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HUMANS WE HEART: ARCHIVIST, HISTORIAN AND BAKER DORIS HO-KANE

If anyone is using social media for good, it’s Doris Ho-Kane. Since 2016, her online archive 17.21 WOMEN has put a spotlight on influential AAPI women throughout history, pairing thoughtful research with impactful images. We first spoke with Doris five years ago, when the project was somewhat new, and now we are so excited to have her back with us in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. Read on to see how 17.21 WOMEN has grown, discover the books and outfits Doris recommends, plus hear about her newest endeavor (hint: it involves sweet treats!). Also, look out for guest posts from Doris on our Instagram feed all throughout the month of May.

Hi Doris, it’s great to talk to you again (!). Do you mind introducing yourself to any new readers who haven’t met you yet?

I’m an archivist and historian (@17.21women), baker (@ban__be) and mom to three magical little humans. Born and raised in Dallas, but I consider myself a New Yorker having spent more than half my life here. I studied apparel and textile design in school, and for over a decade, fully immersed myself in fashion. I am perpetually dreaming and scheming so many side projects—I’m a Sagittarius through and through.

Let’s go through a few quickfire Qs before we get into the bigger stuff.

Books on your nightstand:

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Old Path White Clouds by Thích Nhất Hạnh
Hands, an old palmistry book
A very outdated atlas

Most-used emojis:

☁️♥️💗🆒🥺🥴

Current favorite outfit:

My husband Mark’s old blue sweatshirt, high-waisted white sailor pants, my mom’s jade donut pendant threaded on a gold chain around my neck and a pair of unapologetically shiny oxfords. When I get to the bakery, I’ll switch into a pair of cotton overalls or a thrifted jumpsuit, and swap my shoes for white clogs.

Last-shared Instagram or TikTok:

A photo of me doing my best Asian mom squat and holding my 2½-year-old. It was a treasured outtake from a photo shoot for the New York Times by the extraordinary photographer and my friend, Heather Sten.

Doris wears the Straight-Leg Overalls, Pointelle Square-Scoop Tee, The Layne Clog Mule and a Bandana.

As you know, we’re big fans of 17.21 WOMEN, your Instagram archive of important AAPI women throughout history. How has that project evolved since our last chat?

Wow, I just re-read our conversation, and I can’t believe it’s been five years! I’m working on a book right now, to be published by Penguin Books. I’m continuing to accumulate more texts, journals, photos and ephemera for the physical archive. A lot of dreams I spoke about then are beginning to come true!

So exciting! And we’re very excited to have you guest-posting on our Instagram feed in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. Why do you think having this designated month is important? How do you choose to honor it?

Thank you so much for having me and for amplifying A(A)PI history at a time when our community has been suffering in plain sight since the onset of the pandemic. With the devastating uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes here in NYC and nationwide, it’s more important than ever for me to continue my work. Racism, scapegoating and violence against our community is not new, but the revivification of hatred is absolutely heartbreaking and infuriating. It is my hope that the floodlight I’m shining on our stories will work against this tidal wave of hate through decentering hegemonic narratives and refocusing on histories that have long been buried. A month for Black history, Indigenous history, Latinx history, LGBTQ history and A(A)PI history is not enough, but it is important that there is a month-long pause for reflection, reminder and action. I honor this month by being, breathing, existing.

Perfectly stated. And we have to mention, congratulations on making history yourself—tell us about your experience opening Bạn Bè, the first Vietnamese-American bakery in NYC.

Thank you! What a dream. It’s been quite an adventure for my family and I. I didn’t set out to open a stand-alone bakery. The idea for Bạn Bè started out as an arm of 17.21 WOMEN, where the bakery/café would live in a cozy corner of a community space that houses the physical archive—where people could come into a safe space filled with our rich, complex history and also be nourished by the foods I grew up eating. When the pandemic struck, I started making and selling Vietnamese desserts from my home and things just erupted from there. We got a space a little over a year ago in Carroll Gardens to expand production of our wildly popular cookie tins. We need a little grease to get it up and fully running, though! To be recognized as the first Vietnamese-American bakery in NYC is an honor and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. By sharing these desserts, I’m sharing Vietnamese culture, and filling a gap where a dearth of Việt sweets had once existed in our city. It’s such an intimate and tender way to commune with our ancestors.

Since this is our Humans We Heart series, we like to let our guests pass on the torch. Who’s a human you especially heart these days?

Can I use my existing torch to light another? There are two humans I infinitely heart. The first human is my husband, Mark, who has supported me in every idea I’ve had, success or failure, and still thinks I’m just as cute at 41 as I was when he met me at 20. He’s an illustrator and composer who makes art in the most compelling yet quiet way. He’s also a super dad! The second torch, flame burning brightly, goes to someone whom I’ve long admired since college through her incredible body of work, but it wasn’t until recently that I met her in person. An-My Lê, a prolific photographer who documents, contextualizes and reimagines history, war and politics. She’s an icon. Plus, her two magnificent kids will help me out at the bakery from time to time when they’re not busy with school. Our bakery is very much a family business and I love that I can extend that to An-My’s family as well.

Thank you so much, Doris (!). Remember to tune in to our Instagram throughout the month for guest posts from 17.21 WOMEN.

Plus, join us in supporting Doris’s cause of choice, Heart of Dinner, which combats food insecurity and isolation within NYC’s elderly Asian community by hand-delivering culturally thoughtful food packages each week.

Looking for additional ways to show support? Doris also recommends the following organizations—click to learn more: Apex for Youth, Kundiman, Mekong NYC and Red Canary Song. Plus, shop AAPI-owned Labels We Love right here.

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