Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of one of the fastest-growing groups of people living in the United States. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders contain multitudes. They are a global community with a homegrown and unique perspective on America.
Their diversity expands continents and demographics. The hopes and dreams of the AAPI community are America at its finest, and its people and traditions are those that are tightly stitched into the fabric of the nation. The American dream is alive and well within the AAPI community, and we’ve gathered so many of those dreams here throughout this inspiring list of individuals.
We’re publishing The GMA Inspiration List as the community asserts its voice — speaking out and standing up as anti-Asian violence has spread amid the COVID-19 pandemic; defining itself on its own terms; and increasing awareness of their collective history and future in the United States.
The month of May is a time to remember those who have enriched the community and others with knowledge, pride and respect. We recognize that work, those struggles and the vision for the future of the AAPI community, and reflect on the idea that their history is at the heart of American history. Welcome to the GMA INSPIRATION LIST: Who’s Making AAPI History Right Now?
Good Morning America and ABC News asked influential AAPI leaders, celebrities, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, athletes and more to nominate fellow members of the community for the list. It’s important to note: the vastness of the AAPI community means it has deep ties in countries of origin, which includes the rich Asian global diaspora. To honor the global community, we’ve provided space for nominators who do not identify as American. Most of the nominations on the list are rising stars on the cusp of becoming household names, whose influence, we believe, will become monumental. They are those who are doing the work, gaining success and sharing their talent … and making history right now.
America, meet the next generation of AAPI excellence.
James Hong nominates Chris Naoki Lee
As an actor who has been a part of this business for nearly 70 years, it has been inspiring to see the rise in work from the Asian community, and I am proud to acknowledge Chris Naoki Lee as an up and coming artist. This industry certainly tries to put you in a box, or tries to make you stay in your own lane, but just as I had learned to weave my career into what it is today, I see Chris making similar bold choices as well. Not only does he work as an actor, but he continues to adapt and evolve in the fields of writing, directing, and producing. We are even collaborating on two different projects, each of which push the conversation for further AAPI inclusion and exposure. One project is an animation feature filled with adventure, shadow puppets, and the lores of my family history in China, while the other is a live action film that deals with identity as a young Asian American in today’s modern world. Chris has been integral to bringing both of these visions to life, and it is humbling to see that he carries the same hustling mentality as myself. Though we shall see if his hustle is as strong as mine when he gets to my age! All jokes aside, I look forward to seeing what Chris does next, especially after his directorial debut film, “Dinner Party,” which deals with relevant dialogues about race and diversity. In this industry, it has not been an easy road for all of us within the Asian community, and I am fortunate and grateful to help inspire the next generation of Asian artists. And Chris Naoki Lee, is already on that path.
Margaret Cho nominates Robin Tran
My favorite comic right now. She’s an Asian American trans woman who just slays me every time I see her. I love her cynical outlook and brilliant observations. She’s the fantastic artist we need right now to challenge everything. Robin is my hope for the future of Asian Americans in comedy.
Margaret Cho is a comedian, actress and host of the podcast “The Margaret Cho.”
Jamie Chung nominates Justin Chon
I’m kicking off AAPI Heritage month by nominating a fellow actor and filmmaker Justin Chon. An unapologetic, versatile and bold story teller, Justin had early success as an actor for 15 years but was left wanting more. We started in the business around the same time and from firsthand experience, I’m telling you that the amount of roles for AAPI actors were slim to none. And were often lacking backstory, significance and specificity. Roles that were usually written by non-Asian writers. Justin took control of his own narrative by writing, directing and starring in his 2017 film, “Gook,” a fictional take on his experience growing up in Southern California after the unjust verdict of the policemen who viciously beat Mr. Rodney King. He pivoted tones soon after with his next film, “Ms. Purple,” an intimate and raw story of a young woman left to pick up the pieces of her broken family, the duties bestowed upon children in the face of an ill and dying parent and the powerful journey of finding your way back with a sibling you thought you lost. I am in constant awe of his unwavering commitment to tell profound, authentic stories of the AAPI experience. And with his next buzz-worthy film, “Blue Bayou,” he continues to break glass ceilings, making a seat at his own damn table, paving the way for other storytellers that look like us.
Freida Pinto nominates Kiran + Nivi
When I heard Kiran + Nivi sing for the first time on Instagram, I was blown away and felt such a sense of pride. I immediately recognized their genius employment of Indian classical music into their covers and original songs. These twin sisters could sing before they could speak and have taken destiny into their own hands by letting their voices take them from their home in San Diego into people’s hearts all around the world. The duo draws from their Indian heritage, blending English-language pop music and Carnatic (Indian classical music) techniques, creating new, cross-cultural connections. Kiran + Nivi compose their own swaram (Indian solfege) sequences to go along with the words they sing, introducing Carnatic music to their fans on TikTok and Instagram. I strongly believe their talent, their grace, their own backstory, their bond as sisters has all the makings of future musical sensations. They told me they are inspired by Adele and Billie Eilish, among others, and I can’t wait to see those collaborations happen someday.
Charles Melton nominates Kuhoo Verma
Activist, founder and author David Yi has revolutionized the beauty space through his site, Very Good Light, and in 2021, continued his mission to promote “beauty beyond the binary” by launching his skin care line, Good Light. Witnessing him enact change by championing AAPI voices has inspired me to do the same. As a fellow Korean American, it is both liberating and comforting to know that there are allies in this world who are relentless in their pursuit to uplift our community. Because of David’s courage and support, I have been able to cultivate my own voice and join in on the conversation. David represents true allyship through accountability and because of him, an infinite number of voices that didn’t exist will now be heard.
Dr. Sandra Lee nominates Stacy Chen
I love when I notice someone on television and social media who has found her “thing.” Has found a way to get her points across, connecting with complete strangers, telling stories and conducting interviews that inspire people to improve their lives and the lives around them. When I saw Stacy Chen doing this as an Asian American journalist, mixing her own personality including light-hearted irreverence in with serious subject matter, it really made me pause and smile. And the surprise and pride I had to realize we both herald from the same high school that fosters this spirit. She’s got it, that little something that flickers there but never extinguishes. The hunger, the intelligence and humor, the ability to entertain while also educate and ultimately inspire others to really listen to the important conversations we are having, and learn from them. This, I believe is how we can create a world that is more accepting, a kinder and ever inspiring place to be. She produces stories that she deeply cares about and tells these stories in such a way that we, the viewer, realize we care in the same way and want to help effect change in positive ways. Stacy Chen is just starting to make history and I look forward to watching where she goes. I, like so many others, want to go along with her on this ride!
Alan Kim nominates Christina Oh
I would love to nominate Christina Oh as a person who is making AAPI history. She is an Oscar-nominated producer for producing my movie, “Minari.” Also, she is the nicest person I ever met. While we were filming “Minari” together, she gave me lots of hugs, bought me juice and let me play games on her phone. But that’s not the only reason I am nominating her. She is a very hardworking producer and has made more than 15 movies, including “Minari,” “Okja” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” Throughout her films, she is telling not only Asian American stories, but universal human stories. I think that’s why people love her movies.
Ki Hong Lee nominates the team at Asian American Drug Addiction Program, Louise Tse and Jane Nguyen
The folks over at Asian American Drug Addiction Program (AADAP) have been making AAPI history since 1972. After converting a hotel that was known for prostitution and heroin addicts into a drug-treatment facility for the community at large, they haven’t looked back. Under their motto of “People need People,” they offer a comprehensive “whole person” approach in their treatments and adopt the Hawaiian concept of “Ohana,” meaning “family.” No one likes to admit they are struggling, but AAPIs need to know that there is an organization that was created with their specific cultural factors in mind. I, for one, am ashamed that I didn’t know about AADAP sooner. This organization needs to be recognized for their tireless commitment to helping our community and should be the first stop for AAPIs seeking help.
Back in 2015, Louis Tse was a grad student studying mechanical engineering at UCLA graduate school. He started noticing students were sleeping in classrooms, student lounges and even in their cars. Once he realized that these students were houseless, he decided to form Students 4 Students, a shelter for homeless college students run entirely by their peers. In order to finance the shelter, he became houseless himself, moving into his car for the next two years in order to help those in need. The first student-run shelter started at UCLA, then spread to USC and other campuses are slated to join. When I first met him, I knew of his tireless work for the community. But what blew me away was his humbleness and empathetic heart for everyone in need. Oh, did I also mention he’s a spacecraft engineer working at NASA? He is essentially a rocket scientist by day and solving houselessness by night. No big deal.
Jane Nguyen was living in Koreatown in 2018 when she noticed that there was a significant rise in the homeless population in her neighborhood. A homeless shelter was proposed, but there was a huge opposition from the community. In turn, Jane and other like-minded volunteers formed Ktown for All, a volunteer-run organization aimed at helping their houseless neighbors. They hand out care packages, distribute meals and even host a “Power Up” where the unhoused can come and charge their tablets and phones. I love their “Zine,” a weekly newsletter that informs the houseless with current news as well as a breakdown of the resources that can be found throughout the city. I would call Jane an advocate for the houseless, community organizer, leader and an activist. But she says that she didn’t set out to be these things. She simply saw a need and decided to do something to help people living in her community. I think she may be more comfortable with the label of “friendly neighbor,” but for the sake of this list, I would add “history maker” as well.
Jason Scott Lee nominates Arianna de Lena, Leslie Wiser, Mai Nguyen, Kristyn Leach, Scott Chang-Fleeman
I feel this is such important work taking place literally on American soil that it should be recognized and addressed. Arianna de Lena of Kamayan Farms, Leslie Wiser of Radical Family Farms, Mai Nguyen of National Young Farmers Coalition, Kristyn Leach of Namu Farm and Scott Chang-Fleeman of Shao Shan Farms — these are our quiet heroes plugging away, squeezing out a living beyond the celebrity and politics of our current society. Gaining insight and wisdom through simple willfull action and attending to the health and nutrition of our communities at a clean, basic level.
Jessica Henwick nominates Amanda Nguyen
In 2014, Amanda Nguyen was fighting to have her rape kit kept in the system. Massachusetts had a six-month limit at the time, after which a victim had to pay to stop the state from destroying the kit. It was worse in other states — New Hampshire only kept the evidence for 60 days, Florida for 30 days. So Amanda decided to rewrite the law. She created a bill that established the right to have the evidence of a rape kit preserved without charge. It passed in 2016. Amanda’s bills have impacted millions of sexual assault survivors. And her work highlighting the recent crimes against Asian Americans has been seen by millions more. It’s so tiring having to constantly fight for what’s right, but Amanda is relentless. I’m incredibly inspired by her and I know she’s going to continue making AAPI history. Did I mention she’s training to be an astronaut, too?
Plastique Tiara nominates Xiao Zhen Xie
Xiao Zhen Xie is a 75-year-old Asian American woman who fought off an attacker with a wooden board. Her scenario could’ve been just another story of the rising violent bigotry that has been put on Asian Americans during the COVID-19. However, she chose to courageously defend herself and not let hate win. After Xie’s story went viral, nearly $1 million dollars were donated in support of Xie’s courage. She now plans to donate the money to the Asian American community to fight racism. Xiao Zhen Xie is a leading example of a modern day hero: courageous, humble and selfless.
Kelly Mi Li nominates Tammy Cho, Michelle Hanabusa, and Sam Hyun
We must always come together and spread love in the face of hate. Tammy Cho, Michelle Hanabusa and Sam Hyun are doing this with their organization, Hate Is A Virus, and more in the AAPI community.
Tammy is the co-founder and CEO of Hate Is A Virus, a nonprofit founded in response to the rise in Asian hate crimes that aims to amplify, educate and support the AAPI community. She also co-produced “Hidden Narratives,” a podcast highlighting the impacts of COVID-19 on our AAPI community. Her dedication to dismantling discrimination and racism has united many in this movement.
Michelle supports the AAPI community as the co-founder and COO of Hate Is A Virus. She is also the founder and creative director of a community-driven streetwear brand called We Are Uprisers that releases apparel collections in alignment with community issues. One of these drops was the #HATEISAVIRUS collection where all profits were donated to the Hate Is A Virus fund to give back to our AAPI community.
Sam is currently the chairperson of the Massachusetts Asian American Community and communications manager of Hate Is A Virus. He focuses on amplifying and mobilizing the community to uplift the work being done and build towards the society we all deserve. He seeks to inspire us to imagine the impossible because he believes it can become a reality through unified and collective effort.
I have partnered with Tammy, Michelle and Sam to launch the commUNITY Action Fund for Hate Is A Virus to raise $1 million dollars for our AAPI community. The fund will bring funding and support to mental health, security, education and more on a local and national level. It’s been absolutely so inspiring seeing the work these three have put forth to uplift our AAPI community!
Asia Jackson nominates Samantha Tan
Samantha Tan is breaking barriers in a male-dominated field and she’s having fun (and looking good) while doing it. There aren’t a lot of women represented in motorsports, let alone women of color, so it’s amazing to me to see a young woman of color making history in such a seemingly exclusive industry. To me, Samantha embodies what it means to have a dream and chase it unapologetically, which I think is a great message for a lot of Asian American girls and young women who usually grow up in more conservative or traditional households. Young women need to know that their passions and dreams are valid, and that they can achieve anything they put their minds to. Samantha had a dream when she started racing at just 16 years old — then she ended up making history by becoming the first-ever Asian female winner in the renowned Dubai 24H race. Samantha’s story really resonates with me, as someone who has also taken a non-traditional career path and I think stories like hers are so powerful — especially for Asian American and Pasifika communities.
Kim Chi nominates Chef Jon Kung
I nominate chef Jon Kung from Detroit as my up-and-comer who is making AAPI history currently! He’s starting to become a rising star on social media, slowly gaining a dedicated, underground fan base, especially on TikTok, due to his thoughtfully crafted content. His specialty is Chinese cuisine but his content isn’t just about cooking Chinese food. In every cooking video, he shares a careful balance of philosophy, family, heritage and tradition, all while presenting traditional Asian cooking and ingredients to a modern audience in a seductive way. He’s a role model that I wish I had growing up — the ingredients and smells that non-Asian folks shamed me for growing up — he’s teaching the new generation not only there is no shame but, in fact, we are so cool. His body of work is so cool that it’s caught the attention of the anime world, where animation distribution companies now hire him to create beautiful dishes and recipes based on new animes about to be released, further catching the eyes of modern audiences. Asian cuisine is no longer orange chicken and fried rice, but something much more magical under the careful guidance of Chef Jon Kung. He was my best kept secret, but I believe it’s time to release this babe of a chef to the masses! I truly believe he has the power to change the perception of how the Westerners view Asian cuisine!
Keiko Agena nominates Will Choi and Jully Lee
There are people who complain and people who create. Will Choi is the latter. Seeing the lack of Asian representation in the Los Angeles comedy scene, he created a juggernaut. “Asian AF” is a hit Asian American comedy variety show that has featured both prominent and rising Asian American talent to sold out audiences throughout the nation. It has grown into an influential platform for getting Asian American comics-actors seen by people in Hollywood in part by headlining major comedy festivals like SF Sketchfest and Clusterfest. Not only is Will an exceptional producer, he is an exceptional performer as well. He recently appeared on Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” and will be featured in upcoming episodes of Nickelodeon’s “The Casagrandes.” His charm and comedy chops made me an instant fan and he is on track to break through to a much wider national audience.
Jully Lee is a powerhouse in the Los Angeles theater scene. Someone who can effortlessly switch between drama and comedy, Jully gives the kind of performances that are permanently etched in your memory. No shrinking violet, Jully has become a leader in the community. At a recent awards ceremony, her name was mispronounced and a picture of another actress was used to represent her. She spoke out, and with the backing of East West Players, helped to galvanize the community to reject the callous way Asian Americans are sometimes treated. She is the current artistic director of the Cold Tofu improv company, volunteers with numerous community organizations and is helping to launch a new Theatre for Youth program this year! She is quickly becoming a familiar face to television and film fans as well and she is only getting started. I cannot wait for more of the world to know Jully Lee.
Brianne Tju nominates Youn Yuh-jung
I’m really inspired by seeing Youn Yuh-Jung in “Minari,” as well as witnessing her receive well-deserved recognition. I grew up watching Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and other prolific women getting to gracefully age in this business, but my heart feels so full to see an Asian woman, like Youn, on screen. When I watch her, I see my mother, my grandmother, my future. It feels both empowering and comforting.
Chin Han nominates Ken Liu and Ted Chiang
Science fiction writing is a genre that is fascinating in that it can both shape our futures, and also serve as a historical record of the time and preoccupations in which the stories are written. Which is why I am nominating Ken Liu and Ted Chiang, two of today’s best sci-fi writers who elegantly and mind-bendingly capture the nuances and challenges of life as we know it, sometimes fraught, sometimes sublime, with our complex plurality and diversity as a species. Using stories of extraterrestrials, fantastical aliens, colonization and mankind in its various guises as allegories, they resonate and speak equally to the journeys of immigrants, foreigners, minorities and, ultimately, anyone who finds themselves searching for a way to belong in the 21st century.
Dallas Liu nominates Alan Kim
My nomination goes to the young and up-and-coming Alan Kim! He’s such an authentic and talented actor already. I definitely see him having a very successful career in this industry and his potential has already been shown in “Minari.” His role was very entertaining to watch and his early success has motivated me to work even harder. I truly wish him all the greatness the world has to offer.
Justin Chon nominates Bing Liu
In the docu-world, Bing Liu has made such incredibly loving pieces. “Minding the Gap” was my favorite documentary of last year. I’m very excited to see him move to narrative filmmaking as he has a sensitivity in his storytelling that brings tremendous empathy towards our community.
Bing Liu nominates Jason Wu and Julian Aguon
I deeply admire people like Jason Wu, who is a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society in New York City, working with communities of color to preserve and expand affordable housing. On top of his day job, he’s active in his local legal services union, is on the municipal board in East Harlem, and sits on the steering committee at GAPIMNY, a queer and trans AAPI organization that provides political education and mutual aid.
My second nomination is Julian Aguon, whom I first discovered on the progressive Asian American podcast “Time To Say Goodbye” talking about his new book, “The Properties of Perpetual Light,” a searing multimedia rumination on colonization, the environment, love, grief and power. Julian is an attorney by trade and, with his legal firm Blue Ocean Law, has taken the United States to court for environmental and military encroachment in Guam. Julian’s and Jason’s dedication to fighting on behalf of and empowering those most vulnerable in their communities is, in my eyes, history in the making.
Ella Jay Basco nominates Ruby Ibarra
Many might know Ruby Ibarra as a dope MC, hip-hop artist and spoken word queen, but not only is she a rapper, she is also a real-life scientist! Ruby majored in biochemistry at UC Davis, and is currently working for a biotech company on COVID-19 test kits and developing a vaccine. Born in the Philippines before immigrating to California’s Bay Area, Ruby uses her music to talk about her culture and share her racial experiences here in the United States. And she can rap in three languages: Tagalog, Waray and English! When I first heard Ruby’s music, I immediately knew I wanted to work with her. She is a big inspiration of mine and I really admire how she uses her lyrics to fight for social justice issues. This makes her the perfect counterpart for my song “Gold,” which is an anthem for the AAPI community to uplift each other and celebrate our greatness.
