This Q + A has been edited for length and clarity.
For Missie Yamamura, living in Honolulu, Hawaii was a mixed blessing. On one hand, Yamamura didn’t have to deal with being marginalized as an Asian girl.
According to 2016 U.S. Census data, at least 42.9 percent of Honolulu County residents are Asian. As someone who is of Japanese and Chinese descent, along with being German and Portuguese, Yamamura was in the majority.
“Growing up as the (ethnic) majority on the island, I never gave a second thought to race and what relationship it had to me,” Yamamura said.
But when she moved to Portland, Oregon to study education, linguistics and psychology, Yamamura had to figure out how to navigate predominantly white spaces.
Struck by a love of greenery and flora, Yamamura started a pin company called Venus Gurlz. Her objectives were two-fold: explore and celebrate her identity through creative self-expression, and shine a light on issues affecting Asian + Pacific Islander (API) communities.
Brown Girls Only spoke to Yamamura about how she’s growing Venus Gurlz and how she’s growing with it.
Brown Girls Only: Describe what Venus Gurlz is for someone who doesn’t know what you do.
Missie Yamamura: This past year was pretty pivotal for me, since I not only cultivated a love for foliage and incorporated more green in my life, but also deepened my understanding of the unique experience as an Asian American woman in this country.
I wanted to harmonize my two passions: plants and my Asian-American heritage. Shortly after, Venus Gurlz was created!
BGO: What made you want to start making pins? Were there any specific moments (either creatively or in your experience as an Asian-American) that put you on this path?
MY: The first set of pins incorporates four of my favorite plants.
The “V” in the logo has dual meaning: it represents the woman reproductive system and a venus fly trap plant. Venus was the goddess of love and beauty in Roman mythology. However, some speculators say the Venus reference may have also reminded early explorers of gaping vaginas.
The anthurium pin has the statement “stop whitewashing,” referring to unrealistic beauty standards and the inaccurate representation of the Asian experience in popular media.
The hibiscus pin references how Asians are often stereotyped as “exotic,” since we don’t meet Western beauty standards. I chose the Hawai’i state flower for this reason — since Hawai’i is a cultural melting pot — with the statement “exhausted, not exotic.”
I was inspired to create the monstera pin after reading Yuri Kochiyama’s book “Heartbeat of Struggle.”
Yuri was and still is an inspirational Asian-American political activist. Her beliefs being closely aligned with that of Malcolm X. I chose to incorporate her wise words that “consciousness is power.” Being aware of your heritage plays a crucial role in navigating your life with purpose and self-identity.
BGO: What is your artistic process like for putting the pins together?
MY: To be quite honest with you, there is a beauty and freedom in not having a strict process to follow. I usually carry a pocket size notebook with me, so when I’m on-the-go between classes and bicycle rides I can jot any potential ideas down.
I am a morning person by nature. So, time permitting, I love to start out the day with a meditation. It clears my headspace and sets my intentions for that day, in whatever I have planned to do! Also, brewing a nice cup of joe in my chemex or French press does the trick, too!
BGO: Are there any people, places or other art forms that you turn to for inspiration?
MY: My surrounding nature in both Oregon and Hawai’i are key influences.
it's PAU HANA 🤙Friday on the islands (or in other words 'tgif' but minus the crazy aloha shirts 😂🌺) Definitely feeling the Friday vibes with this room set up…can we talk about future house goals?! It's been a long ass week for our country, but be sure to find time for self care this weekend and surround yourself with positive vibes & thinking 🙂 via @thesill
In addition to this, I also made a conscious effort to follow more plant-curated Instagrams, some of my favorite being @thesill and @plantsonpink.
This small act makes a world of a difference to spend my time on Instagram more filtered to constantly inspire me.
BGO: What do you like to do when you’re not making pins?
MY: I admittedly am a workaholic — on-campus job + boutique — so I don’t get as much free time as I like. When I do find the time I love to hike, since I live in the Pacific Northwest, or just journal or read for leisure in a local coffee shop.
BGO: I saw that you posted about Banana Magazine’s “baesian” key tag on Venus Gurlz’s Instagram. What does the term meant to you?
MY: Yes, ethnically I’m Asian, but culturally I’m not. I’m Japanese, but I’m not. From growing up in such a culturally diverse place like Hawai’i, where the minority is the majority, I definitely took for granted the belongingness I felt being with people of color.
I currently am finishing up my last year of undergrad in Portland, Oregon: the whitest and least diverse city in America. So to say the least, it was a cultural shock.
Already stripped of my mother tongue and unable to speak Japanese fluently — despite my father being an immigrant from Japan — I furthermore attempted to assimilate into the mainstream culture by limiting myself to strictly dating Caucasian men. Hence, the term “baesian” hit home for me, taking me back to that point in my life.
Aloha venusgurlz 🌟🌱✨ Being a full fledged millennial, I try to maximize my time on social media by filling my feed with inspiration from empowering Asian women who are planting the seeds of consciousness in their communities. re: 'baesian' key tag from the amazing @bananamag dream team who highlights a voice for the contemporary Asian culture .
Banana Magazine inspires me constantly to keep doing what I do, be proud of my ethnic heritage, and strive to represent and uplift the API community.
The motivation behind my philosophy is simple: the Japanese word “koritsu,” or “efficiency,” in everything I do.
BGO: If there was one thing you could change about existing Asian representation, what would you change? What do you want to see more of?
MY: Since the arts still remains a taboo career to pursue in Asian culture — not for all, just talking from personal experience — I am constantly seeking opportunities to showcase my own work, in addition to API creatives.
BGO: What can we expect from Venus Gurlz in the future?
MY: As of right now, I am mainly focusing on producing enough of an inventory of the buttons while I have access to a button machine. Other than that, I am working towards getting an Etsy site launched and managing Venus Gurlz’ visual diary on Instagram.
I’m hoping to come out with more buttons once I invest in a machine, enamel pins, and — fingers crossed — screen-printed totes of new designs in the near future!