Storytelling is an essential part of TikTok, with users sharing their unique experiences with their communities and providing an inside look into their own stories. The next creator featured on our Creator Spotlight Series does this by sharing her life and top-notch cooking skills with her TikTok audience.

Joanne Molinaro, known as @thekoreanvegan on TikTok, is an all-star creator who shares plant-based recipes from her kitchen, as well as stories about growing up as a child of immigrants and her life as a trial lawyer, long-distance runner, and writer. Based in Chicago, Illinois, Joanne's vulnerable and authentic storytelling captivates her audience and educates her viewers on her immigrant story, while inspiring compassion through food. Check out more from @thekoreanvegan below as she dives into how her culture has shaped her and how she interacts with the TikTok community each day.

How has your culture influenced or shaped you?

There are so many ways to answer this question! Unquestionably, my culture has allowed me to appreciate the significance of food. Because both my parents came from what is now known as North Korea and lived in poverty for so much of their lives, I have a better understanding of how much safety and joy food can bring. This is particularly true for those who end up leaving their native countries (for whatever reason), since often times, their ethnic cuisines are one of the few things they have that remind them of home. I have learned that being a 1.5 generation Korean-American (i.e., born here, but with immigrant parents) is a daily struggle to negotiate being both Korean and American, while being neither Korean nor American enough for some. That struggle doesn't define me, but it has indisputably shaped me, providing insight into the collective pain caused by racism, the importance of solidarity, the demand for compassion. This insight is what gives flavor to my food, meaning to my words, and power to my voice.

How do you celebrate the diversity and strength of the API community?

By sharing their food and their stories, while also listening to and learning from them.

What Does API heritage mean to you?

Heritage is personal to me. I think of my grandmothers. Their hands, as they snipped the tails of mung beans or peeled an apple. I think of my grandmother's voice, as she sang hymns to pass the time, the hibiscus plant in our backyard--from a cutting my grandfather brought to Chicago all the way from Korea. I think of cheering for Korea during the 2002 World Cup, the way my father started sobbing when Korea made it to the semi-finals. I think about the time my mother told me that my penmanship needed to be "extra" perfect when I was in 3rd grade, and me wondering why mine needed to be "more perfect" than everyone else's. And I think about the time a colleague of mine told me I was "too Korean," or the time someone messaged me to "go back to China." I think of the stories my father wrote to me a few years ago, about my great grandparents, their home in Korea, how my grandmother fled North Korea with my father swaddled onto her back, how my father used to count out the number of beans he could eat in a day, how his favorite thing to eat was a piece of fried dough right out of the fryer when it was so cold outside his fingers would start to grow numb. I think of heritage as a thick, intricately woven cloth, one that I wrap around myself, made up of both the beautiful and the ugly, as stories are wont to be. Because heritage is nothing without stories, nothing without the heart to tell them.

How has the TikTok community inspired you?

The TikTok community makes me feel safe enough to share some of the most intimate details of my life and my family. They have welcomed my parents, they have embraced me, and have even been very polite about my vegan food!! The community has fostered an environment that encourages me to continue the mission of The Korean Vegan: to humanize the immigrant story and inspire compassion through food and storytelling. The content creators I have come to love on this platform inspire me to do so responsibly, passionately, and with sincerity.

How do you support other creators in the API community and who are some API creators that everyone should be following/watching?

I try to follow and engage with as many API content creators as possible. I've left comments on their posts or DM'd them directly when their posts resonate with me. I've also shared their accounts with my own followers (on TikTok and my other social platforms), chatted with many of them about the pressure of social media, and identified some of my favorites during interviews with press. My hope is that when we are able to travel again, we can find ways to collaborate more directly. My favorite API creators include: @Youngqim, @chefjonkung, @bootlegmegz, @yourkoreandad, @chefchrischo, @jeenie.weenie, @inmyseams, @porojin, @sheenamelwani, and @jackieliuart.