Momona Tamada nominates Nicole Kang
Nicole Kang is such a light and has the rare ability to diffuse her bright energy in any situation. She uses her voice and platform to create as much meaningful change as possible, which is why I have decided to nominate her. Although I have only known her for a short amount of time, she has shown so much support towards me and others. The world needs more people like Nicole!
Alexandra Cuerdo nominates BUBBLE_T
I have to honor my love for Bubble_T, the New York City party collective founded by Nicholas Andersen, Karlo Bello, Stevie Huynh, Paul Tran and Pedro Vidallon Jr. Post-election in 2016, these visionaries pushed back and created a safe space “where Asians rule, but everyone is welcome.” Bubble_T was the first party I went to that centered queer Asians. And it happened to be the best dance party in town. I fell in love with the sheer joy of Bubble_T, the boldness of its vision, the inclusivity that made everyone feel like they were on the inside, like they were meant to be there. At one Bubble_T, I danced inside a Boba Dome at MOMA PS1 with hundreds of queer Asians, vibrating to the beat, floating dollars toward the reigning drag queen. The experience — and the energy — was sublime. Bubble_T gave us the space to be, to come together, and to fall in love, over and over, with ourselves. It changed my life to experience that freedom. Through Nick, Karlo, Stevie, Paul and Pedro, I found my chosen family in New York. I was inspired to come out at work, as a queer Asian director. And I was moved to create — I took my first published photographs at Bubble_T, directed a documentary on the party and am now working on a television show inspired by it, called “All I Want Is Everything.” During the pandemic, the Bubble_T community shifted its resources to organizing rallies for social justice, including last summer’s historic Rally for Black Trans Lives, and recently, Protect Asian Lives, a solidarity rally for queer AAPIs. In a time of rising violence against Black and brown communities, Bubble_T has been a bright star — proof of the power of our collective community. I can’t wait till we can all dance together again. You’re all invited to the party.
Shannon Dang nominates Charles Yu
Charles Yu is an award-winning writer, author and recently published a 2020 National Book Award winner and New York Times Best Seller, “Interior Chinatown.” Written as a fictional screenplay, this novel is an ambitious Hollywood satire, rooted in historical truth around the Generic Asian Man. Many readers discovered “Interior Chinatown” during a global pandemic, social justice movement and rise in Asian American hate crimes. “Interior Chinatown” allows audiences to process and reflect on race, pop culture, immigration, assimilation, and Hollywood’s tropes and Asian stereotypes. Charles Yu does a wonderful job of using humor, heart, truth and inspiration to spark conversation. He’s received the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 award, been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for his work on the HBO series “Westworld,” and has written for shows on AMC, FX, Facebook Watch and Adult Swim.
Academy Award-winning husband and wife filmmaking duo E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin nominate Kim Yutani
Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi would like to nominate Kim Yutani as a member of the AAPI community who is making and defining history in our society. Throughout her career, Yutani has been at the forefront of championing diverse and independent voices in the film industry. In her role as director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival, Yutani fosters developing talent, giving artists the chance to bring their work to a wider audience. Yutani’s approach to programming is driven by her creative instincts and tastes that span genres. In just the last year, longtime Sundance-supported filmmakers Isaac Lee Chung and Shaka King brought their respective films — “Minari” and “Judas and the Black Messiah” — from premieres at the festival on to both critical and commercial acclaim (and Oscar wins). Through Yutani’s dedicated work, up-and-coming filmmakers are given a broad platform to tell their unique and poignant stories. She has also led the creation of Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong, broadening the scope of the festival and its reach beyond just US borders. Thank you, Kim!
Eva Pilgrim nominates Simon Kim
Simon Kim is the owner of Cote, a Michelin star Korean steakhouse. In the midst of a pandemic when restaurants were particularly hard hit, Simon chose to give back to his community as he was also trying to figure out how to keep his business alive. Cote raised money for Asian American charities in the midst of rising hate crimes. The restaurant raised money to support Black-owned businesses last summer as protests across the country called for racial justice. They also made sure their fellow neighbors had the most basic need met: food. Simon told Men’s Journal, “With so much suffering, we increased our charitable efforts to our community. No matter what, we are New Yorkers. When tragedy strikes, we don’t wait for the government, we step up, we protect our own. For us, that meant giving 3 percent of sales (of $25,000) to City Harvest who, in turn, feed our most vulnerable neighbors. Linking up with Frontline Foods, we gave $10,000 and 1,000 meals so far, dropping them off at hospitals for healthcare workers. As a team, this was a real turning point for us emotionally. Never was it more obvious that we weren’t showing up for the dollars and the cents. Caring for people around us gave us a sense of purpose.” Cote has been able to survive. The restaurant is open again. They have been shipping meal kits across the country through Goldbelly for much of the pandemic. And Simon was even able to open up a new restaurant in Miami — something he had planned to do before the pandemic hit. All the way, he’s chosen to show his gratitude by giving back to the community as they continue to support and cheer for him.
Juju Chang nominates Esther Lim
They say knowledge is power. And that’s what Esther Lim wanted to put into the hands of vulnerable elders in the AAPI community. Inspired by fear for her own parents’ safety, the 32-year-old operations director for a surfwear company took it upon herself to answer the question, “What can one person do?” She took action. With $4,000 of her own money, she wrote and published booklets in English and Chinese. The pamphlets explain how to report a hate crime and how to avoid being targeted (“don’t go out alone,” “bring a whistle”). Lim then spent another $6,000 to launch a website. After raising another $26,000 in donations, she’s added versions in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Thai. The handbook explains how to memorize English phrases such as “Someone is following me. Can you stay next to me until it’s safe?” Lim pinpointed a weakness in AAPI hate reporting. Many of the victims don’t speak enough English to be able to report racial slurs or racists attacks. And they don’t feel comfortable talking to law enforcement. Lim is trying to fill that gap with knowledge and guidance. A true AAPI inspiration.
Zohreen Shah nominates Humanitarian Ann Lee and all Asian American Health Care Workers
Ann Lee is no stranger to disaster relief, pairing to form the nonprofit CORE with Sean Penn after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed 250,000. They continued bringing relief in places like Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and various parts in the United States. Lee’s recent efforts included setting up mass COVID-19 testing sites at Dodger Stadium and many other sites around the country, which then turned into mass vaccination sites. Her priority has always been equity and her drive is motivated “mostly out of rage — when you see that a lot of these things hit underserved neighborhoods the most, you get the sense of injustice… it shouldn’t, and it does not have to be that way.”
While Asian Americans make up around 5% of the U.S. population, they comprise close to 20% of physicians and surgeons, and just under 10% of nurses. And while they worked tirelessly to save lives in the pandemic — often fearing they might catch the disease themselves or pass it on to a loved one — many battled a second challenge: frequent blame for the virus that came in the form of racial slurs and violent attacks.Although my own family is South Asian, I’ve had a window into the enormous weight my own sister Maheen Adamjee, a new nurse, has experienced watching patients struggle for their lives and helping them through their battles. We’re forever grateful to these heroes.
CeFaan Kim nominates NYPD Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo and FDNY Firefighter David Lin
NYPD Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo. He not only served as the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Asian Hate Crimes Task Force, but he created it. It was his idea. Now retired, he delayed his retirement by a year to make sure this task force was up and running. His dedication and devotion to the AAPI community is what drove him. He always put the community first.
FDNY firefighter David Lin, who is also the president of the FDNY’s Phoenix Society (AAPIs in the FDNY). When he’s not working he is constantly in the community, supporting nonprofit organizations, community groups, you name it. Never off the clock, always serving.
Both of these two have been vital bridges between the community and city services.
CeFaan Kim is a reporter at ABC News station WABC-TV in New York City.
Dion Lim nominates Asian America Young People
Traditionally, Asians are taught to keep quiet and not cause trouble. At the beginning of the pandemic when I started regularly reporting on attacks against Asian Americans — even my own mother asked me to stop because it was bringing negative attention to “our people.” But this new generation is getting bold because they’re frustrated (like me), and have had enough of the racism, hate and violence. They’re speaking out about crimes they’ve witnessed or hate they’ve experienced because they know it raises awareness, which is the first step to making real change. Young people aren’t just activists but activating others to hold rallies, starting movements or just offer words of support during these times. Eventually, the older generation will come around, as my mom did when months later she told me she was proud of the work I was doing. Speaking out is a powerful thing.
Dion Lim is a news anchor and reporter at ABC News station KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Reena Roy nominates Sahaj Kohli and Nik Sharma
In a time when so many have been struggling with their mental health, Sahaj Kohli is trying to normalize getting help, which can often be stigmatized and inaccessible, particularly in communities of color. Kohli is the founder of Brown Girl Therapy, dubbed the “first and largest mental health community for children of immigrants.” The platform helps create a safe space for honest dialogue & offers helpful resources for mental wellness, like a directory of “culturally sensitive” therapists and digital self care packages, helping revolutionize the world of wellness for so many people.
This talented Indian-American chef/writer says it all in this line from his deeply personal cookbook, Season: “Mine is the story of a gay immigrant told through food.” There and on his blog “A Brown Table,” he eloquently writes of his journey from India to California, sharing innovative recipes along the way. Sharma fuses the flavors he grew up eating in Mumbai with a modern American twist. By marrying two distinct flavor profiles, he’s also, in a sense, helping marry the two cultures. His food is symbolic of the immigrant experience: it’s not only a source of nostalgia & comfort, but also a way to share your culture with others in an approachable (& delicious!) way.
Lucy Yang nominates Lily and Tony La
Lily and Tony La immigrated decades ago, filled with hope and hard work. For 30 years, they built a humble and popular dry cleaning business in Brooklyn, and raised their children in the shop. They were living the American dream. When COVID shut down their store and they were left with no means for survival, they did not despair. They turned their talents for tailoring into sewing masks. Panicked New Yorkers could not get enough masks in the beginning of the pandemic, so, the Las came to the rescue. They used their son’s lacrosse stick to give them away. The mom-and-pop business has donated more than 10,000 masks while not knowing how they would pay their rent or feed their family. They lost weight and sleep. But they did not lose their faith. A year later, they are now open again. But business has not returned, since most folks are still working from home. The Las find themselves on the brink of losing everything. Lily has carpal tunnel from sewing so many masks. As dark as tomorrow looks, they have no regrets. They spent their confinement giving to others. So even if their second home, their precious dry cleaning shop, will have to close, they remain deeply grateful they were able to end their careers on such a beautiful note. That is their American story.
Lucy Yang is a reporter at ABC News station WABC-TV in New York City.
Nina Pineda nominates Vilma & Liz Kari
On March 29, 65-year-old Filipina American Vilma Kari was walking to church in Times Square when she was viciously punched in the face and had her head kicked to the curb repeatedly after being told “you don’t belong here” by a convicted murderer. The video of the daylight attack went viral, not just for its brazenness, but because three men in a lobby failed to help the victim. One even closed the door as a barely conscious Vilma struggled on the sidewalk. While this American citizen said she initially didn’t want to draw attention to herself, Vilma’s daughter Liz convinced her shy mother to, in her words, “be louder.” Now this mother-daughter duo are raising their voices to convince others “we belong here,” and encourage AAPI survivors of hate crimes to no longer be silent and speak out. They will use their experience to be part of a movement for change and hope to influence those who are victimized or witness any people being targeted by bias crimes to speak up.
Nina Pineda is a reporter at ABC News station WABC-TV in New York City.
Judy Hsu nominates her father Fun Yuen Hsu
Many in the Chicago region and around the world knew him as Grand Master Fun Yuen Hsu. He dedicated his life to sharing his love of the Asian culture through the teachings of Chinese martial arts, earning the highest of accolades and the following of tens of thousands of students from around the world. He was invited to teach from Taiwan to Singapore, from New York to Los Angeles, but he eventually based his Tai Chi Academy in Chicago. His life’s journey began in a farming village in Southern China, leaving home as a teenager when war broke out. He would not see his family again until he was 50 years old. His father had long passed. His mom, old and frail, held on to see her oldest child one more time. She passed a day later. For close to four decades, my dad humbly and quietly taught thousands of students in America the love of Chinese martial arts, never realizing he was indeed making history along the way. Although the classes were about Tai Chi, the lessons were about embracing each other’s culture. He passed away before the pandemic, but his inspiration lives on in all of his students and in me.
Judy Hsu is an anchor at ABC News station WLS-TV in Chicago.
Ravi Baichwal nominates Dr. Rahul Sharma
Dr. Rahul Sharma recently partnered with a Chicago university theater department to train and coach students, faculty and administration around skill building related to diversity, leadership and conflict resolution. Previously, he trained Evanston’s police department on mental health response integrating diversity and community concerns. Sharma also addressed employees at Howard Brown Health Center for a virtual training on self-care and preventing burnout, integrating live sitar to his address. He is co-chair of the Diversity & Equity Committee for City of Chicago’s Year of Music 2020 Campaign and is former chair of the division on South Asian Americans. Sharma was associate professor at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and chair of its diversity concentration for 13 years, teaching and supervising clinical work. He also served as director of the University of Chicago’s Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention, reporting early on to then-Associate Dean Michelle Obama. Sharma’s completed and forthcoming publications include a book chapter on men’s roles in addressing domestic violence in South Asian communities, and on cultural competence in treating inter-partner violence perpetrators. His commitment to address sexism and violence against women won him an award from the Vagina Monologues’ V-Day Celebration. Sharma is also founder and bassist/sitarist for the award-winning music group Funkadesi, which includes diverse members who are musicians, activists, educators and healers. He has used music as a vehicle for advancing emotional intelligence, leadership and cultural competence. Recently, the band presented an experiential plenary session for conference-goers, with each participant learning a specific cultural rhythm to contribute to a whole-group performance, reflecting the power of diversity and community. In 2017, Sharma was the recipient of the Joyce Foundation Award, a commission to co-write a musical piece, “Quantum Englewood,” to provide arts opportunities for youth in high-risk environments. The piece was performed by hundreds of musicians in late 2018.
Ravi Baichwal is an anchor at ABC News station WLS-TV in Chicago.
Cate Cauguiran nominates Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American journalist and co-founder of Manila-based news site, Rappler. Ressa defines what it means to be a “Warrior of Truth”: fearlessly fighting for accountability with a steadfast dedication to becoming the worst enemy to corruption and misinformation. Her efforts to, as she put it, “shine the light” and “hold the line,” have both leveled those who sought to abuse power while empowering others who might not have been afforded the opportunity. She stands as an example of inspiration to her country, her colleagues and the next generation of truth warriors.
Cate Caguiran is a reporter at ABC News station WLS-TV in Chicago.
Eric Horng nominates Dr. Ankit Bharat and Cassandra Ma
Dr. Ankit Bharat is the director of the lung transplant program at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. He performed the world’s first double-lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient and, with skill and compassion, continues to advance this pioneering work. Bharat’s groundbreaking surgery has drawn the attention of doctors around the world who are now seeking his knowledge.
Cassandra Ma is the founder and executive director of Reclaim13, an organization based in suburban Chicago that aims to end sex trafficking and exploitation of children, and to help survivors heal. Through education and prevention efforts, she has helped change the course of thousands of lives.
Eric Horng is a reporter at ABC News station WLS-TV in Chicago.
Yukare Nakayama nominates Lisa Ling
Lisa Ling is a journalist who is a part of the Asian community who has been helping not only the Asian community, but communities all across the board. Her show, “This is Life with Lisa Ling,” has given viewers a perspective of many different lives. Her contributions to journalism have been vital and necessary, especially during these trying times.
Yukare Nakayama is a community journalist at ABC News station WLS-TV in Chicago.
Nydia Han nominates Katie Lu
I nominate the inspiring Katie Lu, a high school junior and award-winning playwright. Her original radio play, “Pandemic,” launched in February of this year. It follows a college student as she navigates being Chinese American during the COVID-19 pandemic, while learning about her family’s experience in America during the Great Depression and amid the Chinese Exclusion Act. Katie earned first place recognition at the Philadelphia Young Playwrights Annual Playwriting Festival in 2020. “Pandemic” draws a parallel between [the Chinese Exclusion Act] and the rise of anti-Asian American sentiment with the COVID-19 crisis,” said Katie. “However, in such a bleak story, I see my play as a sense of hope.” Katie is definitely one to watch!
Nydia Han is a consumer investigative reporter and news anchor at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.
Jaclyn Lee nominates Thu Pham
I can’t think of a more deserving person than Thu Pham, co-founder of Càphê Roasters, Philadelphia’s first and only Vietnamese coffee roastery. Her mission is two-fold: to share Vietnamese-AAPI culture through delicious coffee while also raising up a neighborhood. The coffee is primarily sourced from Vietnam and other Southeast and East Asian regions. Her business is located in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, an area that is rife with crime and battling a major drug epidemic. Pham’s goal is to use her company to revitalize the neighborhood while attracting other small businesses along the corridor. Part of her proceeds also go to 12 Plus, a Philadelphia nonprofit that partners with local public high schools to increase educational equity. Talk about leading by example!
Jaclyn Lee is a reporter at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.
Christie Ileto nominates Eugene Thomas
An activist, a mentor and the founder of nonprofit Power Circle, Eugene Thomas started his work in the very same neighborhood of Frankford where he grew up. To his family and the kids he helps, his name is “Buddha.” Mixed with Korean and African American, Eugene knows all too well the importance of Black and Asian solidarity, especially now. Both the African American and Asian American communities have a history of clashing, but also have a shared experience of being profiled because of their race. It’s something he uses to be a living and walking example of how two communities can work together. He’s been actively calling attention to AAPI hate and working with Asian American leaders in the city to spotlight the issues happening in the community. At a time when gun violence is rampant in Philadelphia, he uses Power Circle to help teens stay out of the streets, including Blasian biracial teens by helping them get access to resources, get involved in programming and gain confidence about being Asian.
Christie Ileto is a reporter at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.
Dale Yurong nominates Retired Major General Antonio “Tony” Taguba
Retired Major General Antonio “Tony” Taguba has never backed down from a battle, so he set out to right a historical wrong. The U.S. Army veteran spearheaded an effort to formally recognize more than 250,000 Filipinos who served the United States during World War II. Many were promised citizenship and benefits, but the offers were rescinded after the war. Most of those veterans have already passed, but Taguba strongly believed it was necessary the country recognized their service and sacrifices made during the war. In 2016, Taguba saw his dream realized as the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act was signed into law. It is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. Commemorative events continue to be held around the country with veterans or their surviving family members receiving bronze replicas of the medal. It is a history lesson no longer lost on the younger generation. Taguba also serves as a mentor for young Asian American leaders. His work exemplifies the need to understand the past before we can move forward.
Dale Yurong is a news anchor at KFSN-TV in Fresno, California.
Linda Ha nominates Amanda Nguyen
Amanda Nguyen is the epitome of strength and is making AAPI history now. During her senior year of college, she became a sexual assault survivor. Nguyen quickly learned no national legislation provided rights and protections for people who have experienced sexual violence. In 2016, she wrote the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which aims to provide survivors with the right to a rape kit procedure at no cost and the requirement that kits be preserved for 20 years. Nguyen is the founder and CEO of Rise, a civil rights organization that advocates for survivors’ rights and assists people in writing and passing bills. Nguyen was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Time 100 Next, Forbes 30 Under 30 and received the Nelson Mandela Changemaker Award. She is also credited for sparking a national conversation about anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents after posting a viral video calling for better media coverage. She also wants to be an astronaut!
