No one should feel unsafe because of who they are.
That incident in McDonald’s could have dimmed my family’s dreams, but my parents showed me every day that the promise of America was bright. Even as strangers in a new country, they saw America as a beacon to the world, a nation that promised equal justice for all, which strove to live up to its ideals and welcomed them as immigrants. Their love of this country inspired them to also teach me that we have an obligation to do the necessary work to perfect this union.
And, years later, I swore an oath to do just that. Weeks ago, I was sworn in to the Justice Department as associate attorney general, the first daughter of immigrants and first AAPI confirmed to the position. And while I may still remember the slurs directed at my family as a child, I will always remember greater still the promise of America and the ongoing pursuit of equal justice that guides the DOJ work and mission.
Vanita Gupta is the associate attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice.
As an Asian American studies scholar and now as the director of the Asian American Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have felt more demand and more responsibility for education about this shared heritage in the past year than ever before.
I’ve spoken about my research on the history of anti-Asian violence, the model minority and the Japanese American incarceration so much that it rolls off the tongue. The academic side is easier for me; the emotional care is harder.
I don’t think I ever took a moment after the Atlanta shootings to pause and reflect; I was too busy putting together a community vigil, talking to students and colleagues, speaking to the media, and answering emails on everything from family problems to advice on workplace trainings.
I try to help the diverse Asian American community feel seen and supported, and at the same time, I need to educate everyone across campus, even those who resist learning about racial prejudice.
When I came to live and teach in the South, I didn’t realize how much hunger there would be for this knowledge. But I connected very deeply with the history and literature of the Asian American movement at a young age, and I want my students to feel the self-confidence that comes with a better understanding of the fraught history of race in this country. They give me hope that maybe we’re not doomed to repeat it.
Each of our families, from India and the Philippines respectively, came to the United States because it held the promise of diversity and opportunity for all.
Our families’ immigration stories are common, but that promise has become increasingly rare for AAPI families like ours. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are under attack right now and many times not seen as a part of America, even though we make up 7% of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, our research finds that our community receives less than .5% of charitable funding.
We launched The Asian American Foundation to solve for this longstanding lack of investment and help AAPIs access the opportunity to advance and thrive in the way that all Americans deserve. As a convener, incubator and funder, it is TAAF’s aim to fill critical gaps of support.
But this is also about creating cultural change. We are bringing together leaders and influencers to drive awareness of our diverse cultures and accelerate impact to our communities. To do this, we launched the “See Us Unite” campaign, which celebrates our contributions to America’s story and helps build a coalition of solidarity for lasting change.
Opinion: ‘There is no greater moment in time’ for Asian Americans to unite
As a South Asian American, Sonal Shah has experienced hate before, but The Asian American Foundation president sees a unique opportunity this time.
Staff video, USA TODAY
The campaign includes social and outdoor media and a broadcast special, “See Us Unite” hosted by Ken Jeong on May 21 at 8:00 PM ET / 8:00 PM PT on MTV.
Sonal Shah is president of The Asian American Foundation. Sheila Lirio Marcelo is a member of the board of The Asian American Foundation and executive producer of See Us Unite Campaign. Follow their organization on Twitter: @taaforg
Pacific Islanders remain underrepresented in higher education, professional fields and in the media today. South Pacific Islander Organization (SPIO) is a 100% volunteer-led nonprofit organization dedicated to building Pacific Islander presence in higher education and professional fields. As a globally dispersed community, we provide free resources beyond country lines.
At SPIO, we harness the power of our beautiful tapestry of cultures and a love for our islands to encourage and support academic and career dreams. We tell the stories of how we belong in academic and professional spaces by publishing spotlight articles on inspiring Pacific Islanders across educational and professional fields. We work with extraordinary Pacific Islanders willing to offer guidance by providing Pacific Islanders free undergraduate application help through virtual office hours. We offer $5,000 scholarships to driven Pacific Islander scholars living anywhere in the world who show exemplary community leadership, academic and extracurricular excellence. And we foster a virtual community through our SPIO Higher Education Network. We envision a thriving, inclusive Pacific Islander community rooted in cultural heritage.
Do you share our vision? We welcome volunteers and donors to join us in increasing Pacific Islander access to college and career opportunities. To get involved, visit our website at www.southpacificislander.org.
