PASTRY PORTRAITS. Jasmine Cho (top photo) holds a cookie portrait of
late Hawai‘i representative Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first
Asian-American woman to serve in congress, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Cho, a Korean-American self-described "cookie activist," has gained fans
over the last several years for her finely detailed cookie mugs of
famous and forgotten figures. In the bottom photo, Cho works on a cookie
portrait of Filipina mambabatok tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od. (AP
From The Asian Reporter, V33, #6 (June 5, 2023), page 9.
"Cookie activist" celebrates Asian Americans with
portraits in dough
By Terry Tang
The Associated Press
Artist Jasmine Cho makes exquisite portraits that champion famous and
forgotten Asian Americans. Her canvas?
"Cookies, I’ve always said, are the perfect platform for education,
activism, and healing because they are one of the most disarming,
inviting, and surprising mediums," said Cho, who is also a baker.
She believes her art comes in part from a sense of not belonging that
she felt growing up. May was Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)
Heritage Month, but Cho’s cookies bring attention to AAPIs every month.
The Korean American self-described "cookie activist" has gained fans
over the last several years for her finely detailed cookie faces. Actors
Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, and Tamlyn Tomita are among those who’ve
gushed about receiving the cookie treatment.
The city of Pittsburgh, where she has lived since 2009, even issued a
"Jasmine Cho Day" proclamation in 2020.
In 2016, Cho was contentedly making cute character cookies for her
online bakery, Yummyholic, when she turned flour, sugar, butter, and
other ingredients into cookie likenesses of a friend for a birthday
party. The cookies quickly grabbed social media attention. Others wanted
them done too.
"I suddenly have this platform or this medium that everyone is paying
attention to," Cho said. "It felt like a sort of superpower."
She had an "aha moment" of how to use her great power with greater
The 39-year-old, who grew up in Southern California and New Mexico,
always took notice when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders weren’t
present in a movie, TV show, or history book. It contributed to her
questioning her own sense of belonging in America.
"That was always a pain point for me growing up," said Cho, who
recently completed a master’s degree in art therapy. "So, I kind of
always had this question: ‘I wonder if I could use this point of joy for
me to address this pain point?’ And cookies [were] the answer."
A few months after making those first cookie faces, Cho held her
first portrait gallery show. She made cookies of Asian-American
Pittsburgh natives like actor Ming-Na Wen and Leah Lizarondo, the
founder of 412 Food Rescue, which decreases food waste in more than 25
cities in the U.S. and Canada by distributing unsold food to people in
Lizarondo remembers how surprised she was to find Cho had cookie-fied
her. For the Filipino American, the tribute was definitely not a waste
"I shared it as widely as I could as I was so proud to be among the
people she did cookie portraits of," Lizarondo said by e-mail.
While cookies and cake tributes might come off as silly, Lizarondo
saw something different in Cho’s art.
"It is such an accessible way to catalyze conversation," said
A one-woman crew, Cho needs between four and six hours for one
portrait. She draws the cookie face by hand, fills it in with icing, and
then lets it dry.
Her "art-ivism" has taken her interesting places. In 2019, she wrote
and illustrated a children’s book, Role Models Who Look Like Me.
In the last few years, she has made over 20 virtual and in-person
appearances at universities, elementary schools, and conferences. If she
isn’t giving a speech, she’s leading a cookie-decorating workshop.
The biggest thrill is when young Asian Americans, particularly
females, feel inspired.
"They tell me things like, ‘I learned more in your 15-minute talk
than I have in my whole class that’s about Asian-American history,’ or
something like that," Cho said.
At a time when demanding to see Asian-American history included in
school curricula can get you branded as "woke," even Cho’s seemingly
innocuous cookies can be a target. Ahead of a university visit last
February, someone Cho thought was a student journalist asked to talk to
her. Cho later learned that person wasn’t a student but part of a
far-right group. The school decided to increase security for the event —
something that stunned her.
"It’s just cookies," Cho said. "But, not to diminish the intent of
what I’m actually using the cookies to do ... Unfortunately, even
something like cookies could be seen as a threat because of what they
They’re definitely not just cookies. They can evoke poignant moments.
Cho made a cookie portrait of Betty Ong, an American Airlines flight
attendant who died on 9/11. Ong was credited as the first person to
raise the alarm about the terrorists’ hijacking, passing along crucial
information from a phone on the ill-fated plane. One of her nieces
spotted Cho’s creation on Instagram and contacted her.
"For a family member to reach out and just thank me for sharing her
story in the way that I did ... reminding me of the tenderness that
comes with this work, the importance of it," Cho said. "I don’t ever
want to upset a family member in any way. I’ve been very grateful that
those who I have heard from understand my intention."
Cho estimates she has between 50 and 70 of the cookie portraits now
boxed up in storage. Some she dreams of giving to the subject (Michelle
Yeoh, if you’re reading this.). Others she would love to display, as
well as publish a picture book of them.
Even with praise from families, celebrities, and Instagram, Cho still
has moments when she can be dismissive of her own work. "I’ll be like,
‘I’m just making cookies. What am I really doing?’"
But then she feels re-energized when encountering audiences who have
never heard of figures like civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs or
diver Sammy Lee, the first Asian-American man to earn Olympic gold.
"Part of what keeps me going is one day, I do hope that my work maybe
becomes irrelevant because everyone has access to this history and
awareness of it."
Tang, who reported from Phoenix, is a member of The Associated Press’
Race and Ethnicity team.
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