Linda Ha is a race and culture journalist at KFSN-TV in Fresno, California.
Margot Kim nominates John Cho
John Cho’s teaching goes far beyond his classes at Fresno City College, where he is an instructor in Cultural and Women’s Studies. He is a tireless advocate for students of color and the community. He serves as one of the primary organizers of the annual Asian Fest at Fresno City College and leads the John Cho Lion Dance Team, which performs throughout the Central Valley sharing culture, history and goodwill.
Margot Kim is an anchor and reporter at KFSN-TV in Fresno, California.
Pooja Lodhia nominates Asian American healthcare workers
It is tough enough being tasked with fighting a dangerous virus that has killed millions of people and shut down economic systems around the world. But, what if you were receiving racist insults and threats at the same time? It’s happening to Asian American health care workers all around our country and many of them say they have even experienced racism while working to save patients. Asian Americans make up 6% of the U.S. population, but 18% of the country’s physicians and 10% of its nurse practitioners, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. I appreciate all health care workers, but this month, let’s give special recognition to our Asian American health care workers, who have been on the front lines of so many battles this year.
Pooja Lodhia is a reporter at KTRK-TV in Houston.
Elita Loresca nominates Anne Aaron
Anne Aaron is a Filipino engineer and the director of video algorithms at Netflix since 2011. She was recognized as one of the 43 most powerful female engineers of 2017 by Business Insider and by Forbes one of “America’s Top 50 Women in Tech” in 2018. She is proud to be a role model to young girls and to prove to the world that women can “belong in tech.”
Elita Loresca is a meteorologist at KTRK-TV in Houston.
Miya Shay nominates Tammy Tran Nguyen
The daughter of two Vietnamese immigrants, Tammy Tran Nguyen founded the KNOWautism Foundation after her son, Reagan, was diagnosed with autism. Since its founding in 2013, KNOWautism has helped fund the diagnosis and treatment of autism for hundreds of families. Whether it’s paying for expensive diagnostic testing or helping families get back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey, Tammy and her nonprofit have made a significant impact. In addition, Tammy has helped break the silence many Asian American parents self-impose by talking about challenges faced by their own children. She is already changing the conversation about autism and changing perceptions about speaking out among AAPI families. Families touched by her work and that of KNOWautism are leading healthier, happier lives, and are thriving despite the challenges of autism.
Miya Shay is a reporter at KTRK-TV in Houston.
David Ono nominates Bing Chen
I would like to nominate Bing Chen as an everyday hero in the AAPI community. He is the founder of Gold House, a nonprofit that was created to unify Asian American communities. Together, Asians and Asian Americans can have greater power to fight for more authentic multicultural representation and equity in entertainment, business and civil rights. With Bing as the articulate spokesperson and leader, Gold House has become a respected support system that is giving voice and strength to many minorities today who would not have had it just a few years ago. Gold House is a dynamic idea that is now a force, thanks to Bing Chen.
David Ono is a news anchor at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Denise Dador nominates Patricia Kinaga
Patricia Kinaga is a local lawyer who does many things to help our local community. She volunteered her expertise to Asian Americans Advancing Justice to help clients fight their hate crime cases and abuse in the workplace, especially that notable case where the organization helped free and garner restitution for Thai garment workers who were basically held prisoner for years. She is also a documentarian who did a doc about how breast cancer is so underrepresented in the AAPI community and she founded Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California (APIDC), an organization that helps Asian Americans dealing with disabilities in California. It’s a group that already feels invisible being disabled and now, these young people are also dealing with hate issues. She has created leadership programs and platforms for them to learn how to make their voices heard. She is also working with local lawmakers to help create meaningful collaborations to help change policies following this year of Asian hate. Patty lives in Pasadena. She is married with two kids. One in high school and one in college. She is a caring mom, who is very interested in helping her kids become changemakers.
Denise Dador is an Eyewitness News Health Specialist at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Rob Fukuzaki nominates Dae Ho Suk
I am nominating my long time ABC 7 sports producer and good friend, Dae Ho Suk. He’s the G.O.A.T. of producers in my opinion, but is also the most “woke” person I know. He is constantly enthralled with fighting injustice in society and fighting racism, and not just Asian hate but for all races, pounding the pavement on social media or using our broadcasts when appropriate to educate, and make a difference in our society and community. Angered by the hate, but inspired to be a part of the movement to stop injustice and promote equality. He inspires me.
Rob Fukuzaki is a sports anchor at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Tony Cabrera nominates Troy Laureta
Filipino-American music director Troy Laureta is making AAPI history by using the success he’s found in mainstream music to put Filipino music in the spotlight — something most aren’t familiar with. I believe it’s important to get to know (and appreciate) other cultures, and music is a great way to do that. Troy’s worked with a number of artists — everyone from Ariana Grande to David Foster. Now, he’s helping Original Pilipino Music (OPM) cross over into the spotlight for all to enjoy. His new album features singers from both Asia and America, including his sister, Cheesa.
Tony Cabrera is a reporter at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Reggie Aqui nominates Dr. Monica Gandhi
Every time there is a new COVID-19 headline, I immediately turn to one source to get her take: Dr. Monica Gandhi. Early on in the pandemic, I started seeing her talk about COVID in terms that anyone in San Francisco could immediately understand. By comparing the pandemic to the disease that devastated a generation of gay men in our community, she compassionately and intelligently encouraged us, and her medical colleagues, to rethink COVID-era policy. Her vast experience with HIV/AIDS at UCSF informed her to think in terms of “harm-reduction” rather than fear and shame tactics that history has shown do not work. I believe her expertise locally (and now nationally) has saved and also improved lives during this past year. She deserves our thanks.
Reggie Aqui is a news anchor at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Veronica Miracle nominates Bing Chen
Bing Chen, the founder of Gold House, has not only created the most incredible collective of thought leaders and cultural influencers in the Asian American community, he is helping inspire the next generation of leaders through his work. It’s an honor to see his incredible vision unfold through Gold House.
Veronica Miracle is an anchor and reporter at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Amanda del Castillo nominates Dion Lim and Ruby Ibarra
Dion Lim is a name that has become synonymous with AAPI advocacy. As her colleague, it’s easy to notice her influence and outreach are being amplified by her empathy toward victims of AAPI hate. She’s used her platform to uplift the community and I believe her impact has the potential to inspire real change.
Also, I believe Filipino-American rapper Ruby Ibarra has found a way to incorporate real world issues into her work. I’ve followed her for a few years now and have always appreciated how she’s taken on topics like race, equity and social justice. She’s also been a champion for the AAPI community. Ibarra’s lyrics have the potential to influence so many more young people and she is using her platform to help jumpstart the dialogue for these much-needed conversations.
Amanda del Castillo is a reporter at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Frances Dinglasan nominates Cherie Querol Moreno
Eighteen years ago, Cherie M. Querol Moreno founded the Alliance for Community Empowerment (ALLICE), an all-volunteer nonprofit educating the community about abuse through free presentations and resource fairs. She helps older adults gain access to affordable transportation as coordinator of Got Wheels! for nonprofit Peninsula Family Service. Cherie is a seasoned Filipino American journalist working to prevent intimate partner, elder and family abuse through her stories as executive editor of Philippine News Today, and correspondent for Inquirer.net and Positively Filipino.
Frances Dinglasan is a weather and traffic reporter at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Chris Nguyen nominates Nathan Chen and Ashlyn So
In dominating men’s figure skating in recent years, three-time world champion Nathan Chen has shown remarkable skill, strength and staying power on his journey to the top. His blend of talent and athleticism is not only redefining his sport, but is also setting a positive example for youth. All Americans should be proud of his success and the class in which he has represented our country on the international level.
Ashlyn So, 13, is an emerging fashion designer in the San Francisco Bay Area who has blossomed into a youth activist during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Asian elders were being attacked locally, she decided to take a stand by organizing a rally and march to denounce the violence. The event was attended by thousands! So has since become a powerful voice for change and an inspiration to generations of Asian Americans.
Chris Nguyen is a news anchor and reporter at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Sandhya Patel nominates Peggy Li
I would like to nominate Peggy Li, a San Francisco jewelry designer who’s showing her support for the AAPI community. She’s raising awareness and donating proceeds from her fortune cookie and ox necklaces to Save Our Chinatowns and Feed + Fuel Chinatown to #StopAsianHate. It’s so nice to hear about people like Peggy taking a stand! As an Asian American and mother of three kids, I want my kids to grow up being respectful of all races and cultures, just as I was taught by my parents. It saddens me to see the escalation of hate crimes around the country. There is no room for them in this day and age, and especially in a pandemic when we should be uniting, not dividing the country! It’s time to turn the tide and stop the hate!
Sandhya Patel is a meteorologist at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Kristen Sze nominates Rick Ramos
Rick Ramos is an AAPI everyday hero! The Filipino American and martial arts instructor has devoted himself to combatting the rising tide of attacks on the Bay Area’s Asian American community. Ramos has spearheaded an effort marshalling fellow martial artists to teach self-defense classes for free. They hold workshops throughout the Bay Area, with a special emphasis on empowering the elderly. For those who cannot attend in person, they’ve created videos teaching simple self-defense techniques and awareness. In addition, Ramos and friends also train the volunteers who have signed up through the United Peace Collaborative to patrol Chinatown, to help keep the community safe. They also raise funds so that the volunteers have drinks and snacks during their shifts.
Kristen Sze is a news anchor at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Amber Rupinta nominates Rev. Nicanor Austriaco
As a Filipino-American Catholic priest, molecular biologist, professor and MBA student, Father Nicanor Austriaco is the definition of service to others. Austriaco is a biology and theology professor at Providence College (PC) in Providence, Rhode Island, who is leading his student researchers in developing a low-cost, shelf-stable, oral-based vaccine that would be easy to transport and administer to underserved communities and developing nations. Austriaco was invited to join the OCTA Research group and is now one of the scientists helping lead COVID-19 response in the Philippines. In addition to his work in the community and classroom, Father Nic is also a beacon of light in a dark time, helping with the incredible grief and loss caused by the pandemic. After losing my father to the virus on Thanksgiving, I can say firsthand it has given me great peace and comfort to hear my dad’s fellow countryman Father Nicanor’s insight into God’s providence in a pandemic.
Amber Rupinta is a news anchor at WTVD in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
David Louie nominates Christine Chen and Maulik Pancholy
Christine Chen is a behind-the-scenes adviser helping to lead the fight against acts of AAPI hate. When people are looking for a trusted leader who can reach and mobilize the AAPI community at the local and national level, they turn to Christine for guidance. She cuts across racial, ethnic, geographic and political lines. She works quietly, seeking no attention or credit. Chistine is national executive director of APIA Vote in Washington, D.C.
Maulik Pancholy is an author, actor and activist who is addressing bullying against AAPI children, including those who identify as LGBTQ+. In some communities, more than half of AAPI students report that they have been bullied. He is mobilizing a national virtual rally on May 18 and is drawing on his network of Hollywood friends to support the effort. He’s often described as the nicest, most humble, non-attention-seeking person people know. Maulik chairs the group Act to Change and is a fellow Northwestern University alumnus.
David Louie is a reporter at KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Randall Park nominates Julian Maha and Michele Kon
I nominate Julian Maha and Michele Kong, the co-founders of Kulture City, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world of accessibility and acceptance for those with “invisible disabilities.” These are disabilities that are difficult to detect on the surface, sensory processing needs that affect one out of every six individuals, including my amazing daughter Ruby. Julian and Michele, and the incredible team at Kulture City, work hard to provide training and transform public spaces to be sensory inclusive, and to fight for justice for those whose disabilities are often misunderstood, if taken into account at all. They are amazing people dedicated to making this world a better place, not just for folks like Ruby, but for all of us.
Sherry Cola nominates Ally Maki
Ally Maki is a force of nature. Not only is she a hardworking and brilliant actress, but she also created Asian American Girl Club, which has truly amplified the voices in our community. She has single-handedly opened up powerful conversations, from highlighting female AAPI authors to creating merchandise that we can all wear proudly. She’s the perfect example of someone who uses a platform for good and for a real purpose. She inspires us to lift each other up and put competition in the past. I’m grateful to be in her orbit and to be able to call her my sister.
Ronny Chieng nominates U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng
U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, serving her fifth term in the United States House of Representatives, has fought for a seat at the American legislative decision-making table in what is oftentimes a very thankless job not just as an U.S elected official, but also one from New York, where we hate almost everyone in charge. In her capacity as the first and only Asian American member of Congress from New York State, she has led with class, effectiveness and honor. Her office is very accessible to all her constituents and she has consistently used her voice in Congress to fight for the betterment of all Americans, including underrepresented Asian Americans across the nation.
Cheryl Burke nominates Maki Hsieh
I am nominating Maki Hsieh as the person I see making history in the AAPI community. She has truly been a guiding light to the Asian community. She is a superwoman who juggles so many parts of herself. She’s a classically trained violinist, concert pianist and 13-language vocalist. She has headlined EDM and crossover performances in stadiums, arenas and festivals such as EDC Las Vegas and Burning Man — her artistic ability is quite incredible. However, I got to know Maki closely through her role as the CEO of the Asian Hall of Fame. I was inducted in 2020 and quickly saw all of the philanthropic work Maki does on the daily. When COVID-19 took over the country, Maki spearheaded a relief concert to help the Asian Hall of Fame raise awareness of its COVID-19 Medical Relief Fund. It helped deploy 25,800 PPE to 71 organizations. Most recently, Maki has been a warrior for the #StopAsianHate movement. She released her own call to action and has demanded changes to the hate crime policy. She has continued to spotlight all of the programs the Asian Hall of Fame offers and has helped give inductees like myself a chance to vocalize why this movement is so important. Maki continues to pave the way for Asians everywhere and her hard work should be recognized not only during AAPI Heritage Month but every day.
Aubrey Anderson-Emmons nominates Nick “Your Korean Dad” Cho
I’m a Gen Z kid and when I was thinking of who to nominate, I wanted to spotlight someone from the AAPI community that my generation can relate to. Naturally, I turned to TikTok. I have chosen to nominate Nick “Your Korean Dad” Cho. Nick Cho is more than just a rising digital media star with more than 2.6 million followers on TikTok. He is one of the pioneers of the third-wave coffee movement, a leader, teacher and expert of the coffee industry, and co-founder of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters. But to my generation, Nick Cho is an uplifting beacon of light for Asian youth around the world. Nick’s social media presence is a kind and gentle voice of acceptance and compassion for all kids, showing the world what a loving AAPI dad looks like, and collaborating with and amplifying AAPI businesses and artists. His videos always make me smile and laugh, and he really is the Korean dad that anyone would love to have!
Carrie Ann Inaba nominates Bing Chen
I would like to nominate Bing Chen because he is leading the unification of AAPIs across industries. Just a few of his achievements include creating a market for AAPI films via Gold Open (which culturally consults and promotes every major AAPI film) and investing in the next generation of AAPI-led small businesses. He is a force in the community and is making history by uplifting AAPI voices.
Ashly Burch nominates Aparna Nancherla
I want to nominate Aparna Nancherla! Not only is she an incredibly funny stand-up and actor, but she uses her platform to shine a light on issues of mental health. She’s hilarious, but also vulnerable and open with what she struggles with. I really admire her and I think she’s making an incredible impact on not just the AAPI community, but the world as a whole.
Leela Ladnier nominates Jameela Jamil
Jameela Jamil may be best known for her role on “The Good Place,” but she also plays Auntie Pushpa on Disney Junior’s animated series, “Mira, Royal Detective.” I play Mira and, funny enough, we have never met, so my only experience of Jameela is from her social media. She uses her personal and “I Weigh” platform to expose the beauty and “wellness” industry, and encourage others to honor their accomplishments and not just their appearance. Whether it be pulling the veil off Photoshopping, calling out celebrities for endorsing unhealthy products, standing for LGBTQ rights, eviscerating body shaming, promoting pay equity between men and women, tearing down misogyny at every turn or being open about her own mental health, she recognizes her position and uses it to empower others. As a young artist who strives to use any success I may achieve to advocate for issues I care about, I admire that Jameela shows that one can enjoy the benefits that come from being a celebrity and use that privilege to be of service.
Devyn Nekoda nominates Awkwafina
For AAPI Heritage Month, I would like to highlight Awkwafina. Breaking stereotypes, she is a triple threat in the entertainment industry, making history as an Asian woman. She has always been vocal about social injustices and stands up for what’s right. She is a huge role model for myself and so many other young Asian women who want to make a difference in the world.
Maulik Pancholy nominates the board of ActToChange.org
At a time of increased violence, racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, nonprofits and social justice organizations on the ground have done the hard work of supporting our communities. As a co-founder of the AAPI anti-bullying nonprofit ActToChange.org, I know firsthand how tirelessly our all-volunteer board has worked to uplift young people — across time zones and at all hours of the day and night. They are often behind-the-scenes, unsung heroes. So, today, I nominate our board: Rebecca Lee, Jill Yu, Belinda Lei, Ru Bhatt, Josef Canaria, Elaine Dang, Mindy Kordash-Shim, Richard Leong, Jamie K. Lok, Saad Qureshi, Anthony Reyes, Nancy Tien and Dikshant Rajbhandari for all they do to make the world safer for AAPI youth.
Matthew Sato nominates Taika Waititi
Taika Waititi is the first person of Māori descent to win an Oscar and I love what he is doing for the community. He has championed the importance of representing Māori people, and wants to inspire other Asian American and Pacific Islanders to pursue bigger dreams and to know that there is room for them to be valuable contributors in Hollywood.
Mapuana Makia nominates Jude Weng
Jude Weng is a Taiwanese-born, Castro District-raised film and TV director. Jude leads her teams with a genuine enthusiasm, love for storytelling and a tenacious drive to tell stories authentically — most recently with “Finding ‘Ohana.” Above all, she does it with humor and kindness, and a deeply endearing and needed leadership in our ever-changing culture and climate.
Wes Tian nominates Awkwafina
Awkwafina, an Asian American rapper and actress — how many times do you get to hear that? Awkwafina found her passion at a fairly young age. She started rapping on her own when she was in her early teens. Awkwafina went from a niche artist to a well-known, award-winning actress when she won best actress at The Golden Globes for “The Farewell.” And who can forget her hilarious role as Peik Lin in “Crazy Rich Asians,” which also broke ground with its all-Asian cast.
Malala Yousafzai nominates Jasmine Kapadia
At 16 years old, Jasmine Kapadia is a gifted Chinese Indian American poet from the Bay Area in California. I first read her work on Assembly, the Malala Fund’s digital publication for young women. We published a short poetry collection she wrote amid the COVID-19 crisis and rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans called, “tiger balm cures all but the smell trails.” “This project began as an exploration of a culture I sometimes feel removed from,” Jasmine explains. “It finished as a testament to the strength and beauty of my culture.” Jasmine’s work draws on her identity and the complexities in her experience as an Asian American. She is not afraid to challenge and reclaim the labels or stereotypes society places on her. And like all great poetry, Jasmine’s writing is personal, yet universal. Her powerful words lift up the stories of other members of the AAPI community and give voice to their search for belonging. She writes about their anger and grief in the face of incalculable loss while documenting her ancestors’ stories in verse. Jasmine is an inspiring example of how age does not have to limit your ambition. She is already accomplishing such incredible things through her poetry — and it’s exciting to see her words connect with so many readers. I encourage everyone to seek out her writing.
Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland nominates Joe Bushnell
This year’s heritage month comes at a time when anti-AAPI hate crimes are at an all-time high, underscoring the crucial importance of teaching AAPI history, having visible leaders who reflect the communities they serve and honoring those making historic contributions to our community. A U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran who has served our nation and the South Sound for years, Joe Bushnell is doing just that. If elected, Joe will be the first Cambodian American to serve on the Tacoma City Council. Joe’s energetic contributions to our community range from serving as a Tacoma Public Utilities board member and a small business advocate, to board chair of the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council and as a volunteer with Toys for Tots. Joe was born and raised in Tacoma. His mother immigrated from Cambodia and his father is a lifelong Tacoma resident. Joe has always been dedicated to serving not only the AAPI community here in the South Sound, but all of our workers, families, small businesses and traditionally underserved communities. It’s my honor to nominate Joe for his extraordinary public and military service, and for making history in our city.
Congresswoman Judy Chu nominates Ambassador Katherine Tai
My nominee for rising star is Ambassador Katherine Tai, who, having been unanimously confirmed to serve as U.S. trade representative, is one of the highest-ranking AAPIs in President Biden’s administration! The unanimous support she earned at a time when the Senate rarely does anything unanimously is a testament to her incredible talents. I got to know Katherine and experience her skill firsthand when we worked together on the Ways and Means Committee on important trade issues, such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, where she displayed a vast knowledge of the current and coming trade challenges. Aside from her excellent work and contributions to our nation’s trade policy, I want to highlight the historical weight of her nomination. Ms. Tai is the first Asian American and the first woman of color to serve in the U.S. trade representative role, breaking barriers and clearing the way for others to follow. As a trailblazer for the AAPI community and a leader in our country, I am delighted to nominate her to the GMA Inspiration List.
Congressman Ted Lieu nominates Jihee Huh
I am proud to nominate Jihee Huh, my constituent and an outstanding leader within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, for the Good Morning America Inspiration List. Jihee does more before 7 a.m. on any given day than most people do in a week, and she does it with infectious energy and a smile. Jihee currently serves as the Asian Pacific Islander American public affairs commissioner for the State of California. She also serves as vice chair of the Pacific American Fish Company (PAFCO) and is the co-founder of Pete’s Seafood Club. Jihee has always been a fighter for democracy, human rights, and a free and fair press. She is an active life trustee for Southern California Public Radio and in 2018 was selected to be on the executive committee of Human Rights Watch Los Angeles. Jihee believes in providing increased opportunities for education. She and her husband Peter established a scholarship fund at Amherst College to support underserved Asian students. Jihee also co-founded the Los Angeles Coalition Foundation for Embrace Unity, which supports underserved scholars from diverse communities to learn about civic engagement and empowerment. I was honored to have Jihee join me for my recent virtual town hall on combating anti-Asian and antisemitic intolerance, during which she highlighted the importance of ensuring all Americans have access to accurate news and information, and called for an end to AAPI hate and bigotry. It’s almost not fair how multitalented Jihee is. She’s also an awesome flute player.
Congressman Ro Khanna nominates Dr. Swati Mohan
After a year full of isolation, heartbreak and rising intolerance, the Mars Rover landing in February 2021 stands out as a moment of optimism and light as our country pulls out of this pandemic. If you watched the landing live, you were listening to Dr. Swati Mohan, a proud Indian American from my home state of California. She brought the entire country along with her as the Rover touched down on the surface of Mars, a landmark event for scientists and viewers alike. And she did it all proudly wearing a bindi. For young AAPI kids, Dr. Mohan stands as a proud example of what they can dream of achieving in our country. They aren’t limited by their hometown or their accent: the American dream is just as much a reality for them as it is for anyone else. We may one day find evidence of life on Mars thanks to Dr. Mohan’s work. That’s why I’m proud to nominate Dr. Swati Mohan in honor of her tremendous place in AAPI history.
Dr. Simran Jeet Singh nominates Raveena Aurora
During a long and difficult year, I’ve found refuge in the soul-soothing music of Raveena Aurora. Her gentle voice brings me calm. Her carefully curated words give voice to a new vision. It’s imagination and escapism, and at the same time, it’s cohesive and real. Raveena’s worldview is infused into her music — and so are her influences: a keen observer will sense touches of R&B, soul, jazz, rock and South Asian music all throughout her tracks. And it’s not just her music that’s mesmerizing. Raveena’s music videos are delightful and enthralling, too. I was stunned to learn that she’s involved through the whole process, including writing her songs, directing her music videos and creative directing visuals all along the way. Raveena told me that she tries to “transport people to a dreamy universe that has a focus on spirituality and healing.” I love that description of her multifaceted artistry. It’s not just music. It’s a vibe. And moreover, it’s not just imagined. Raveena’s vision is a real one. While I was initially drawn to her music for its Norah Jones-type energy, I stayed because of its authenticity. You can find Raveena creating this world in whatever space she’s in, through her music, her videos or even on social media. She’s consistent about her commitment to spirituality and justice — values she attributes to her Sikh upbringing — and it’s that consistent authenticity that makes her work all the more appealing.
Christine Chen nominates Carol Manilay-Robles, Vivian Sanderlin and Filipino American nurses
I nominate Carol Manilay-Robles, Vivian Sanderlin and all our Filipino American nurses who are the backbone of the health care industry. According to the National Nurses United, Filipinos account for 4% of registered nurses across the U.S. In California, they constitute nearly 20% of registered nurses.
Carol serves as a nurse manager at the ABP Health Center, where she is a source of positive light for patients, family members and her co-workers. Carol coordinates the care plan for all residents, as they depend on her to meet their needs, and special requests of family members. She goes beyond her scope of duties in order to make someone’s day special or improve the overall quality of care for all residents. Beyond her long hours as a nurse, Carol serves as president-elect of the Philippine Nurses Association, Metro D.C. chapter, and is the current chair of the Communications and Marketing Committee of the Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA). She extends herself above and beyond the call of duty volunteering in the community, from vaccine education awareness, to navigating the virtual space helping chapters and Filipino nurses across the country connect with each other during the height of the pandemic, providing support to one another and sharing their COVID-19 experiences. She is the backbone to nurses all across the country by delivering impactful messages advocating for our Filipino American nurses and the AAPI Community.
Similarly, Vivian Sanderlin exemplifies the thousands of Filipino nurses who have sacrificed their own safety and continue to make a positive impact in the health care community. She is a retired County of San Diego Public Health nurse and currently serves as the chairperson of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program for the Philippine Nurses Association’s San Diego (PNASD) chapter. She has coordinated hundreds of volunteer hours that have resulted in the administration of 5,000-plus life-saving vaccines. Vivian is a strong advocate, representing the Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander community on the County of San Diego COVID-19 Advisory Board and assisting in the establishment of a PNASD COVID-19 Taskforce. We give our thanks to the thousands of Filipino nurses who have sacrificed their own safety, and are dedicated to providing optimal and compassionate health care in hospitals, nursing homes, community clinics, schools and residential care.
Christine Chen, the founding executive director from 2006-2008 returned to APIAVote in January 2011 to serve as its current Executive Director.
Michelle Wu nominates Quincy City Council President Nina Liang
Quincy City Council President Nina Liang has broken barriers again and again, creating opportunity and space for so many who have been traditionally marginalized in politics. The city of Quincy, Massachusetts, has the highest concentration of Asian American residents anywhere in the state, but it wasn’t until 2015 that residents saw their first Asian American woman councilor when Nina was elected to represent her hometown at the age of 26. Last year, Nina was elected by her fellow councilors as the city’s first-ever Asian American city council president. She knows this community and her hardworking constituents well, having helped run a family business with several restaurants in the greater Boston area before entering politics. As one of the few AAPI elected officials in the state, she has spoken out for immigrant residents in the face of a hostile federal government, fought for racial equity and social justice, and pushed for jobs to be accessible to all. Nina also serves as executive director of Emerge Massachusetts, an organization focused on opening doors for progressive women to run for office, where she continues to mentor others who will break down their own barriers across the state.
Nadya Okamoto nominates Anaya Balaji
I am so inspired by Anaya Balaji every single day. She’s 13-years-old and finishing up middle school this spring, and has already written her first book and is the youngest member of our Itsaugust.co team. She inspires us every day to think boldly and schools us on Gen Z trends on a daily basis. This APAHM, I am really inspired by the collective celebration of diversity within the AAPI community. The AAPI label is such a broad term that is supposed to encapsulate dozens of different ethnicities — and in many ways, it makes the identity confusing, but it is also a beautiful term that brings us together in solidarity. As an East Asian American, I am really proud to nominate Anaya, a South Asian teenager based in Texas, who continues to do work at the grassroots level to normalize periods in her own community, and brings so much energy and passion to our team at August. When I think about the AAPI up-and-coming leaders who are making history, it’s not just the people with big platforms and social media followings, it’s the dedicated young people who work every day to learn, listen and take action.
Mayor Farrah N. Khan nominates Mary Anne Foo
When Mary Anne Foo was 9 years old, her parents gave her a children’s book series on civil rights. She wanted a Barbie. She was given these books because when her mother was 9, she was taken from her home and placed in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Today, Mary Anne serves as the founder and executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), a nonprofit that serves the diverse underserved communities in Southern California with health, mental health, policy and civic engagement, youth leadership and education, and workforce development. Mary Anne has dedicated 30 years of her life to serving the public, and continues to be a leading voice when it comes to speaking up and working on behalf of the API communities. I first met Mary Anne about 10 years ago at a social event, where she quietly moved around the room, and if you didn’t pay attention, you would have no idea she was the force behind all those who were there, including the speakers. And in these past few years, I love how she has developed and implemented strategies for voter registration, the census count and now, to counter API hate. Her years of work can be seen in the improved health care, updated policies and youth engagement throughout Orange County and Southern California. There isn’t an organization in Orange County that hasn’t benefited from her input and expertise. I know I rely on her in my role as mayor for the City of Irvine, with 45% of our population who identify as API.
Evie Jeang nominates Rosalyn Patamakanthin Vasquez
I admire Rosalyn Patamakanthin Vasquez for being a powerful voice for marginalized communities, particularly the AAPI immigrant population in the United States. She’s fluent in Thai and has been one of the leading voices in Thai Town Los Angeles, home to the biggest Thai population outside of Bangkok. I met Rosalyn in law school. She wanted to become an attorney because she saw firsthand how her own immigrant parents struggled for representation and support as small business owners. Now, for more than 20 years, Rosalyn has been helping Thai business owners and immigrants with a range of legal issues, often where language has been a barrier toward receiving justice and fair treatment. Most recently, Rosalyn was recognized by the Thai Consulate General for her help with a Thai immigrant woman who had been the subject of slave trafficking and abuse. Rosalyn rallied the Thai CDC and other resources to help local officials rescue this woman, who is now being reunited with her family after several years in captivity. Rosalyn did all this pro bono, just like in her many community roles — she’s head of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, president of the Thai New Year/Songkran Festival and former president of the Thai Association of Southern California. After her work in 2005, when she traveled to Thailand as a children’s crusader to save Thai orphans after the tsunami, the king of Thailand appointed Rosalyn to his prestigious Siam Council. She returned to the U.S. to continue her work as an attorney advocating for children’s rights, representing the State of California in the California Department of Social Services and later with the California State Board of Equalization. She’s continuing her work as a community advocate and has been on the frontlines of #StopAsianHate campaigns in L.A. She has a heart of gold and has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of all people.
Steve Aoki nominates Yumi Nu
Yumi Nu is not only my niece, but she’s also a triple threat: model, body-positive advocate and singer-songwriter. At such a young age, she’s already done so much to empower women, encourage body acceptance and redefine beauty standards. Above all, she’s breaking barriers and making history while doing it — becoming the first Asian plus-sized model ever in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. It’s always been in the Aoki blood to never stop chasing your dreams and Yumi is not only an embodiment of that, but she’s also inspired me to continue being the best that I can be. It is this reason alone why I know she’ll inspire many generations to come, not only through her trailblazing feats as a model, but also through her music. Growing up, the punk and hardcore scene was such an integral part of what made me into the artist I am today, so seeing Yumi embrace her uniqueness as a body-positive Asian model with raw musical talent has been such a dope experience as her uncle. She’s not only musically diverse, but her creativity has immeasurable potential, with her song “Camouflage” having been featured in Forever 21’s Forever Female line. Yumi — the impact that you will have on this world is only commencing. Never stop dreaming and never stop chasing.
apl.de.ap nominates Rosalina Lydster
Rosalina Lydster is a thought-maker at crafting stories that push forward the AAPI voice, which is as important as ever for being seen as equal in today’s society. I met Rosalina years ago at a Grammy event when she provided jewelry for my bandmates and I. Over the years, we’ve kept in touch. Most recently, she was an executive producer for the show “House of Ho,” which did a great job of discussing the cultural and family dynamics that Asians across the diaspora encounter, and the dynamics of trying to maintain the lessons from their mother country while forging a way forward in the United States. This is just the start for Rosalina, though. In a time where Hollywood is searching for independent artists with new perspectives, Rosalina is a refreshing and necessary change.
Far East Movement nominates Dumbfoundead
Dumbfoundead is someone we always knew was special. We still remember going to neighborhood cyphers in Koreatown where he’d be serving everyone as a 12-year-old. Watching him grow into a respected artist, actor, writer and Grammy-nominated producer is a win for a community that’s desperate for leaders. He’s also been an advocate for great talent, being an early co-sign for artists like Anderson .Paak and Awkwafina, and being one of the founders of 88Rising. We’re proud to represent and support Dumbfoundead at Transparent Arts as he continues to push boundaries for himself and our people.
JinJoo Lee nominates Daniel Henney
Daniel Henney is a Korean American actor who came to Korea about 15 years ago to debut in a Korean drama. At that time, it was a culture shock to see a “mixed race” actor on Korean TV. Everything must’ve been challenging for him: language, culture, surroundings, etc. I realized how hard it was when I came to America to pursue my dream. He wasn’t fluent in the Korean language when he started but he continued to challenge himself. It didn’t take long for people to notice his presence. His appearance inspired many artists with different racial backgrounds to pursue their dreams. Daniel Henney has also been working nonstop both in Korea and America. I think he helps engage two different cultures with his talent. It’s always hard to be the first to pave the road, especially when nobody’s done it before. You have to be brave enough and crazy enough. He also influences people around the world to adopt dogs instead of buying them. It’s so great to see someone like him have a voice, trying to make a difference. I can’t wait to see him in so many more movies and TV shows in America. He is coming in hot! Get ready, America!
Karen O nominates Michelle Zauner
To me, nothing is more golden than an artist who brings me to tears — not by a cheap hook or pressing an obvious button, but by excavating their soul and putting their heart on the chopping block. Michelle Zauner does that, it’s in her song “Till Death” off her Japanese Breakfast project’s record, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet.” Now there is an instruction manual to her catalog of records in the form of the deepest of memoirs: “Crying in H Mart,” her story of self-discovery through impossible loss and the bonds that carry us through, in her case, Korean food and, of course, music. I think of the book and her records as the perfect companion pieces … maybe I need to get going on that memoir after all. When I started out, there were no Korean American or half-Asian lead singers that I could relate to, nor were there memoirs that felt so close to home. Thankfully, that’s finally changing. It’s nice to know there are more like you out there. I feel in good company with Michelle. She has a blazing heart and talent. Once you catch a glimpse you can’t look away.
Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) nominates Luna Li
Luna Li is a phenomenal songwriter and multi-instrumentalist that we will have the honor of touring with this fall. She often makes videos of herself composing, arranging and producing full songs, juggling instruments like guitar, bass, violin and harp, all with incredible skill. She just inspires me greatly and everyone should check out her music.
Chloe Flower nominates Julia Kestner
Asian American history and representation has been noticeably absent from mainstream media. Seeing Julia Kestner’s Asian empowerment illustrations featured by Instagram’s #StopAsianHate campaign pop up on my explore page earlier this year really caught my eye. I love spending time on Julia’s Instagram exploring her educational, empowering and beautiful work. The intersection between Asian culture and mainstream media is rare and greatly needed. For that reason, I nominate artist, illustrator and activist, Julia Kestner as an AAPI individual making a difference in our communities. As an Asian American woman and musician, I have always felt a strong sense of Asian pride, something my parents instilled in me at a young age. Sadly, not every Asian has had that same experience. More often than not, crimes and racist experiences against Asians (and other minorities) are what make it to mainstream media. When Asian experiences do appear in pop culture, it is often through stereotypical representation and a whitewashed lens. More than ever, it is crucial that we share experiences and stories that celebrate the beautiful and diverse Asian community. Using media, entertainment and news to share the beauty of Asian culture can help be educational and preventative while simultaneously empowering our Asian brothers and sisters. Artists like Julia Kestner are doing just that. During a time when I felt angry, helpless and scared, Julia’s art turned my fears into triumph. Thank you, Julia, for sharing your art with the world. You make me proud to celebrate my heritage and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you.
Jake Zyrus nominates Troy Laureta
Troy Laureta is a Filipino American musical director and producer. What I love about Troy is that even though he was born and raised in the U.S., he continues to represent his Filipino roots through his music and his work. He has broken down walls as one of the leading Asian American musical directors, and has worked with David Foster, Ariana Grande, Andrea Bocelli, Nicole Scherzinger and myself, just to name a few. His passion for music is infectious, and his phenomenal arrangements make his artists feel world-class and international. Troy continues his work with his vocalist sister, Cheesa, as active promoters of Asian representation in the mainstream entertainment industry. His recent album, “Kaibigan” (meaning “Friend”) features Filipino and non-Filipino artists and musicians from all over the world singing Tagalog music, also known as Original Pilipino Music, or OPM, which is something groundbreaking for South East Asia. Being a proud Filipino, I am ecstatic that Troy is making moves to open more doors for Asians to make it in the music business. He is a Filipino pride, and it is heart-warming that despite all his success and accolades, he is humble enough to remember, represent and celebrate his Asian heritage.
MILCK nominates Kabzuag Vaj
Kabzuag Vaj is someone I am thrilled to shout from the rooftops about because she is an authentic, brave and committed trailblazer. She is by no means what I consider an up-and-comer, as her work transcends any state of being known or unknown. Her work is truth. I learned about Kabzuag’s work as I was mourning the loss of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I coped with the pain by immediately studying the ecosystems of grassroots organizations. I heard about this mighty org, Freedom Inc., that was building solidarity between Hmong and Black populations in the Midwest. Kabzuag founded this org over 20 years ago, and the organization remains strong and committed. Talking with Kabzuag is incredible because she has a beautiful and heartfelt way of educating and empowering people. I felt blessed to have been able to talk to her about how gender plays a huge role in the AAPI hate movement. In fact, it was just a week before the Atlanta shooting in March 2021 that she was helping me to really see that women fall victim to hate crimes more so than do men. In fact, she has been working to end violence against women and girls since she was 16 years old. Freedom Inc. is one of the beneficiaries of The Somebody’s Beloved Fund, which supports grassroots organizations that build power around racial justice. I am honored to continue learning from Kabzuag and her colleagues at Freedom Inc. and hope you will join me.
