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#NotTheSame Campaign Aims to Challenge Asian-American Stereotypes

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund will begin a monthlong campaign this December to raise awareness about the varied — and often unheard — stories of struggles experienced by members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Primarily a social media and online campaign, #NotTheSame aims to challenge the mischaracterization that all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders speak the same language, share the same culture, and have access to the same opportunities, according to Joy Yoo, associate director of marketing and communications for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C.

#NotTheSame will also feature a 30-second public service announcement, valued at $1 million in airtime, that will be broadcast on Comcast and NBC affiliates throughout the country beginning Nov. 30, Yoo told NBC News.

“This campaign is truly dedicated to the thousands of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have struggled through tremendous obstacles and persevered to become first generation college graduates, community leaders and more,” Neil Horikoshi, president and executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, said in a statement. “We, as a nation, could not be having this conversation at a better time.”

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#NotTheSame hopes to encourage and empower Asian American and Pacific Islanders, who represent more than 48 ethnicities and speak over 300 languages, to share their own personal narratives and life journeys through Twitter, as well as Facebook and Instagram, Yoo said. More than 20 community and education organizations both within and outside the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have partnered with the scholarship fund for this project.

“This is truly a campaign that is inspired by the community and the real stories, and it’s a campaign that we want the community to own and to narrate,” Yoo said.

The half-minute public service announcement, Yoo said, is a condensed version of a longer video featured on the #NotTheSame web page that was shot by the Jubilee Project, which makes short films, documentaries and public service announcements for nonprofits. That video, a little under three minutes in length, introduces viewers to a dozen-or-so Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, some of whom spoke candidly about such topics as how classmates questioned their skin color and physical features, and how stereotypes like being good at math limited they way others viewed them.

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In all, between 30 and 40 Asian American and Pacific Islander high school and college students, as well as recent college graduates, in southern California were interviewed about the struggles they’ve faced and the ways they’ve dealt with them, Yoo said. Some were scholarship recipients of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, which has awarded over $100 million to students since 2003, Yoo said.

While their experiences varied widely, she added, their stories shared a common thread.

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“I think maybe the core consistency was that they felt either overlooked or misunderstood and that people judged too quickly on how they looked and really didn’t get to know the individual,” she said. “That was a very common thing when we were asking them to talk about their identity and also just their journeys, and what were some of the things they grew up experiencing.”

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