This Baker’s Cookies Highlight Overlooked Asian American History

Awkwafina is delicious. So is Larry Itliong, a legendary West Coast Filipino American labor organizer ― or at least they are in cookie form.

Awkwafina and Itliong are just two of the Asian American heroes that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, baker Jasmine Cho has paid homage to by way of a butter cookie.

Cho runs Yummyholic, a bakery that specializes in creating intricate, hand-drawn cookie portraits for clients. But in her free time, she creates cookies that highlight Asian Americans and Pacific Islander leaders and activists you never hear about in history class. Cho posts the cookies on Instagram and works with local cultural centers and galleries to feature them in exhibits.

“I already love baking, so I wanted to apply the gifts I already had to something greater,” Cho told HuffPost. “Creativity isn’t always about coming up with something original; sometimes it’s just figuring out how to combine things that don’t typically go together, like cookies and social justice.”

Cho’s cookie tributes include one for Sammy Lee, the first Asian American man to earn Olympic gold. Growing up in Highland Park, California, in the 1930s, Lee honed his skill by practicing diving in a sand pit; Asian Americans and other people of color were only allowed in the local pool on Wednesdays, International Days.

Korean American Sammy Lee was the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.

There’s a cookie for Richard Aoki, a third generation Japanese American radical activist who railed against the “minority model” myth in the 1960s and ’70s while also reportedly harboring a complicated, fascinating history as an FBI informant.

Some of the cookies tell bittersweet stories. There’s one for Afong Moy, who’s widely considered the first Chinese woman to arrive in the United States. Brought stateside by traders as a teen in 1834, Moy was paraded before crowds as a curiosity (called “The Chinese Lady”) similarly to conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker.

Afong Moy was brought to New York City in 1834 by traders, who displayed her in a museum.

Afong Moy was brought to New York City in 1834 by traders, who displayed her in a museum.

Cho, who started baking professionally in 2010, likes to say she uses cookies to elevate representation.

“What I hope I’m giving away are comfort and empowerment through this history,” she said. “I want people to know that they belong, that they’re not alone, and that they matter; that it isn’t that we as AAPIs aren’t relevant or great, but that it’s because we were deliberately excluded and erased.”

With each cookie, the baker wants people to ask, “Why have I never learned about this person or story before?” and to dig a little deeper.

It’s a question she’s asked herself before while reflecting on her education. Growing up in Los Angeles, Cho was the only Korean American kid in her community ― a “minority within a minority,” as she said in a recent TEDx talk in Pittsburgh ― and she often felt like she “needed to accept being invisible.”

As Cho told the TEDx audience, “Privilege is when your culture is taught as a core curriculum, and mine is taught as an elective.”

In a small, but not insignificant way, the cookies remedy that. Cookies, Cho joked, make any message palatable.

“These lessons are delivered through the most non-threatening vehicle possible ― cookies,” she said. “Cookies speak to everyone regardless of age and background.”

Jasmine Cho works on a cookie. (Photo by <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kate Buckley</a>)
Jasmine Cho works on a cookie. (Photo by Kate Buckley)

Cho doesn’t just bake beacons from the past. New activists and community changemakers get the cookie treatment, too. She’s particularly proud of her tribute to “Resistance Auntie,” the woman who became internet famous for flipping President Donald Trump off during his inauguration speech.

And some are just plain fun, like this sugary sendup of the character from “Always Be My Maybe” played by Keanu Reeves, who’s part Asian:

Yes, Keanu Reeves is <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">just as attractive</a> as a cookie.&nbsp;

Yes, Keanu Reeves is just as attractive as a cookie. 

You best believe there’s a second cookie where he’s getting punched by the film’s lead, Randall Park.

Keanu Reeves get punched, in cookie form.

Keanu Reeves get punched, in cookie form.

Since appearing on the TEDx stage, Cho has gained a quick following on Instagram. She’s also prominent in the local Pittsburgh art scene. A collection of her cookies was recently purchased and displayed at the City County Building.

Outside of baked goods, Cho has also written and illustrated a children’s book called “Role Models Who Look Like Me.”

Cho hopes the cookies whet peoples’ appetite for Asian American history, but moreover, inspire them to get politically active and participate in their own communities.

“When people see that I’m using cookies of all things to talk about social justice, I hope they reflect on their own talents and passions and to consider what platforms they already have access to that could be used to advance peace, justice and inclusion,” she said. “I sincerely believe everyone has a platform; mine just happens to be cookies.”

For more of Cho’s work, check out her Instagram.