Meet the Artist Behind the Iconic Portrait of the Beloved Vicha Ratanapakdee

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Khanh Tran
·2 min read
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Amidst all of the news about hate crimes against the Asian American community, LA-based artist Jonathan Chang decided that he cannot stay silent anymore.A seasoned illustrator in the toy and entertainment industries, Chang mostly posted photos of his dog and other fun pop culture illustrations, from Overwatch characters to Andrew Yang. However, with the onset of the pandemic last year, he began to notice the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes among Asian-centric social media accounts.But many of these attacks rarely made the headlines of mainstream news media.“Not many prominent Asian American public figures were making much noise about it either.” Chang told NextShark in an interview. “It just seemed like we weren't being heard.”So, Chang did what he felt was the right move: stand up and fight back.

Last year, he got involved with the #TheyCantBurnUsAll movement with China Mac and Will Lex Ham after the story of the grandmother in Bensonhurst, New York who was set on fire on July 17. He designed the iconic “Proud AF to be Asian” tee and the #TheyCantBurnUsAll apparel and flyers that appeared all over rallies in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Then there was the tragic death of Vicha Ratanapakdee, a Thai elder who was killed after being pushed onto the ground in San Francisco on Jan. 28. When Chang first heard of the story, he was venting to a friend about how frustrated he was about how the story would go unnoticed again by mainstream media, like so many other stories before.The friend suggested he illustrate a portrait of Ratanapakdee, to put a face to the tragedy, to highlight the senseless violence against Asian Americans.

“When I was drawing him, I thought about how this man was someone's husband, father, grandparent, and how unfair it was for him to be taken from them in such a heinous way.” Chang recalled his process. “I thought about how this could have been my grandfather and how infuriated I would have been if someone had done this to him.”The illustration went viral overnight. From @asianswithattitudes to Will Lex Ham, many social media users rallied online to change their profile pictures to the portrait in a display of solidarity. Chang was stunned.

Yet, as other attacks popped up in recent weeks, from the assault of a 91-year-old man in Oakland to the subway attack against Noel Quintana, Chang admitted that the fight for awareness must continue. “Some of the most vulnerable people in our community are being attacked and they don't have a voice. We need to be their voice. We need to show America that we care about these injustices, because if we don't, why would anyone else?” Featured Images via Jonathan Chang

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