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Arden Cho is proud to be a Korean-American woman changing the face of Hollywood—and she's using her platform to Stop Asian Hate.
"I think there's always been a challenge of how Asians have been represented in media. Asian women have always been sort of a prize or a trophy or a sexual desire," Cho explained. "One of the things I hoped for and really wanted was I didn't have to be the Sexy Girl No. 1 or Massage Girl No. 2, or some sort of a sexual object because the whole reason of pursuing entertainment for me was I just wanted to be a part of, hopefully, representation."
Cho, also a former series regular on Chicago Med, rarely saw Asian-Americans onscreen growing up. She cited actresses Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh and Kristin Kreuk among her few childhood inspirations: "I hopefully wanted to be part of that change if I could," Cho continued.
Yet the Texas native was skeptical about even landing popular series Teen Wolf in 2014. "I remember my agent being like, 'One more audition,' and I was like, 'Why, what's the point? I'm never going to book it. They're not going to go Asian,''' Cho recalled.
She was cast as recurring character Kira Yukimura in season three and after a strong fan response, Cho was promoted to the main cast for seasons four and five. "I just got really lucky and they kept writing me in. It was so fun," Cho gushed. Even a new generation of viewers are discovering the series during quarantine for a "new wave" of fandom.
"It's been really fun especially when I see comments from young Asian-American girls being like, 'I want to be like you when I grow up,' or they feel like it's cool to be Asian," Cho explained. "Growing up, I never felt like it was cool to be Asian. I legitimately felt like an alien, like an outsider, like i didn't belong here. I feel like that's how people looked at us too because there just weren't a lot of us."
The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes is a dark reminder of the pain Cho has personally experienced for decades. "When I see these videos and when I see these photos, when I'm seeing this happen to our elders, it's like I can't breathe," Cho admitted, especially after the NYC-based attack against a senior Filipino woman who was violently kicked while a security guard looked on.
"I remember feeling like that was my childhood. That happened to me so many times and what's crazy is people don't believe it when you say nobody helps, nobody stops," Cho confessed. On April 1, 2021, Cho was verbally attacked while walking her dog. "I shouldn't be scared but I am," Cho captioned on Instagram. "All my trauma as a kid has been coming back."
When Cho was 10 years old, she survived a similar attack. "At that time I really, really though I was dying," Cho remembered. She was repeatedly kicked while a crowd of kids watched; Cho was later hospitalized for her injuries. "I'm not, like, mad at the kids for not stopping it, but I realize like how crazy it is to have grown adults, to have security guards, just turn the other way," she stated. Yet from her family's urging, her experience was "pushed under the rug and hidden," with her parents not wanting to press charges and just encouraging a young Cho to "move on."
"It was a result of fear and culture," Cho explained.
The actress strongly believes the only way to change society is through allyship: "It has to come from all the communities."
The shared support of different causes, like Asian-Americans supporting Black Lives Matter, and Black Lives Matter supporting Stop Asian Hate, is what Cho thinks could ultimately heal the nation. "I think it's going to take time, and it's really exciting to see more Asian-American writers and storytellers really putting great projects and hopefully being our voices, because for so long we had non-Asian people writing our stories," Cho added. "I think in the same way the Black community really thrived in entertainment was when Black creators just started saying, 'Let's make our own movies,'" Cho explained. "I feel like 10 years ago we didn't have that, and I think this is a start."
With films like Minari and Chloe Zhao's Nomadland garnering multiple Oscars, Cho thinks there is only hope on the horizon after so much hateful heartbreak. "I really hope that this is a chance for people to listen, to learn and be educated," Cho concluded. "I think AAPI, this month hopefully is a chance for people to care and to listen and to learn and to educate and realize that our pain and our hate is real, that it is happening and that this is a time for hopefully us to all come together and bring change."
E! News' AAPI Heritage Month Ones to Watch series will run throughout the month of May.