Run River North nominates Jennifer Chung
Jennifer Chung is a Korean American living out in Atlanta with her talented husband and our good friend, John Song. From the mid-2000s until now, she’s always been an active voice on YouTube and Instagram. With a lot of the current anti-Asian hate crimes that have been happening, she’s really stepped up in sharing her thoughts, and voicing what it means to highlight and appreciate your story in whatever field you’re in. She’s spoken on many panels and is constantly advocating for the normalization of being Asian and a woman in this landscape of false stereotypes/standards. We love how she creates spaces for important and sometimes, uncomfortable conversations, and trying to speak out for BIPOC. She’s someone we truly support and see making ripples in this time of much needed change.
Johnny Lee nominates Jessica del Mundo
I nominate Jessica del Mundo, a longtime Filipino American community advocate who’s been behind-the-scenes in the AAPI community for many years. Jessica is a powerful storyteller, committed to stories of the underrepresented. She was part of the Eliseo Silvio mural team to create what’s now the largest Filipino public art in the country (“A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy”) in L.A.’s Unidad Park. While an undergrad at USC, Jessica was an advocate for diversity and representation, helping to build a Multicultural Greek Council and used the power of media — bringing in MTV — to highlight diversity in college life. In her career, first as an investigative producer at Fox News, she was behind the camera, covering subcultures of L.A., producing segments on domestic violence, gangs, immigrant life and mental health. Jessica parlayed those experiences into her work as a media executive — she was of the producers behind “Chinese Originality” with Panda Express, highlighting Chinese American visionaries such as Connie Chung, Michael Chang and Lisa Ling. She produces multiple AAPI community events, including for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Thai Songkran Festival, Filipino Heritage Month and Chinatown Summer Nights. I was lucky to first work with her when she helped us promote the “StandNRock #NoDAPL” music video with Taboo and the Magnificent Seven, supporting indigenous Native Americans fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, and we ended up winning an MTV VMA for best fight against the system. Most recently, Jessica was a producer behind the “Tonight #StopAsianHate” music video with The Hotel Lobby, and helped us raise money and build connections for StopAAPIhate.org, RethinkRacism.org and HateIsAVirus.org. Jessica is on the board of directors for Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, one of the oldest and largest Fil-Am nonprofits. For SIPA, she volunteered as executive producer of one of the first virtual fundraisers during the pandemic, featuring Jo Koy, Ava DuVernay, Lea Salonga, Black Eyed Peas, etc., all to promote BIPOC unity and raise money for Historic Filipinotown. Jessica was honored as one of the USC Women of Distinction, and recognized for her diverse campaign work with the Clio Award, Silver Anvil and PRism. She continues to amplify AAPI voices, and help organize and promote the projects of many marginalized people. I can’t think of someone more passionate about diverse storytelling than Jessica. She has dedicated her life to ensuring that the compelling narratives of our communities are not only told but heard.
Michelle Kwan nominates Sung Yeon Choimorrow
Sung Yeon Choimorrow fights for the dignity and rights of Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls like no other activist I’ve seen. Her background in community organizing shines through in her commitment to building power with AAPI women and girls. As the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, she has led the movement to build a grassroots base of AAPI women and girls nationwide, collectively working toward increased visibility, shattering stereotypes, and creating policy and structural change for our communities — building unprecedented power for us. NAPAWF’s motto is “Be seen. Be heard. Be fierce.” But, as I’ve worked with Sung Yeon in our efforts to end violence against AAPI women, I’ve come to see that those words are also a personal motto for her. When she learned about the killing of six AAPI women in Atlanta on March 16, Sung Yeon led NAPAWF into action. She publicly mourned and honored the victims. She ensured that NAPAWF’s members and staff had safe spaces to process the tragedy and support in responding to it. And she took her concerns to Washington, where the White House has responded with improved policies, including investments in the AAPI community, language access and tens of millions of dollars allocated to community-based services that center women. Sung Yeon has also taken care to correct the narrative about AAPI women — speaking out against racism and sexism. She made the devastating point that the AAPI women killed in Atlanta were victims not only of anti-Asian hate, but of a brand of racialized misogyny that’s been directed at AAPI women long before the pandemic. Her message has resonated with so many of us: 78% of AAPI women have been affected by anti-Asian racism in the past two years, according to a study released by NAPAWF. Sung Yeon has challenged all Americans to see AAPI women as our full, multilayered selves. As Sung Yeon says, she is not Asian today and a woman tomorrow, not an immigrant today and a mom tomorrow. She is all of those things, all the time. Sung Yeon is on a mission to ensure that all AAPI women and girls can thrive as the whole human beings that we are.
Apolo Ohno nominates Tony Chen
Tony Chen is one of the rare few who has managed to reach such a high level of business success while reinventing his view of commerce, people, companies and culture. He has evolved, transformed and found a new calling to utilize the unique talents and skills set that he has honed to curate and create a more conscious and thoughtful advertising technology company. His strength is rooted in his always smiling and happy-go-lucky attitude to embrace challenges and turn them into creative opportunities — not only via the generosity displayed through his company culture, but just random acts of kindness that resonate through communities. Tony went to Rice University on a full-ride for his musical talent, but decided to go a different path when he decided to bet on an idea that would help film studios drive online traffic and viewership on their YouTube trailers and advertising. He was never shy to tackle a challenge, and he was able to skyrocket performance from a small $5,000 investment into over $2 million of revenue within 12 months at the age of 20. Tony impresses me because he constantly seeks growth and improvement, showcasing his consistent work ethic and doing-what-it-takes attitude. The majority of the Fortune 100 now uses his proprietary technology platform to display their advertising needs. Upon spending more time with Tony, I understood that he wanted a deeper purpose than just making money via the advertising technology business. In his words, “I feel the sense of urgency to help when hateful and inappropriate digital content is spread to hurt communities or people, and I must do something about it. It starts with a spark of an idea like a commitment to ethical, moral, and fundamental truths to create a movement of positivity. We try to do what we can and be that spark to our customers and clients.” We are at the precipice of a very peculiar time in our history. Living in an externally wealthy time but rife with internal and mental poverty is a true crisis. I see Tony and his life mission as a catalyst to help the latter. We are constantly distracted and shown what we should look like, what we should have, and what is liked or disliked that dramatically impacts our mental health and overall happiness. There must be a way to improve the types of advertising and content to uplift rather than drag down. His platform and team has grown nearly 20 times and is an official YouTube partner, but I see his real value in how he curates and creates a culture of impact, values and family. Life coaching, consistently checking in with his team to ensure they are doing OK through the past 18 months, has been something that cannot be taken for granted. When someone like Tony shows me that they have even loftier aspirations aside from the monetary gain, I listen with all my attention. Instead, making the digital video space a safer and more responsible place harnesses the power of diversity and inclusivity equals a home run. Being able to tackle an unspoken industry issue is something I admire in the face of rising mental health issues in this country. In tandem, he has sharpened his focus to launch a nonprofit organization, whose focus is to combat global challenges such as socioeconomic disparities, marginalized group oppression and systemic racism. They are building a task force of global minds and organizations who will concentrate their efforts to launch campaigns designed to inspire positive change, and educate existing businesses and consumers on how to live their most valuable, socially responsible lives. The recent Anti-Asian American attacks have accelerated his efforts both via resources and donation. He’s a friend with big dreams of a planet filled with love and unity.
Kristi Yamaguchi nominates Alysa Liu
Effervescent on the ice. It’s the first thing I feel when I think about describing Alysa Liu. She skates with such joy, energy and personality that anyone watching can’t help but smile and want to cheer her on. Her love for what she does shines through. Don’t get me wrong, there’s also that inner competitor in her that allows her to skate with attack and fierceness. So with that combination, there’s no limit to what Alysa can achieve in her career. I mean come on, she’s only 15 (16 this year) and look at what she has already done — world junior bronze medalist, two-time U.S. national champion, in 2019 being the youngest U.S. champion ever, first American woman to land a quadruple lutz in competition, first female skater to land two triple axels and a quad lutz in the same program. And now Alysa is finally age eligible to compete at the international senior level, so with the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing around the corner, she is the rising star of these Games to watch for. It can possibly be a home away from home coming for Alysa as her father immigrated from China in the ’90s. I see her as an incredibly positive role model for the AAPI community and know she will inspire the next generation of AAPIs, and particularly athletes, to go for their dreams.
Alex & Maia Shibutani nominate Bing Chen
Bing Chen is an impact entrepreneur and powerhouse. Using his unique skills, forward-thinking business acumen and convening power, he leverages storytelling to deliver greater socioeconomic equity. As YouTube’s former global head of creator development and management, his work as a principal architect of the multibillion-dollar influencer ecosystem has already impacted life as we know it — from inspiring a whole new creative economy on Instagram, Twitch and Pinterest to reshaping digital advertising. His current endeavors will continue to shift culture across multiple industries for years to come. Trust us. Bing is a general partner and co-founder of AUM Group, a top multicultural film fund whose latest film was the second-highest acquisition at Sundance Film Festival this year; and is president and co-founder of Gold House. Gold House is the premier collective of Asian creative voices and leaders working to unite Asians and Pacific Islanders to advance multicultural representation and advocate for socioeconomic equity. Notably, Gold House is responsible for creating the AAPI film market via its #GoldOpen movement that proved to Hollywood that there is a viable audience exists for AAPI films, from “Crazy Rich Asians” to “Parasite.” Prior to and during the pandemic, Gold House has worked to uplift small businesses across the country through grants and the nation’s leading AAPI founder accelerator. Most recently, Bing and the team at Gold House collaborated with GoFundMe to launch the single-largest fundraiser for AAPI attacks to date that’s raised over $5.5 million and deployed millions more directly to attack victims. Amazingly enough, Bing finds the time to advise several digital media companies, including Google and Snap, while also doing philanthropic work for multiple global nonprofit organizations. In our often-chaotic world, Bing Chen, as a creative, compassionate, insightful and inspiring individual, continues to lead with clarity and purpose.
Stella Abrera nominates Ted Shen
Ted Shen is one of the finest human beings I have ever known. His soft-spoken and gracious manner belies a fierce intelligence, an unwavering moral compass and an altruistic drive to help others. Ted is broadly admired as an artist and businessman, and beloved as a husband, father and dear friend to many, including — especially — to me. Whenever I face a seemingly impenetrable challenge, in my career or beyond, I can turn to Ted as a source of wisdom and as an example of how to lead a life of excellence, empathy and purpose. Ted passionately supports the arts, education and medical research. Never seeking the spotlight himself, his philanthropy has allowed generations of artists to flourish. He has delivered music, theater and dance to all reaches of our community — not just through programs and initiatives he has supported, but as a musician, librettist and composer himself. Ted has written and composed several musical theater productions, most recently the powerfully moving and topically relevant “Broadbend, Arkansas.” It is profoundly important to celebrate the extraordinary AAPI figures — among our families, friends and greater communities — who impact society positively and indelibly. We need such paradigms of courage and calm in the best of times, and we urgently need them now, as a storm of violence and hate encircles the Asian community. Today, I pay my respects to Ted and all those on this inspiring list. Thank you, “GMA,” for all that you do, and for giving us many reasons to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month!
Mirai Nagasu nominates Michelle Hanabusa
My nomination is Michelle Hanabusa, fellow figure skater and founder of the movement Hate Is a Virus. She has taken her persistence and drive that she learned as an athlete and funneled it into a safe space for AAPI members to connect. Instead of ignoring the racist slurs and rise of hate crimes, she has stepped up as a leader to help us express our true feelings. We fight the anger and fear by wearing the clothes that Michelle has designed because we are a generation of voices who will fight for what we stand for. I grew up believing that I had to become a doctor or a lawyer because that was the path of least resistance, but I connected with Michelle on 5 a.m. practices when I saw her fighting to make a place for Asian American females in sport. She has pivoted her Olympic dream to one in the fashion industry with a brand, Uprisers, that allows us to wear streetwear that is representative of us. Michelle has raised over $350,000 to combat those who think that calling us the creators of the “Kung-flu” virus is OK. It’s not OK and I’m so proud of Michelle for being a trailblazer.
Vincent Zhou nominates Katherine Zhu, Karly Hou and Youyang Gu
Katherine Zhu is a Chinese American rising golf star. She began her golf career at the age of 6. Currently, Katherine is captain of the women’s golf team at UC Berkeley. Katherine got to where she is today because of the hard work she puts in daily. Continuous input and unremitting efforts are inevitable in life. She is consistent, focused and goal-driven. She maintains an intense training schedule while balancing a rigorous course load, which reminds me of myself as a student athlete. We are both passionate about our competitive sports and dedicated. Post-graduation, Katherine would like to play professional golf to take her game to the next level. Life is full of experiences and she hopes to experience the variety that life has to offer.
Karly Hou is the founder and CEO of Wave Learning Festival, a nonprofit working to combat long-standing educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. When COVID sent students around the world home, she saw students struggling to adjust, parents overburdened and educators under-supported. She decided to take action and reached out to friends to start Wave, a free online learning platform bringing together a global community of 1,000 volunteers to provide diverse live seminars taught by college students around the world, 24-7 tutoring, college application help, career mentorship and community. Since its launch just a year ago, Wave has already served 13,000-plus students in the U.S. and around the world. They have goals to continue expanding in 2021 and beyond, reaching tens of thousands more low-income students and setting up nationwide chapters to work closely with local schools.
Youyang Gu is the creator of covid19-projections.com, a widely used site dedicated to accurate modeling of the COVID-19 pandemic. From April 2020 to October 2020, the site featured a prediction model, which combined machine learning with a classic infectious disease SEIR model to make death forecasts for the U.S. and more than 70 countries. This model was cited by the CDC to help inform public health decision-making. Starting November 2020, Youyang focused his efforts on estimating the number of true COVID-19 infections in the U.S. Beginning in December 2020, covid19-projections.com also began tracking and modeling vaccine rollouts on its path to herd immunity. Youyang is currently on the Technical Advisory Group at the World Health Organization to help inform on COVID-19 mortality assessment. He has also been using his elevated platform to raise awareness on recent AAPI issues.
Celeste Ng nominates Nicole Chung
I first became a fan of Nicole Chung’s writing through her profiles. So many of her subjects — Kristi Yamaguchi, John Cho, Amy Tan — were heroes and role models in my own life, but it was the way Nicole wrote about them, and her many essays about her own experience, that really got me: many of the questions she had about identity, Asian American-ness and belonging were the same questions I find myself asking every day of my life. Her memoir, “All You Can Ever Know,” explored these themes and more with such ease and grace you’d never know it was breaking radically new ground. Nicole writes honestly, thoughtfully, and movingly about what it means to forge an identity as an Asian American woman, as transracial adoptee, as a daughter and sister, and as a mother. Beyond her own writing, though, what makes Nicole extraordinary is how much she does to elevate other voices as well. As managing editor at The Toast and now as the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine, she routinely shines a spotlight on up-and-coming writers in the AAPI and BIPOC communities and beyond, helping them to tell their stories about everything from processing trauma through art to finding friendship through shared fandom of a niche French cartoon. Between telling her own stories and fiercely carving out space for others to tell theirs, too, Nicole Chung is already pushing our conversation forward, broadening and deepening our understanding of what it means to be Asian American. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Alexandra Chang nominates Connie Wun
When I think of personal and community inspirations, I think of Connie Wun. Wun is the co-founder of AAPI Women Lead, an organization that focuses on ending violence against Asian and Pacific Islander women, girls, and gender non-conforming communities. The group runs the #ImReady Movement, which aims to raise visibility of AAPI women and our stories, as well as strengthens our political and social platforms. This spring, AAPI Women Lead has also been hosting a series of Solidarity in Action events, including ones on self-defense, community safety and community bystander intervention. And Wun herself has long been a community-based educator, researcher, writer and speaker whose overarching goal is to advocate and work for women and girls of color. Her work is a reminder that we deserve better, and how together we can, as she says, “build a world where we take care of each other.”
Kevin Kwan nominates Alan Chikin Chow
Alan Chikin Chow is a dazzling young actor and digital creator with the motto, “Unity through laughter.” His short-form videos live on the playful side of joy, revel in the silliness of friendship, and bring moments of lightness and fun to his millions of fans on TikTok. On top of this fun, Alan weaves in whip-smart truths about identity, race and gender. This year has left us battered and bruised, but Alan has joy flowing through him like electricity, and watching him use joy and creativity to spread unity through laughter is just what the doctor ordered!
Chanel Miller nominates Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner has already released two studio albums, “Psychopomp” and “Soft Sounds from Another Planet,” with an upcoming album, “Jubilee,” under her alias, Japanese Breakfast. She can be seen on stage, singing with her guitar, hair swept up in jagged space buns, eyeshadow yellow as pollen, stunning and vibrant. Her songs make my mind melt, eyes hot with tears, and I’ve spent evenings belting her song, “Boyish,” while biking along the Hudson River. In addition to songwriting, she recently published her first memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” navigating her Korean heritage and upbringing. She depicts scenes with her mom so potent with love, the pages feel weighty when I turn them. I believe Zauner can never be pinned down because she’s ever-changing, informing us who she is, seamlessly creating through different mediums, churning out albums and unparalleled prose. Above all, she is an artist, and for years we’ve had the privilege of watching her come into being. People who create a path forward may not realize what they’ve done, never look back to see the way they’ve tampered down the tall grass, made a path for us. I look to her as I continue to navigate public life. She shows me we can be loud and expressive or quiet and ruminative. We can create our own definitions of what it means to be biracial and we all deserve to exist as multifaceted beings. Zauner confirms that society never really had a chance of limiting Asian Americans with its small definitions, because who we are is so beyond what people could have previously imagined. Zauner’s voice is leading us somewhere we’ve never been and the world would be hollow headed not to follow.
Jaswinder Bolina nominates Victoria Chang
Victoria Chang is an absolute force of language and literature. She is author of five critically acclaimed collections of poetry — including “The Boss,” “Barbie Chang” and National Book Award long-lister and 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize-winner “Obit” — two children’s books and a forthcoming collection of essays, “Dear Memory,” due out this October from Milkweed Editions. On top of all that, she edited the anthology “Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation” and currently serves as program chair of the Creative Writing Department at Antioch University in Los Angeles. Whatever genre she chooses, her writing is formally daring, richly intertextual and utterly original as it interweaves Eastern and Western histories, literatures and pop cultures with her parents’ immigrant story, her Chinese and Taiwanese heritage, and her own American upbringing to make a profound art of self, family, culture and place. A leader in every sense of the word, Victoria is an inspiration to me and so many others and her extraordinary books should be on everybody’s reading lists.
Angela Duckworth nominates Jim Yong Kim
Jim Yong Kim is an American physician and anthropologist who served as the 12th president of the World Bank from 2012 and 2019. He is also a global health leader who served as the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a co-founder and executive director of Partners in Health, an organization he co-founded in 1987, which focuses on providing health care to those in the poorest areas of developing countries. Through PIH, Kim was instrumental in designing treatment protocols and making deals for cheaper, more effective drugs. In 2013, Kim was named by Forbes as one of “The World’s Most Powerful People.” He’s inspired me in that he is world class at what he does and yet, at the same time, extremely humble. Kim loves feedback on how to do better and his appetite for huge, complex problems many would think insoluble.
