they call “an unfiltered conversation about what’s happening in Asian America.” In it, they give listeners their honest take on recent shows like Iron Fist and Andi Mack, movies like Ghost in the Shell and Better Luck Tomorrow, and events like the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. To help them discuss these topics, they’ve brought on guests including actors, producers, and journalists. Yu and Yang’s commentary is as insightful as it is entertaining, and keeping up with them is a great way to keep up with the latest in Asian America.