For Jasmine M. Cho, baking is therapeutic. Cho is an artist, author and activist who is known for her portrait-painted cookies representing Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and other activists around the world. Since the start of the pandemic, she planned ways to use cookie painting as art therapy for others too.
“It has recently been pointed out to me that these cookies are kind of like the sand art of the Mandalas of the Tibetan Monks,” Cho said. “You put your soul into all this art onto this edible form for it only to disappear into your stomach or somebody else’s but it’s just a reminder of the impermanence of life. Even though the impermanence of life is there I think the echoes continue out through generations.”
In addition to painting being therapeutic for Cho, she chose paints as her medium because it was the most accessible material for her. Cho particularly enjoys the impermanence of paint and how painting on a cookie can serve as a metaphor for a deeper meaning in people’s stories. During the event, students are given four cookies, food-safe paint and two pieces of tracing paper.
On each of the tracing papers pictured an Asian American woman who made contributions to American history through their activism. Cho was inspired to tell the stories of Patsy Takemoto Mink and Grace Lee Boggs. Growing up, both women faced discrimination due to their gender and ethnicity but defied the odds that were stacked against them.
Takemoto Mink was a Japanese American trailblazer from Hawaii who was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Asian American woman to serve in Congress and run for president, according to Cho. In Congress, Takemoto Mink helped co-author Title IX which prohibits discrimination against women on the basis of sex.
According to Cho, Lee Boggs was a Chinese American activist from Rhode Island, later living in Detroit. Alongside her husband, James Boggs, they fought for labor, women, Black, Asian American and environmental rights throughout their lifetime.
“To me what she most embodied was being a lifelong student,” Cho said. “She dedicated pretty much all of her 100 years to learning and growing. She spoke a lot about this idea of evolution is critical to revolution so she really supported space for people to make mistakes, learn from them and pivot and I really respect that idea as well.”
After tracing the first two cookies of activists Takemoto Mink and Lee Boggs, the third and fourth cookies were left for interpretation. Cho explained that the third cookie can be dedicated to the type of ancestor they want to become. For the last cookie, Cho wanted students to shed light on someone they thought deserved more recognition.
Wasif Zaman, a fourth-semester chemical engineering student said that Cho’s work is important to both the Asian community, and to society as a whole. He added that Cho created an environment where people were able to learn while comfortable and relaxed enough to express themselves.
“Just given off the impression of the one room, when she mentioned those names, people didn’t know who these people were or what they’d done,” Zaman said. “Like I definitely should’ve known about who helped write Title IX and the first Asian American woman who was in Congress. It’s a big deal getting to know your ancestors and how important they are to the development of today’s world.”
Another participant, Anna Wu, who is a second-semester pre-teaching student, dedicated her last cookie to her parents. Wu said her parents always encourage her to live life happily. She’s appreciative of how hard they worked to raise her while being immigrants in the U.S. Wu stated that even though others might have similar stories, the care and love she was given by her parents made her proud to be their daughter.
“When that question popped up on the screen, the first thing I thought of was my parents because my parents care a lot about me and I feel like their stories as immigrants to start a new life is such a motivation for me to become someone who they can be proud of,” Wu said.