Bonnie Tsui nominates Grace Young
Grace Young has long been celebrated as an award-winning cookbook author and “wok therapist,” but she has lately come to new prominence for her tireless efforts to document the toll that the coronavirus pandemic and anti-Asian hate crimes has had on America’s Chinatowns. She launched a moving video series called “Coronavirus Stories,” in which she talks with restaurant and shop owners in New York’s Chinatown, and captures the scale of loss and tragedy in a historic and vital immigrant community. Grace called up journalists near and far to get them to pay attention to the plight of Chinese-owned independent restaurants that were closing across the country; she even started a nonprofit to support local businesses while distributing meals to food-insecure residents in New York’s Chinatown community. I adore Grace and have always admired her culinary wisdom; since she became “the accidental voice of Chinatown,” her energizing activism during the pandemic has made her a guiding light for us all to follow.
Catherine Chung nominates Ashlyn So and Gitanjali Rao
I nominate Gen Z Asian Americans who have taken the future into their own hands, and are shaking things up and changing the world for the better. I am so proud of and excited for and humbled by them, and what they are doing and what they have yet to do. Two shining stars I’ve been following are Ashlyn So and Gitanjali Rao, who embody everything about this generation that gives me hope: their boldness, their boundless imaginations, and most especially their compassion and how they channel their gifts to care for others — especially the vulnerable.
Ashlyn So is a 13-year-old fashion designer who’s been sewing from the age of 6 and presenting her avant-garde, dramatic, sculptural and often fantastical clothes at New York Fashion Week since she was 9. Ashlyn has participated in charity work for homeless shelters and worked on anti-bullying campaigns, and sewed masks for health care workers when there was a shortage early in the pandemic. When anti-Asian hate crimes spiked this year and the father of a friend of her friend was murdered, Ashlyn responded by organizing and speaking at rallies to #StopAsianHate, and starting a petition to include Asian American history in school curriculums.
Fifteen-year-old Gitanjali Rao — scientist and Time’s 2020 Kid of the Year — won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Top Young Scientist Challenge for inventing Tethys, a cost-effective, smartphone-linked sensor using carbon nanotubes to detect lead contamination in water. This work, she says, was inspired by hearing about the Flint water crisis when she was 10 years old. Since then, she has developed a diagnostic tool for early diagnosis of opioid addiction as well a phone app named Kindly that uses AI to detect and discourage cyberbullying at its early stages. One of Gitanjali’s goals is to create a global community of young innovators, and to that end she has set up STEM innovation workshops and mentored thousands of students.
What inspires and moves me about Ashlyn So and Gitanjali Rao is not just their formidable accomplishments, but their immense generosity of spirit: their desire to translate their passions into social change, their commitment to facing head on the problems that challenge humanity, and their buoyancy — the sense of joy they bring to their serious work.
Charles Yu nominates Evan Low
In 2016, New York Magazine ran a piece titled: “Is There a ‘Next Obama’ on the Democratic Party Bench?” California State Assemblymember Evan Low was on the list — and for good reason. At the ripe old age of 32, he was already a leader in both the AAPI and the LGTBQ+ communities. Now 37, Evan has been breaking barriers for over a decade. In 2009, Evan was selected as mayor of the city of Campbell, California, making him, at 26, the youngest openly gay Asian American mayor in the United States. Four years later, he was selected to serve as mayor for a second term. The following year, in 2014, Evan was elected to the California State Assembly for the 28th District, which includes the Santa Clara Valley and Silicon Valley, a seat he has held since then, winning re-election three times. In the Assembly, he chairs the Business and Professions Committee, and has also served on the California Legislative LGBT Caucus and the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. Evan has been an outspoken advocate for progressive causes, including introduction of AB 1887, a bill that would ban all California state-funded travel to states that enacted laws to discriminate against individuals based upon sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, that was supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And throughout the recent wave of anti-Asian harassment and violence, Evan has been an important voice (and amplifier of others’ voices) in the AAPI community. All this, and he’s not even 40 yet. I can only imagine what he’ll do in the years to come.
David Yoon nominates Marie Lu
Marie Lu’s been building worlds for years now over almost a dozen books for young adults. I admire not just her tenacity and drive, but her fearlessness. Her stories deal with some of the toughest of subjects — broken families, nightmarish class dystopias and yes, global pandemics — but never in any didactic sort of way. Instead, she lets these elements drive her plots to their logical conclusions, for better or worse, whichever serves the story best. It’s precisely Marie’s loose grip on the wheel of a speeding supercar that gives her novels a thrillingly fearless confidence that, when paired with her gorgeous, cinematic eye for detail, often leaves me screaming, Why the hell haven’t all her books been made into mega blockbuster movies? It’s not often you find a #1 New York Times-bestselling author that can produce commercially appealing works with such heart and allyship. Though Marie has always written stories featuring diverse casts, she’s recently chosen to depict specifically Asian American characters in her “Warcross” series. The daring Emika Chen and her ludicrously hot male love interest Hideo Tanaka are direct and bold challenges to the nonstop erasure, female sexualization and male emasculation of Asian Americans found in media — something that, as a fellow Asian American starved for representation, I found immensely validating. Nothing escapes Marie’s eye, and she’s only growing bolder with experience and age. The YA world already knows how awesome she is, but I keenly suspect it’s only a matter of time before everyone else catches on to what she’s been building for years: epic worlds that sweep you away and leave you seeing your old reality with new eyes undeniably sharper than before.
James Sie nominates Chella Man
I discovered Chella Man on his YouTube channel while doing research for my book, “All Kinds of Other,” a young adult novel which celebrates the wide diversity of human expression. All kinds of other could also apply to Chella Man himself, a multidisciplinary artist who is Chinese, Jewish, trans masculine, gender-queer and deaf. You might think of any of these aspects as limitations, but Chella has used them as scaffolding to construct an impressive creative life. The things he has accomplished in so short a time! Chella is a visual artist, a designer of clothes and functional jewelry, an international model, an actor (the first deaf, trans masculine actor to play a superhero in the DC Universe show “Titans”), a filmmaker (watch his short “The Beauty of Being Deaf” to see how he weaves the intersectionalities of his life with such fluidity), and soon, a published author, with his memoir “Continuum” set to hit the shelves in June. Most importantly, he is an important voice for both the deaf and LGBTQ communities. Chella has the soul and speech of a poet, and the fiery heart of an activist. His motto is “Be your own representation,” but through his passionate advocacy for inclusivity, diversity and accessibility, he is speaking for all of those who have ever felt marginalized. Only in his early 20s, he is not only breaking boundaries, but dissolving them. If people like Chella are the Earth’s next stewards, it gives me hope that the human race might yet survive.
Jennifer Woodward nominates Akbar Hamid
It is with great pleasure that I nominate Akbar Hamid. He is a first-generation son of immigrants who pursued and attained a successful career in communications and marketing, an occupation mostly unknown to the South Asian community. In 2015, Akbar started 5th Column, a flourishing communications and marketing agency. He also formed and currently serves on the Diversity and Inclusion Board of The PR NET, and developed and launched their first-ever BIPOC mentorship program this year alongside his industry peers. He actively mentors Asian and LGBTQ+ youth not only for professional and career development, but to ensure guidance and support in their personal lives. Akbar himself did not have a mentor, therefore he works to ensure that his fellow South Asians do not feel alone and know they are worthy of success. Additionally, he’s worked on ongoing campaigns for Developments in Literacy that supports the education of underserved children in Pakistan. I am grateful to call Akbar a friend, a colleague and support the philanthropy he does in a field of work that might not always focus on the well-being of others. With his voice and his actions, the Asian community is empowered. Thank you, Akbar.
Jenny Lee nominates Ally Maki
I met Ally Maki in 2018 when a mutual AAPI friend decided we should meet and be friends. Ally was appearing on two different TV shows at the time (TBS’ “Wrecked” and Freeform’s “Cloak & Dagger”), and I was deep in revisions of my first YA novel, “Anna K.” We immediately bonded over funny “working in the business” stories, but then we both got real with each other and went deep and were soon discussing the struggles AAPI creatives face and deal with on a daily basis in Hollywood. It was then that Ally shared her plans to launch the Asian American Girl Club. I was impressed that she was not just talking about the change we needed, but was actually doing something to create it. AAGC launched a few weeks later and in three years, her dream of creating a safe space for Asian American girls everywhere has been realized. Ally’s goal was simple: to “redefine what it means to be a modern Asian American woman through normalization and unification of the next generation.” Ally is a true inspiration, not only for AAPI women, but for everyone out there. A strong, smart woman with vision and the backbone to make her dreams into reality. I am honored to call her my friend and I am a proud member of the AAGC. I can’t wait to see what Ally comes up with next!
Lisa See nominates Sissy Trinh
Eighteen years ago, Sissy Trinh, a Vietnamese America who grew up in Los Angeles, founded the Southeast Asian Community Alliance to train low-income youth to become leaders and organizers for racial and economic justice in Los Angeles Chinatown, which is home to ethnic Chinese immigrants from across Asia. Over time, the organization evolved to include policy advocacy and coalition building to work on affordable housing and environmental justice. “Not many people realize that Chinatown is the most densely populated and poorest community in the city,” Sissy told me recently. “We have folks who are one rent increase away from becoming homeless. We have grocery stores that sell rice by the cup to people who can’t afford to buy, physically carry or store an entire bag.” She has been inspiring kids to do good work and get on the college or vocational tracks, while also helping seniors surviving on $1,200 a month. When the pandemic hit, I came to admire Sissy’s ingenuity and persistence even more. We all remember when food staples and basics like toilet paper disappeared from shelves. Sissy called friends who worked in restaurants and nail salons, and asked if she could buy their gloves and toilet paper. She bought groceries from local stores. SEACA made deliveries to 400 households. All this happened as anti-Asian violence increased. Then came the vaccine challenge. Out of the blue, Sissy received a text from the mayor’s office, saying the city would be coming to Chinatown the following week with 800 vaccines and asking if SEACA could help get those into people’s arms. “We needed to reach people, many of whom were seniors, who weren’t tech savvy and also faced language barriers,” she says. Armed with clipboards and walking shoes, volunteers booked all 800 appointments in three days. The program was so successful that another 150 doses were directed to Chinatown. Does she ever feel overwhelmed? “It’s been a hard year,” she told me. “We’ve had kids who’ve needed financial help to keep their families from being evicted. We’ve had to find funding to pay the funeral costs for parents who passed away from COVID. I’ve had some crappy days, and then one of the kids will call and say, ‘SEACA changed my life.’” Sissy Trinh is not only a hero to me, she’s a hero to all the families she’s helped over the years. I admire her greatly.
Nancy Wang Yuen nominates Xiao Zhen Xie and #StopAAPIHate
I am in awe of Xiao Zhen Xie, a 75-year-old grandmother who inspires us all to stand up, speak out and take action to stop AAPI hate. On March 17, 2021, she was attacked in downtown San Francisco but managed to fend off the attacker. Let’s just say he ended up in worse shape than she did. When her grandson raised over $1 million on GoFundMe for her medical expenses, Xie insisted on donating the money to help defuse racism against the Asian American community. Xiao Zhen Xie is a real-life superhero.
The organization Stop AAPI Hate has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the rise in anti-Asian American and anti-Pacific Islander hate incidents since early 2020. A national coalition addressing anti-AAPI hate amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Stop AAPI Hate has received nearly 3,800 reported hate incidents from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021 on its website, stopaapihate.org. It also provides multilingual resources for the AAPI community, and advocates for local, state and national policies in human rights and civil rights protections. The leaders of Stop AAPI Hate are Manjusha P. Kulkarni (executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council), Cynthia Choi (co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action) and Russell Jeung, Ph.D. (professor, Asian American Studies Department, San Francisco State University).
Jennifer Ho nominates Dr. Erika Lee
Dr. Erika Lee is among the most dedicated and influential scholars working in the field of Asian American studies, producing groundbreaking scholarship and even more impactful public facing work by sharing her expertise with a general public that so desperately needs educating on the long, complicated and rich history of Asian Americans. An award-winning historian and author, Dr. Lee is Regents professor of history and Asian American studies, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and president-elect of the Organization of American Historians. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, Lee was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and testified before Congress in its historic hearings on anti-Asian discrimination and violence.
Tanuja Desai Hidier nominates Urooj Arshad, Anjali Enjeti, Valarie Kaur, Thenmozhi Soundararajan and Paula Yoo
AAPI identity’s no monolith. Nor is the intersectional, multifaceted work of these nominees, who shine a loving light on this identity through their bold, bridge-building vision and art-meets-heart-makes-activist work — and are shaping, making and abundantly sharing it as they do.
Urooj Arshad has been advocating for LGBTQI+ rights for 21 years, and it still feels this queerphobia-and-Islamophobia-dismantling dynamo’s just getting started. Urooj co-founded the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. She’s senior program manager at Freedom House’s Dignity for All LGBTI Assistance Program, supporting under-threat/attack defenders of LGBTQI+ human rights. At the Muslim Youth Leadership Council and Advocates for Youth’s LGBTQ Youth Health and Rights Programs, she educated around issues like gender equality and sexual/reproductive health rights and offered a safe space for Muslim women to talk about sexual assault. By centering these issues — these humans — Urooj brings the margins deservedly to the page.
For the last four critical years, author, teacher and organizer (co-founder of the Georgia chapter of South Asian Democrats organization They See Blue) Anjali Enjeti has been a tireless force in helping get the vote out in Georgia’s AAPI community. Anjali also served on Georgia’s AAPI leadership council for the Biden-Harris campaign. And managed to write two super books along the way, hot off the press this spring: “Southbound” (personal essays on her social justice awakening) and her sweeping Partition-set debut novel, “Parted Earth.”
Daughter of Sikh California farmers, civil rights leader Valarie Kaur was impelled to take her activist path by the post-9/11 murder of Sikhs (her film “Divided We Fall’s” subject). Her 2016 Watch Night Service question (“Is this the darkness of the tomb — or the darkness of the womb?”) went viral, becoming a beacon-of-hope communal call to action for the people. Valarie launched the Revolutionary Love Project to reclaim love as a force for justice in America by centering BIPOC voices and working towards birthing a world where, as her book is titled, we “See No Stranger.” And what a world that will be.
Fierce force Henmozhi Soundararajan (aka Dalit Diva) is a Dalit technologist, artist, advocate and founder of Dalit civil rights organization Equality Labs, mobilizing South Asian Americans towards dismantling eons-long systems of oppression, with the goal of ending caste apartheid, gender-based violence, white supremacy and religious intolerance. Thenmozhi co-authored the landmark “Caste in the United States” report that first documented caste discrimination in the USA and co-founded Dalit History Month. Her cross-pollinating work — crucial in a time of rising hate crimes, and religious and caste violence — is creating a more generous, global, expansive and inclusive definition of South Asian identity.
Paula Yoo is a rockstar human: award-winning children’s/YA book author, TV writer/producer and feature screenwriter — and professional violinist who’s toured/recorded with multiple symphony orchestras as well as bands Spiritualized and No Doubt. Her latest release is the critically acclaimed and tragically timely YA narrative non-fiction book “From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement.” Required reading.
Melissa De La Cruz nominates Stacey Lee
I nominate Stacey Lee, author of many historical novels featuring Asian history and protagonists. Her novel “Outrun the Moon” won the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction and the Asian/Pacific American Library Association Award for Literature. She is a fourth generation Chinese-American and a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Stacey brings history to life and focuses on little-known history of Chinese people in America. One of my favorites of her books is “Luck of the Titanic”, inspired by the recently uncovered account of six Chinese survivors of the Titanic. The book is vibrant, funny, detailed, and unexpectedly moving. Stacey is a huge talent that the world is just starting to discover and I am thrilled to nominate her!
Ronnie Woo nominates Kevin Wong
First and foremost, I love the sincere and genuine passion for helping others that Kevin Wong brings to the table. Kevin Wong is the vice president of communications at The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, and works night and day to help keep LGBTQ youth top of mind — bringing important conversations to the forefront. As a gay, Asian American man in the media world, Kevin knows the importance of mental health and even published an op-ed for Reuters about the Asian American coming out experience, only further proving himself to be a powerful influence amongst many communities. Kevin dedicates his career to bettering the lives of others and is constantly striving to create spaces for underrepresented groups, advocating for more inclusivity and diversity in every project he takes on. It’s incredibly exciting and inspiring to see all the positive effects of his hard work grow at such an exponential rate.
Priya Krishna nominates Jenny Zhang
Here’s my rule of thumb: when Jenny Zhang writes something, I read it. She has consistently put out some of the best stories that seamlessly blend food with labor, race, politics and everything in between. There is such humanity in everything she writes, whether it’s a cultural commentary on what boba tea means to Asian Americans to an essay about a road trip through Northern Michigan with her mom that definitely made me cry. She seems to always know what to say on the most pressing issues affecting the food industry. I can’t wait to keep reading her work.
Aarthi Sampath nominates Elizabeth Priya Kumar
Elizabeth Priya Kumar jet sets between the city that never sleeps and the city of angels, transforming weddings into magical luxury experiences. For over a decade, Priya has brought the world full-service events that have earned national recognition, including winning planner of the year in 2019 by the Wedding International Planners Association. She was also recently named as one of the best wedding planners in NYC, according to PartySlate. In 2019, her company, Premini, went bicoastal, with teams in NYC and L.A. She was named president of the National Association of Catering and Event Professionals in 2014, a position she held for three years. Priya currently serves on the board of directors for the NYC chapter of the Wedding Industry Professionals Association, in addition to several charitable committees. Priya began her career in corporate events for Fortune 500 companies. With a nudge from her brother (Prem) and sister (Padmini), she went on to create Premini Events in 2010, naming the company in their honor. Premini translates to “a little love,” her secret tool. Named a visionary and thought leader for elevated South Asian American weddings, Priya brings a charismatic style of old world depictions and trendsetting design to invoke a style that is urban, luxury and ultra global. Her main focus is to inspire a generation of Indian youth to follow their passion and break the mold into more creative fields. Recently, Priya transformed a bride’s opulent wedding into a sentimental small gathering to honor her father who abruptly passed away from COVID. With several projects in the works under the Premini brand, “a little love” is constantly on the move.
Aarti Sequeira nominates Maryanne George
I nominate Maryanne George, who is a singer-songwriter with the worship collective, Maverick Music. I became a Christian here in America and while the church itself is beautifully diverse, I hadn’t seen anyone on the worship scene who looked like me. The first time I watched Maryanne sing, I gasped. I’ve been playing on worship teams since I joined the faith, but I’d never seen anyone on the national (and heck, international now) American Christian music scene who was of Indian descent. God made each and every one of us, and it has never bothered me that I didn’t see someone like me writing and singing His praises. But, something shifted when I saw her sing — and sing so dang well! I watched her voice soar out of that inner place, where our skin color isn’t our most defining characteristic … from her soul … and I watched her voice affect people of all backgrounds standing around her. It touched me in a way I can’t fully put into words, and I immediately DM-ed her and geeked out on her. I love that just by singing her heart out, she added another dimension to the story of the Indian diaspora because frankly, people don’t realize that while small, the Indian Christian community has been around for centuries! Seeing her doing the dang thing is inspiring, hopeful and reassuring that even in the midst of all the divisiveness of the past year, God is in the business of bringing unity in the church.
