Hope professor confronts anti-Asian racism in debut album, fundraising concert

Jordan VanHemert, assistant professor of music at Hope College, prides himself on teaching his students how music has played a role in social change. The acclaimed jazz saxophonist and composer draws on his professional training and his Korean American heritage to respond to racism in his debut album, “I Am Not a Virus.” The Lakeshore checked in with VanHemert, who is also the artistic director of the newly launched Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, to talk about his new album and the April 8 fundraiser, “We are not a virus. A Concert to #StopAsianHate.”

The Lakeshore: When you began creating your album, did you know that it would have such a powerful message?

Jordan VanHemert: I began planning for this album about 1½ years ago, far before COVID-19 hit the United States. I had not originally intended this to be an album of protest music, but in March, everything changed. Originally, I thought this album would just be a snapshot into what life was like for Asian Americans in 2020, but time quickly proved me wrong. I do not relish the fact that the album is still relevant even in April 2021, but I am now glad I made this project. 

TL: What do you hope people come away with after listening to your album?
JV: I hope that my record has two outcomes. First, I hope that it raises the level of awareness about anti-Asian racism, which has been present in this country since its founding. Second, I hope that my Asian friends, family, colleagues, etc. will see an album that resonates with them and someone who shares their story and voice. I do not speak for all of us, but I do hope that people would even see the album as a gesture of support and empathy. AAPI family, I see you, I hear you — as a member of our community, I want to elevate our voices. 
TL: How has the wave of anti-Asian hate directly impacted you or those around you? 

JV: The effect has been significant. Every Asian person I know has stories of experiencing hate and discrimination from this time and also from long before it. This escalation has only proven to make this more difficult. To our allies in other communities, I would encourage you to check in with your AAPI friends and give them your empathy. 

TL: What sparked the idea for your fundraiser and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

JV: At Hope College, I am one of the faculty advisers to the Asian Student Union (ASU). In ASU, eight of the 12 members of the executive board are strong, Asian female leaders. In everything I do as a member of the faculty, I am accountable to these students. When I learned that six of the victims of March 16's tragic act of domestic terrorism were Asian women, I knew that I wanted to use my music to respond to the hate. I especially knew that I wanted to support a nonprofit organization that put Asian women at the forefront of the discussion of its actions. Every night before I go to sleep, I ask myself if I did everything that I could to advocate for my students of color … sometimes the answer varies, but my students are always at the forefront of my actions. I want to set a good example for them. So for my students, especially my ASU E-board members — this one's for you. 


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.