MichaeLynn Kanichy, board president of the South Pacific Islander Organization, is a Pohnpeian and Makah Stanford graduate and social justice advocate based in Neah Bay, Wash. She is studying for her Masters of Public Health at the University of North Dakota. Follow her on Twitter: @southpac_island
I was taught by my Vietnamese American refugee parents early in life to not rock the boat to succeed. Success, as a result, meant running away from my heritage so I could blend in.
But after being spit on last year and being told to “go back to where I come from,” I realized hiding was impossible. I needed to speak up for myself and others like me – to fight for basic dignity.
Today, fully embracing my heritage has inspired action. I leverage my career experiences in politics to push for protections and resources for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. I advise first-time political candidates.
At a time where acts of hate and violence against our communities are blatant, when we’re scapegoated for COVID-19, I encourage others – including my parents – to share their stories of discrimination and fight for representation at the highest levels of our government. There’s now a political awakening within the community: record activism and a booming voice in our public discourse.
After facing enemies on front lines in Afghanistan, Vietnamese American faces hate at home
Jeff Le has spent years in public service and helped the U.S. military overseas. He didn’t expect to have to fight for “basic dignity” at home.
Staff video, USA TODAY
Our communities no longer just accept what they’re given. They’re fighting. Our heritage is that strength – not weakness – that pushes national change. As a Vietnamese American, I’m proud to play my part.
Jeff Le is a political partner at the Truman National Security Project. He served as deputy Cabinet secretary to California Gov. Jerry Brown from 2015 to 2019, oversaw emerging technology policies and led statewide government response to post-disaster economic recovery. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffreyDLe
You picked the wrong Asian woman to mess with
because my tongue is split – It is forked and steel-tipped
I am a founding member of the Asian American female spoken word poetry group, Yellow Rage. As my poetry partner, Catzie Vilayphonh, and I performed around the country over the past 20 years, we sometimes met AAPIs who told us that when they first saw our performance on HBO’s “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam” back in 2001, they cried. They explained that the feelings and thoughts that came over them as they watched us perform were “Finally. FINALLY, someone is saying what I’ve always wanted to say.”
i wasn’t talking to you, so don’t ask me what i’m saying in my native tongue
you want to know so badly, go learn it yourself
In our early years of touring, Catzie and I were confused why AAPI people would tell us that our piece made them cry. “It’s not that kind of poem!” We would say or think or just exclaim to each other. We were so fixated on our own expression of anger that had prompted us to write the piece, we didn’t recognize that other people’s anger was manifesting as pain. That beneath our own “Yellow Rage” – the rage that we were expressing – was a deeper representation of our collective pain as AAPI people.
I see right through you –
you “expert” on me with your fake Asian tattoo
you “expert” on me with your taebo and kungfu
Now that Catzie and I have some distance from when we first wrote that poem – and we’ve gotten older – we understand this pain more. There is so much that non-Asians don’t understand about our pain. There are so many Americans who think they know us – know ABOUT us – when they know NOTHING at all. And for these reasons, Catzie and I have been humbled and overwhelmed by the recent responses and rediscovery of our performance on “Def Poetry Jam.”
so you wanna learn how to say “i love you” and “hello”
why you need to know? – cuz you think i’m some asian ho?
This spoken word poet has been speaking up for Asian Americans for decades
Michelle Myers’ spoken word poetry has been resonating with Asian American audiences for decades. Yellow Rage’s short film in collaboration with Studio Revolt is out by the end of May.
Staff video, USA TODAY
Sadly, two decades later, our poem still has relevance. In a collaboration with Studio Revolt, an independent media lab and production company founded by performance artist Anida Yoeu Ali and filmmaker Masahiro Sugano, Yellow Rage and Studio Revolt will be releasing a short film version of our poem by the end of May for AAPI Heritage Month.
Featuring members of Philadelphia’s AAPI community from young girls to elders, this re-envisioning of our signature poem will be an unapologetic declaration of our pride as Asian American Pacific Islanders and a reclaiming of our humanity in the face of the hateful forces in U.S. society that seek to tear us down.
Michelle Myers is an award-winning poet, community activist and educator. As a biracial Korean American founding member of the spoken word poetry group Yellow Rage, her solo work has been published in Apiary Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Title Magazine and Brevity.
It is outrageous that in 21st century America, any of our fellow citizens and residents have to live in fear and endure attacks because they look like their ancestors didn’t come here on the Mayflower.
Despite having worked at the highest levels of the federal government and having dedicated myself to a life of public service, even I am not immune to these malicious attacks, false narratives and accusations of disloyalty to America.