Andrea Nguyen nominates Thi Bui
Based in the Bay Area, Thi Bui is a gifted cartoonist who uses her art and words to tell stories about refugees and immigrants in America. She is also politically engaged. For example, during the 2020 election cycle, she was instrumental to help turn out the Vietnamese vote via an organization called PIVOT.
Sana Javeri Kadri nominates Alaknanda
When I began my work in the spice industry in 2016, I’m not sure if I was the only brown girl — let alone one bouncing off the walls eager to bring my culture, love of color, and bright, strong flavors to life in a mostly stale, tasteless industry — but it sure felt like it. So nearly five years later, to see bold, wildly creative women like Alaknanda carving out their own space in the industry is exciting, and a real relief. Her podis are delicious, and infused with so much heart and feeling. The spice business has centered Western taste and experience for hundreds of years. To see Alak proudly center her upbringing, her palate and her cooking techniques is thrilling. I can’t wait to watch her ascent.
Tway Nguyen nominates George Lee
George Lee, a 19-year-old Taiwanese vegan chef, has been a constant inspiration for me. He translates his love of food and science, specifically, food science and alternative meat, into informative and digestible recipe videos. He takes pride in his heritage by continuing to innovate and recreate the dishes that he grew up eating into flavorful vegan dishes. Much like my mission to embrace the bold flavors of my roots, George does not shy away from the flavors of his. His cooking style is effortless yet knowledgeable and I admire that, he’s someone that I am constantly absorbing information and inspiration from. As a young Vietnamese American chef, it is so important for me to fully embrace where I came from to be able to use that knowledge to explore who I am and what my cooking style looks like, George Lee’s videos and overall message reminds me that I am not alone on this journey.
Preeti Mistry nominates Jenny Dorsey
I first met Jenny Dorsey in 2018, and have continued to be impressed with her talent and ambition ever since. She is a professional chef, author and speaker specializing in multiplatform storytelling fusing food with social good. She leads a nonprofit community think tank named Studio ATAO and runs her own culinary consulting business. The tool kits she created with Studio ATAO tackle issues like “Tokenization in Food Media” and “Unlearning Scarcity, Cultivating Solidarity: A Tool kit for the Asian American Community” are both impressive resources and nuanced insights into the food industry landscape. Her 2019 VR dinner experience Asian in America was the first of its kind at the James Beard House. Her unique ability to combine her talents in the kitchen, technology and social change is admirable.
Lea Salonga nominates #RacismIsAVirus
Last year, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a few AAPI friends started posting their experiences with anti-Asian racism. One friend wrote that she was spat on as she was walking to the post office in her neighborhood in New York City, one of the biggest melting pots in the world. It boggles the mind that this is still happening in the 21st century. Anti-Asian racism is nothing new, if the recent spate of extremely violent anti-Asian attacks (including the murder of six Asian women in Atlanta) is any indication. #RacismIsAVirus is a campaign that was formed as a response to the violence and xenophobia aimed at AAPI people because of COVID-19. Its founders — which include Broadway performers such as Ariel Estrada, Albert Guerzon and Diane Phelan, and industry insiders like producer and marketing person Jeremiah Abraham — aimed to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as well as their allies to speak out against racism so that all citizens of the USA, regardless of race, can live in peace and dignity.
Courtney Reed nominates Lauren Yee
Lauren Yee has quickly become one of the most influential Asian American’s in the playwright world. Her body of work includes a number of highly acclaimed plays such as “The Great Leap,” “Ching Chong Chinaman,” “King of the Yees,” “The Hatmaker’s Wife” and “Cambodian Rock Band.” American Theatre magazine cited Lauren as the second most-produced playwright in the country for the 2019-20 season. She is the winner of the Doris Duke Artist Award, the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Horton Foote Prize, the Kesselring Prize, the ATCA/Steinberg Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters literature award, and the Francesca Primus Prize. She has been a finalist for the Edward M. Kennedy Prize and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Her plays were the number 1 and 2 plays on the 2017 Kilroys List. It has been my distinct pleasure and an honor to have worked with Lauren Yee in the award-winning “Cambodian Rock Band,” a genre-defiant production that brings to light the power of music, human spirit, resiliency, humor and forgiveness. I know firsthand that Lauren cares deeply about her projects and everyone involved. She promotes inclusivity across all communities especially the AAPI community, providing opportunities for involvement. The lessons that Lauren’s work impart to the audience have far reaching implications beyond ethnic and racial boundaries. They are lessons much needed for this challenging climate that we live in today.
Telly Leung nominates Huge Ma
I’m nominating Huge Ma, aka TurboVax, for his public service to the New York City community during the initial rush to secure coveted vaccine appointments. He is a 31-year old software engineer and NYC native who is the mastermind behind TurboVax, a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate website that helped a lot of New Yorkers get vaccinated when the government failed to create a central system for securing vaccines. I remember the sigh of relief I felt when the vaccine was announced and made available to my 70-plus-year-old parents who lived in Brooklyn, and then the hours of stress and constant browser refreshing as I hunted for vaccine for them. The city’s computer systems were crashing and there wasn’t really a centralized system or the technological infrastructure to support the demand. TurboVax stepped up to the plate and created a bot that would post minute-to-minute updates on vaccine appointment availability throughout the city. It also shared important information about the constant changes in vaccine eligibility. TurboVax started to accumulate more and more followers, and created a community of people helping each other secure appointments. As a Broadway performer, I know that my industry is counting on everyone doing their part and getting vaccinated. TurboVax created something that will help us all get back to the things we loved pre-pandemic and I am so proud that he is a fellow AAPI New York native. Bravo, TurboVax — and thank you, Huge.
Ali Ewoldt nominates Jason Ma and Kylie Kuioka
Jason Ma is a Chinese-American champion of the arts. After a wonderful performing career that included being in the original casts of five Broadway shows, he discovered his voice as a writer, penning musicals that speak to the truth and nuance of the Asian American experience. Through his musical “Gold Mountain,” the Chinese workers who helped to build the Central Pacific Railroad are being celebrated and understood by new audiences across the country. His music is beautifully melodic, smart, witty and filled with heart. And he is a generous mentor who leads with kindness and compassion.
At only 11 years old, Kylie Kuioka is already redefining what it means to be an Asian American performer. Her brilliant portrayal of Tootie in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s recent from-home, green screen production of “Meet Me in St. Louis” stole everyone’s hearts, and emphasized the power of diversity and representation in casting. Kylie has already shown herself to be a dedicated philanthropist, hosting a lovely duet series to support the York Theatre’s Flood Recovery Fund. This young lady has an incredible career ahead of her.
David Henry Hwang nominates Lauren Yee
In the 2019-2020 theater season, before the pandemic shut down stages around the country, playwright Lauren Yee penned two of the top 10 most produced plays in America: “The Great Leap” and “Cambodian Rock Band.” It’s hard enough to get plays and musicals with Asian American characters produced at all — theaters and producers worry that they won’t be able to find actors (totally untrue) or that their audiences aren’t sufficiently interested. Lauren’s shows have proven to be hits with audiences and critics alike — whip-smart, funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and bursting with fresh takes on AAPI stories and history. Her plays expose Hollywood’s stereotyping and caricaturing of Asians for the lazy and racist storytelling they are. But Lauren’s now taking on Hollywood, too, writing the upcoming Apple TV series “Pachinko,” based on the novel by Min Jin Lee. As the current horrific spike in anti-AAPI hate and attacks prove, representation not only keeps the arts vital and exciting, it can also be literally a matter of life and death. Lauren’s work presents us in all our emotional depth, absurd contradictions and sheer joyfulness as simply human.
Alice Lee nominates Yuh-Jung Youn
I nominate Yuh-Jung Youn because she is making AAPI history right now. She’s the first Korean woman to win an Oscar for her role in Minari and is one of the few Asian women ever to win an Academy Award. Aside from accolades, she was part of a widely viewed and celebrated film about an Asian immigrant family trying to make it in America, which is such an important story that so many people can relate to, not just those in the Asian community. And while many people are just getting to know her and her work, I’ve actually watched her in Korean dramas and movies since I was a little girl, and remember she was always brilliant. She’s already a legend in South Korea! Yuh-Jung Youn, to me, is a strong Asian woman who hustled, followed her dreams, provided and sacrificed for her family, and now (not that she needs it), is getting the global recognition she deserves. She’s continuing to make history the way she always has been — it’s just that now we’re all getting to see it. Also, she hasn’t aged one bit.
Alex Wong nominates Ashley Park
I would like to nominate Ashley Park. I first worked with Ashley on “The King and I” on Broadway, but perhaps she is best known for her recent role in the Netflix series, “Emily in Paris.” Ashley has always been a ray of light and she is on the rise to become a star. She has been a huge AAPI advocate, and she has been using her platform to spread awareness, joy and love. It makes me so proud to see another fellow Asian in the entertainment industry on the rise as it’s been a difficult journey for us to be seen in Hollywood.
Jose Llana nominates Christine Toy Johnson
Few people have done more to promote and advance AAPI representation in the theater arts than Christine Toy Johnson. Christine is an award-winning writer, actor, director and filmmaker based in New York City. An avid advocate for inclusion, she is a member of the elected leadership of the Dramatists Guild of America and serves as chair of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. She is a founding member of the Obie Award-winning Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), served on the board of the Tony-honored Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts for over 15 years and the Council of Actors’ Equity Association for 28 years (chairing their Equal Employment Opportunity Committee for 22 years). Christine is as talented an actress and writer as she is a fierce advocate for social change.
Paolo Montalbán nominates Dax Valdes
Dax Valdes is a Filipino American actor, choreographer, director and teaching artist based in NYC, and I’ve admired him for years. However, only a few months ago, I discovered what a huge positive impact he was having on the AAPI community, when the incidents of hate and violence accelerated against Asian Americans — especially women and the elderly. As a senior trainer for the grassroots anti-harassment organization Hollaback!, and in association with the AAPI advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Dax has personally trained tens of thousands of people on how to intervene when they see anti-Asian hate and harassment, including over 40,000 people in the last seven weeks alone … and it’s all free! As a bystander intervention trainer, Dax brings empathy and connection to a whole new level. I watched him teach 3,100 attendees over Zoom, and he brought me to tears due to the vulnerability and grace of his storytelling. It’s a testament to his experience as a director and choreographer that 100% of the trainees feel equipped to do at least one thing to mitigate anti-Asian American or xenophobic harassment if they see it happening. Finally, he’s even delivered Hollaback! training to people in Ukraine, Turkey, Israel, India and Indonesia — which officially makes him a goodwill ambassador of the AAPI community both locally and globally. Dax is a teacher of teachers! He’s a superhero saving lives all around the world. “Start seeing Bystander Intervention not as a big heroic moment, but a series of smaller thoughtful gestures.”
Anna Sui nominates Stevie Shao
I discovered Stevie on Instagram. Stevie Shao is Chinese American living in Seattle and is someone with a strong social conscience. This past summer was a very dark time with the coronavirus raging and protests breaking out everywhere. The continual protests from city to city were shown on the TV daily with thousands of people carrying protest signs, and hundreds of stores boarded up and painted by local artists with messages. I was looking for a protest artist who was optimistic and aesthetically pleasing to work with on my Spring ’21 Heartland collection. Stevie’s artwork struck me immediately. There was comfort, whimsy and beauty in her imagery. “Take Care” and “Chill, Baby” were her messages. She’s a social activist on the streets and on her canvas. She makes “topics such as police brutality, immigration and the pandemic more approachable for her audience.” Stevie’s modern-day, fairy tale-like imagery is so appealing, colorful and joyous while providing group therapy. Her graphic art appears both commercially, and for promoting community activities and events. She has also started mentoring young people through local art and design programs. Stevie continually sends messages of social justice and equality within her playful, promising and reassuring world.
Leyna Bloom nominates Damian Bao
Damian Bao is the first openly trans casting director and producer that I have ever met and seen work in the entertainment business. Not only is he a valuable force in the AAPI community, he is an advocate for: the LGBTQI+ community, people of color, women, people with disabilities, and those who are often marginalized and historically underrepresented in the mainstream media. I met Damian by chance in 2016 at a casting call that I was not supposed to be at. He made me feel welcome anyway. It was the first time I ever felt humanized as talent. He was the first person in my career to ever take the time to know me beyond the superficial and properly look at my portfolio, while at the same time asking me about my story and truly listening to me. He did not make me feel like I was just another face or number. 2016 was also the last time I met an Asian American trans person in a position of power in entertainment. Fast forward to 2019, Damian cast me as Wye in “Port Authority,” making me the first trans lead of color in a feature film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Along with other queer and trans people in the cast, it was all of our first time to be seen in such a beautiful way on the big screen. As a casting director, Damian uses his position of power to help thousands of Black and brown bodies, especially queer ones, be seen and recognized and, most importantly, respected in all forms of art spaces in today’s society, creating the blueprint for the future of media. He has given many of us the first opportunity to be seen, heard and auditioned in these often closed spaces. A lot of queer folks of color working in entertainment are now in important positions because of his courage and vision for the future. I am nominating Damian Bao to highlight his leadership and kindness. Through it all, he has fought tirelessly both publicly and behind the scenes for not only me, but so many others, to create real equality and change. He is a great example of what other gatekeepers in the industry should aim to be.
Gene Luen Yang nominates Paula Yoo
Paula Yoo’s nonfiction masterpiece “From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement” is the most significant book I’ve read in a long, long while. Most Asian Americans know that Vincent Chin’s murder terrorized our community, that it was the beginning of us calling ourselves a community in the first place. But we don’t know the details. We don’t know the humanity. That’s what struck me about Paula Yoo’s book. She tells a profoundly human story. She helps us understand all the actors in that 40-year-old tragedy, even those who may not deserve understanding. If you want to make sense of today’s Asian America, you must read Paula Yoo’s book.
Connie Wang nominates Tiffany Diane Tso
I had the pleasure of working with Tiffany Diane Tso at Refinery29, where she reported on news, and issues related to culture, advocacy and policy. I see Tiffany as representative of a talented next generation of journalists who are guided by their guts as well as their hearts. Her deep empathy for other people and perspectives, her skepticism of the status quo, and the journalistic rigor and care with which she approaches her work is inspiring and, frankly, instructive as contemporary media wrestles with our allegiances to objectivity and independence. She is also the co-founder of the intersectional Asian American Feminist Collective, which focuses on building community and solidarity — and we recently just featured her and fellow co-founder Senti Sojwal in a photo feature on Refinery29 about the diverse Asian Americans who are effecting meaningful changes in the lives of fellow Asians. It’s not easy to balance, but Tiffany’s careful work as both a journalist and an activist reinforces her effectiveness at both functions.
Joe Zee nominates Bao Nguyen
In Bao Nguyen’s Bruce Lee documentary, “Be Water,” there is a clip from a 1971 talk show where the interviewer asks Lee, “So do you consider yourself Chinese or do you consider yourself American?” The context of that statement is important, that as an Asian American, you couldn’t be both, at least not in the reality of that interviewer, a Caucasian male. But Bao’s documentary smartly tackles those very issues at hand, by underscoring a well-crafted, nuanced tone with which Bao — an Asian American and son of Vietnamese refugees — tells the story of this martial arts hero. On the surface, the film is deft storytelling of the world’s most famous Asian kung fu master, but it’s really Bao’s careful and intimate direction that emphasizes the racial walls Asians have had to scale in Hollywood. It’s easy to say that as an Asian growing up in Canada and America, I rarely, if at all, ever saw faces that looked like mine reflecting back on movie and TV screens, but Bao’s documentary helps you find solidarity in that thought. I am not a martial arts expert, I wouldn’t even say I am a martial arts fan, but Bruce Lee was an early personal hero, one that exuded masculinity, leading man charisma and aspiration. I love documentaries because I am fascinated by real-life storytelling and I love the way Bao has directed this one. It is, under Bao, more than a movie. It is about life, it is about injustice, it is about the invisibility that we, as a community, have had to face for decades, if not centuries. Bao recently directed a short PSA highlighting the hate crimes that have plagued our community and even in the simplicity of that short video, the passing of the flame from candle to candle, as famous AAPI faces, cloaked in masks, described the history of anti-Asian hate, do you understand the full scope of our inequities. We can raise our voice as one, but — as told by Bao — we are stronger together. I know we will look back at this moment and see the work that Bao has contributed as a director and storyteller to be significant for Asian Americans everywhere.
Alex Lau nominates Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsa
When I think of someone in the AAPI community that has gone above and beyond to make change in the community, I immediately think of Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai. They might possibly be two of the sweetest and most giving people I have ever met. Heart of Dinner was started because they saw a need in the Chinatown community that wasn’t being fulfilled and they immediately took it upon themselves to solve the problem. As residents and business owners of Chinatown, I truly view Moonlynn and Yin as leaders of the neighborhood, which is incredibly important in a time where we need young members of the AAPI community to step up and become advocates for the older generation. It came as no surprise to me when they created Heart of Dinner, a food relief initiative that has been delivering groceries and care packages to the senior citizens of the New York City Chinese community. A large percentage of the Chinese elderly have found themselves isolated from their families due to the coronavirus. Every week, Heart of Dinner delivers over 1,000 meals to households in need. A customized handwritten note is attached to each bag, but all have a similar message: “我們愛您” (We love you). Heart of Dinner is larger than food. It’s about bolstering communities in a time where teamwork and compassion is needed now more than ever. There is an expression that goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Moonlynn and Yin is the rising tide that is helping our community thrive and build for a better present and future.
Eva Chen nominates Kelly Marie Tran
Growing up, I never saw a lot of Asian faces in mainstream Hollywood roles. Frankly, the most prevalent one for me was the news anchor Connie Chung and, later on, Sandra Oh and Lucy Liu. The number of big stars in Hollywood could be counted on one hand. I am hopeful, however, about a new generation of actors, ones that represent diversity and innate activism, and can inspire people worldwide. Kelly Marie Tran, an actress starring in Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” represents a new young Hollywood. She is Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess, and I love that she isn’t afraid to speak up and highlight both the good and bad experiences she has had in Hollywood. I hope that young people — like my daughter one day — will look and see more reflection of themselves on screen in actresses like Kelly.
Eugene Lee Yang nominates Jenn Fang
The overarching theme of “silence” has permeated the discourse around our cultural identities, particularly over this past year’s troubling rise in anti-Asian hate, but it’s the loud, proud and inimitable voices that ultimately define us. Most importantly, those of Asian American women. As a gay man, I’ve long looked up to the resilience of the many women in my life who have, in their own unique ways, defied patriarchal norms while fiercely representing their heritage. Jenn Fang (@reappropriate) is a shining example of someone who consistently turns that much-needed perspective into community engagement, thoughtful critique and fierce activism. Jenn is the founder of Reappropriate.co, one of the Internet’s oldest AAPI feminist and race activist blogs, and a contributing writer to numerous publications. I first became familiar with her work from her 2015 NBC News article about this country’s dire need for Asian American studies programs. Even today, much of our community’s efforts is centered on spreading awareness and basic education about our diverse histories — Jenn has been fighting for these types of progressive measures for years. She has studied our history. She acknowledges and invests in our relationships with other marginalized groups. And she speaks out in order to share that knowledge so that people like me — and you — can join and amplify the movement. I often think about my grandmother, who had long been taught to keep her feelings close to the chest, and how radically brilliant she is when she finds the rare, private moments to uninhibitedly express her opinions. The legacy of the strength of our mothers and sisters is carried on by feminists like Jenn who put a megaphone to those thoughts that, stereotypically, are expected to be buried. In the grand tradition of Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama, Jenn and many Asian American women today continue to prove that they will not be defined by “silence,” but in fact, reappropriate it by shouting louder and prouder than any man could ever dream to.
Bretman Rock nominates Sienna Lalau
I first came across Sienna Lalau back when we were teenagers growing up in the same town on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii, and attending rival high schools. She has been dancing since she was 3 or 4 years old and began choreographing routines when she was 10. You could just tell she was going to be somebody and make a name of herself on the mainland because growing up, those special people really stood out. She’s 20 years old now and has already worked with some of the biggest names in the biz, from Jennifer Lopez to BTS to Ciara and Missy Elliott. She even won a VMA for best choreography for BTS’ “On.” She represents the AAPI community so well, and deserves so much more recognition, love and praise from the industry overall. From one baddie to another, I’m very proud of Sienna and all of her success.
Alex Wassabi nominates Roi Fabito, a.k.a. Guava Juice
I’ve known Roi Fabito, aka Guava Juice, since we were middle schoolers. Roi was born in the Philippines and moved to North Carolina, where we met. Both born entertainers, we shared a love for making people laugh, and being Filipino, we had an instant connection and began creating content like parodies and sketches that became viral hits on YouTube. Roi’s creativity, charm and giving nature makes everyone that comes in contact with him feel welcome and important. As an influential public figure with a growing media empire and one of the top family-friendly YouTube channels, he brings fun lightheartedness to the internet and is an amazing role model/influence for his fans all over the world.
Alex Aiono nominates Jude Weng
After years of work in the art of filmmaking and the wisdom gained from her varied experiences, it’s hard to classify Jude Weng as a rising talent. Rather, she is an exceptional person with exceptional talent who infuses her work with diversity and inclusivity. While directing her first feature film, “Finding Ohana,” Jude personally ensured that there was representation on and off camera. Already cast with actors of AAPI descent, Jude called our producers, networks and others to ensure our crews will be diverse. With a heart of gold, an unmatched work ethic and an exceptional eye for filmmaking, Jude works with the biggest names and networks, and is currently working on an upcoming Amazon feature starring Awkwafina and Karen Gillan. With people like Jude in this industry, I can exhale a little bit knowing our AAPI community will feel empowered. Thank you, Jude!
Michelle Kim nominates Hyejin Shim
Hyejin Shim is a second-generation queer Korean American organizer and writer. She is the co-founder of Survived & Punished, a coalition of volunteers and grassroots organizers working together to eradicate criminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. I’ve learned so much from her over the years, including from her writing on the Asian American identity and solidarity work in the context of the social justice movement. Every day, Hyejin models what it means to center survivors of violence while dismantling systems of oppression, and makes visible radical organizing done by Asians throughout history and now. I am grateful for her continued work and I hope more folks get an opportunity to learn from Hyejin. “In honor of the eight victims, and in honor of their memory, let us commit to protecting each other and loving each other while we are still here, not only in these moments of crisis, but in all the quiet, unseen, and humble moments that constitute our lives.” — Hyejin Shim, at the post-Atlanta shooting community vigil in San Francisco Chinatown
Cassey Ho nominates Hosts of Asian Boss Girl
“AsianBossGirl” (“ABG”) is a podcast for the modern day Asian American woman hosted by Melody Cheng, Helen Wu and Janet Wang. These women started “ABG” as girlfriends while balancing full-time jobs in finance, technology and media with corporate careers spanning over a decade. Growing up in the ’90s, for them, it was no secret that Asian women were lacking in almost all media outlets, and those who were present mostly represented the Hollywood, fashion or beauty industries. They decided to create a platform to share their experiences of being young Asian women in America that are not often represented, a platform that spoke to Asian Americans working in corporate America. Their podcast tackles a range of topics that have always been considered taboo within their culture — stories ranging from dating and sex, to microaggressions observed within the workplace, to family and mental health. The purpose of their podcast was never to be “the” role model for the modern day working woman. It was a desire to share stories that they didn’t hear in mainstream media — about what it’s like to be a double minority in corporate, to deal with the physical and mental expectations from an Asian family, of what it’s like to have anxiety attacks, of dealing with imposter syndrome. Everything that encompasses what it’s like to be an Asian woman in her 20s and 30s, from their perspective, and from the perspective of the guests that they bring on. What once started as a passion project has now become a life mission for them — to continue highlighting the nuanced stories of Asian Americans and to really encourage the idea all of our stories are worthy of being told. Their mission is to continue building a strong community for Asian American women to feel seen, heard and proud of their culture and unique experiences.
Amanda Rach Lee nominates Audrey Nuna
Currently there aren’t that many huge headlining AAPI solo musicians in the Western music scene, let alone Asian women musicians. However, I believe that Audrey Nuna could be the one to fill that gap. In a world where Asian women are stereotypically seen as more passive, Audrey’s bold music, style and personality are much needed representation in the Asian community and the music industry. As a young (only 22 years old!) up-and-coming artist, she has yet to put out a full album, but even in the few singles she’s released so far, it’s easy to tell that Audrey has the potential to become a big name. Her music is playful, unique and, above all else, damn good. Her singles “Damn Right,” “Paper” and “Time” are among some of my favorite songs that regularly frequent my playlists. Sometimes her vocals shine through in velvety smooth R&B tracks, whereas other times the rap verses in her hip-hop tracks are the clear crowning moment. Recently, I discovered that she helped conceptualize, direct and style some of her music videos as well. This isn’t surprising to me, as her personal style is consistent throughout everything she releases. I feel like we still haven’t seen everything that Audrey Nuna is capable of. I’m excited to see what she does in the future. Keep an eye out for her!
Aimee Song nominates Alexander Nguyen
I came across Alexander Nguyen’s photography through mutual friends in the AAPI community. What struck me about his work was not only that it is beautiful, but it tells meaningful, important stories. When I started speaking to him about working together on a project, he started sharing why he does what he does, and how his craft serves his larger mission to share the Asian American immigrant story and family unit. Similar to my parent’s experience immigrating from Korea, Alexander’s parents immigrated from Vietnam to L.A. They came here to give him and his family what they believed was a better life. We both share the first-generation Asian American experience, and have witnessed firsthand the hard work and family values instilled by our parents and community. And we’ve shared similar struggles as they pertain to racism, biases and being children of Asian immigrants. It means so much to see someone share these stories through photography and I am honored to nominate him for the AAPI Inspiration List.
Jen Chae nominates Hannah Song, President/CEO of Liberty in North Korea
I wanted to nominate Hannah Song, who is the president/CEO of Liberty In North Korea, which is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to helping North Korean refugees escape to freedom. Not only has she and LiNK worked tirelessly to build 3,000-mile-long secret rescue routes for those seeking to flee a very dangerous regime, but once refugees cross the North Korean border into China, they are faced with untold dangers, including being sold into sexual slavery or detained and sent back to North Korea to be executed. Hannah has helped these people escape with their lives, but also gives them a way to amplify their stories so that the world can understand the truth about what’s happening to North Koreans on a broader scale. Once these refugees have made their way to South Korea, LiNK provides resettlement programs to help facilitate self-efficacy to adjust to a vastly different society from the strict regime they left behind. To date, they have helped rescue 1,201 North Korean refugees. As a fellow Korean American, I am so proud of the work that she stands for and dedicates her life to. She’s literally a lifesaver.
Nick Cho nominates Maddy Park
Maddy Park has been making lovely food content on TikTok and YouTube as Cafe Maddy for some time, sharing intimate glimpses into her New York City life and beautifully edited recipes of all sorts. The combination of her soothing voice and softly lit images is almost ASMR-like. But when anti-Asian violence spiked across the country and in her city, she got to work building Cafe Maddy Cab, a donation-funded service for vulnerable Asian Americans to have access to safe transportation in New York City. Her project has raised thousands of dollars, and is a model for seeing a problem and mobilizing like-minded people to provide a resource that’s focused on individual safety.
Andrew and David Fung nominate Jack Liang
Jack Liang is one of the newest leading role models in the Asian American community. He’s a model and activist and former Facebook employee who is out to change the world. Growing up in the tough streets of deep Brooklyn, Jack Liang wants to impact the world positively by speaking to the youth and for the less privileged Asian communities that don’t get highlighted in media.
Leenda Dong nominates Mylen Yamamoto Tansingco
I met Mylen Yamamoto Tansingco when she was still a professor at Cal State L.A. Her passion to empower those around her is the reason why Mylen’s award-winning talent management company Clique-Now is a force in the industry today. Clique-Now proudly represents many top Asian American artists like myself. Her combined client roster reaches audiences of more than 25 million. You might also recognize her through her second company, Cropsticks Co., which appeared on “Shark Tank” and became a Certified B Corporation in 2019. Whether she’s putting together a Hollywood deal or mentoring students, Mylen’s empathy, organization and strong leadership skills tend to naturally uplift our communities. She is a proud mixed Filipino, Japanese, Chinese American. I’ve been enjoying the ride we’ve been on together since 2015 — and excited for her journey ahead!
Steven Lim nominates Tammy Cho
Tammy Cho focuses on work that dismantles harassment, discrimination and racism. She does this through her work as the co-founder and CEO of Hate Is A Virus, a nonprofit and community of mobilizers and amplifiers dedicated to dismantling hate and racism. Hate Is A Virus started as a grassroots movement last April in response to the first spike in hate crimes against Asians due to COVID-19. Over the past year, they produced national awareness campaigns, educational resources for the community, and raised over $694,000 for essential BIPOC community organizations and small businesses across the nation and are committed to continuing these efforts this year. Her efforts inspire me daily.
Justin Escalona nominates Matthew Cruz
What I find to be the most important skill set when it comes to entrepreneurship is the ability to be multifaceted. Matthew Cruz embodies this to the fullest because when it comes to work, this guy doesn’t have a title. He’s willing to do anything to make things happen. It’s amazing to see another Filipino guy crushing business. Matthew operates the back end of the streetwear brand 1340 COLLECTIVE. He’s the reason why celebrities such as Addison Rae, NLE Choppa and Harry Jowsey have been spotted wearing 1340 clothing. Unlike many people, Matthew goes the extra mile when it comes to getting product placements and generating opportunities. He’s the type of guy to drive six hours to drop off a PR package to make sure the clothes are worn in a music video. We need more people like Matthew in this world and I’m excited to say that this young man is going to do great things to make the Asian community proud.
Kanwer Singh nominates Gurtej Singh
New York-based Virtuoso, aka Gurtej Singh, has a voice that will melt your heart and feed your soul. He’s a self-trained musician and vocalist playing multiple instruments, blending them all together so seamlessly. He revisits and remixes our favorite songs with his special cover blends, mixing two different songs together seamlessly. Virtuoso’s original compositions are just as impressive and he’s clearly. beginning to make his mark in the music world. On a stressful day, I turn to Virtuoso’s page to soothe my being and find peace in the vibrations he shares. Outside of the arts, Virtuoso uses his platform to shine a light on important topics, from social justice issues to philosophies that make life feel that much lighter. As a visible minority, Virtuoso embraces the fact that he stands out and uses it as an opportunity to celebrate the ever evolving communities of the United States. Bringing his South Asian Punjabi roots, alongside his strong relationship with his Sikh heritage, all while embodying some of the most beautiful sounds rooted in the United States, Virtuoso is the future of music in this country and a great representation of the power of diversity that America has so wonderfully embraced. Gurtej is definitely making AAPI history!
Sarah Cheung nominates Sharon Pak
Featured on Forbes 30 Under 30, Sharon Pak is the Korean American co-founder of DTC hair brand InsertNameHere Hair, used by TikTokers and celebrities such as Ariana Grande. As the former marketing director for ColourPop Cosmetics, Sharon leveraged her knowledge about social media to create one of the most popular hair brands that made wearing extensions and wigs fun and accessible. Sharon is one of the hardest-working individuals I know and I really look up to her as an example of the kind of entrepreneur I want to become.
Stephanie Villa nominates Contributors and Members of the Asian Women Alliance
This is an incredibly galvanizing time for so many Asian Americans. Historically, we have been taught to keep our heads down and blend in. This way of thinking is no longer a viable option and in reality was always just an illusion. Trying to “blend in” doesn’t work when we are consistently othered by fellow Americans. The hate, snide comments and violence has always been there; but for many Asian Americans, the last year has forced us to confront our own silence and willful blindness. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about relentless doom scrolling, coupled with a constant feeling of being overwhelmed and unsure what to do. This was a huge factor in the creation of the Asian Women Alliance. Beyond fundraising, the goal of the Asian Women Alliance is to put eyes on these organizations and spread information on their resources. We are growing fast and our collective voice is getting louder. This is a first step into speaking up for many of us and am so proud of everyone who has contributed to this fundraiser.
Wendy Nguyen nominates Jimmy Wu
During my time working inside and outside of the juvenile detention centers, I met an unsung hero. Jimmy Wu is currently the executive director of InsideOUT Writers (IOW), a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that provides trauma and healing-informed services to previously and currently incarcerated young adults. Jimmy turned his life around. He was incarcerated from the age of 16 to 29, and internalized his time behind cement walls to becoming now an agent of change, working in the exact space where he spent most of his young adult life. In addition to his work at IOW, he is also a voting member of a historic initiative called the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Work Group formed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, where he voted on community safety strategies, and was charged with helping develop a roadmap to prioritize reforms and solutions for all justice-impacted populations. Moreover, he was also involved with The Ride Home Program, which is part of the Stanford Law School’s Justice Advocacy Project, providing free and safe transportation, mental health services and re-entry support to nonviolent inmates sentenced to life under California’s “three strikes” sentencing law. Personal journeys deepen into resolute purpose, guiding his mission to advocate for change — Jimmy is an example of someone who turned darkness into light.
Kevin Li nominate Benny Luo
Benny Luo empowers the community through his online publication NextShark, which is the leading source for Asian American news covering culture, issues, entertainment, politics and more. NextShark reports news that isn’t always reported on mainstream media channels. When the Asian American community was under attack, NextShark was one of the first to disseminate the important information our community needed to mobilize. He is very supportive of young artists such as myself, and giving with time and resources.
Richie Lee nominates Chris Ngo
Chris Ngo has been able to defy the odds of what it means to be an entrepreneur in the clothing and retail space. Are the numbers there? Yes. But to define this man based off numbers would merely be a brushstroke within the beautiful life he’s been able to paint. By creating an umbrella company that oversees multiple clothing brands, Chris has provided the rocket ship to propel the dreams of so many creators like myself. While everyone is shooting threes and getting praise like Stephen Curry, Chris and his company, The Leverage, are doing the work that nobody ever gives enough credit to. They are truly the Draymond Green of the team, providing the vital infrastructure and support to allow a Curry to shine and thrive in a very cutthroat league. No one wants to handle the backend logistics and busy work, that is where Chris steps in. You hear day in and day out how difficult it is to make it in the clothing industry, that is because these companies simply do not have a Chris on their team. I truly believe he needs to be recognized due to how vital his role is in the success of so many independent clothing brands. He has truly imbodied someone I think should be recognized in the community as someone that is motivates and inspires, and backs it up day in and day out.
Dr. Priscilla Chan nominates Dr. Gene Yeo
As a scientist, technologist and entrepreneur who masterfully bridges disciplines to accelerate progress in science and medicine, Dr. Gene Yeo is exactly the type of outside-the-box thinker Mark [Zuckerberg] and I hoped we’d have the chance to work with through our philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Dr. Yeo, a professor of cellular and molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, is an integral part of CZI’s Neurodegeneration Challenge Network, where he collaborates with a diverse group of scientists, clinicians and engineers to understand disorders like ALS and how technology could help answer the most challenging questions. Dr. Yeo is also someone who stays close to the work in service of his local community. In the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Yeo founded the San Diego COVID-19 Research Enterprise Network (SCREEN), a community-focused effort that set up testing sites across the city and galvanized early research coordination. SCREEN has since grown to more than 800 local researchers. He later helped found the San Diego Epidemiology and Research for COVID Health, which conducted a 12,000-person scientific study to learn more about transmission of the virus and better protect his neighbors. I also love that Dr. Yeo — himself a fast-rising star in science — is at the forefront of training and mentoring the next generation of scientists. He is a faculty founder of the Diversity and Science Lecture series at UCSD, centering and elevating the experience of graduate students and postdocs of color, while also celebrating their scientific achievements.
Gitanjali Rao nominates Emily Tianshi
Emily Tianshi is a 17 year-old scientist, inventor, and environmental advocate from San Diego. Emily is a frequent hiker at Torrey Pines State Park, where she noticed Torrey pine trees’ incredible moisture-harvesting abilities. Because there was little research explaining the mechanisms behind it, she started a scientific research project four years ago to examine Torrey pine needles’ surface properties and biomimic them into an atmospheric moisture-harvesting device. Emily’s invention is patent pending and can help drought-stricken but foggy areas, such as the California and Oregon coastline, Texas, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Emily’s research was featured in a National Geographic World Water Day documentary series, “Join the Millions.” She was recognized as an international Children’s Climate Prize finalist, national Stockholm Junior Water Prize runner-up, Davidson Fellows scholar, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair awardee, and winner of a grand prize at the 2017 Broadcom MASTERS, the nation’s premier middle school science competition. MIT Lincoln Laboratory named a minor planet after her. Emily has presented at events hosted by the California Water Environmental Association and Water Environmental Federation, and appeared in Seeker’s podcast, “Genius Generation.” Surprisingly, Emily started her project in a garage lab using a $20 microscope nicknamed “Dinky Donk.” To inspire other students, she co-founded an organization, Clearwater Innovation, with her brother to encourage teenagers to solve environmental problems from home labs. In blog posts and YouTube videos, they feature young scientists finding creative workarounds to a lack of resources. Emily also founded We Impact, a nonprofit organization that hosts free STEM events for underprivileged youth and stands up for social justice issues. As a second-generation Asian American, Emily initiated seven major protests against anti-Asian violence, calling together more than 1,200 people, and organized an expert panel discussion on “Asian American History, Identity and Racism in America.”
Dr. Dave A. Chokshi nominates Jaimie Shaff
Jaimie Shaff is a rising star in public health and is making AAPI history right now. Jaimie is the chief data scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s COVID-19 response. Jaimie has worked truly tirelessly — in fact, 24/7 — to ensure that NYC’s leadership has had timely, reliable information on which to base critical public health decisions. Jaimie leads the integrated data team, a team of analysts that has worked with partners across the response to provide the data-driven backbone to the policy decisions NYC has made regarding phased reopening, non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccine distribution. Jaimie’s public health approach is centered on health equity, which is demonstrated in her leadership uplifting community voice and developing targeted analytic partnerships on critical topics such as intimate partner violence, mental wellness and vaccine equity. Jaimie’s work to help make our response equitable and inclusive in a city as a diverse as NYC has been enormously complicated and made a substantial impact on the communities we serve that have been historically impacted by structural racism. It is not an understatement to say that without Jaimie’s contributions, the city’s response to COVID-19 would have suffered.
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