Asian and Pacific Islanders Making Waves in the World – The Cooper Point Journal

Posted By on May 24, 2020

by Natalie Arneson

As May nears its end, the outpouring of social media posts celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, and the members of these communities, covers Instagram and Facebook feeds. Amid the spike in racism and racially motivated violence due to COVID-19, seeing the flood of love and appreciation for the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities is certainly heartwarming. This is a month that allows an open space for the celebration of the unique cultures belonging to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities as well as a space for community members to show what makes their cultures special to them. This month is also a great opportunity both to learn about figures in the API community, who are working towards positive changes in the world, and how you can contribute.

A well known public figure and entertainer in the API community is Eugene Lee Yang, a Korean American producer, actor, writer and director. Yang is best known for his work with the Buzzfeed group The Try Guys. Some of his other notable works are his 2014 short film titled Comfort Girls which is a musical piece that explores the abuse of Korean women, specifically the comfort women of World War II, and his 2019 video titled Im Gay Eugene Lee Yang. Yangs 2019 video was, as he described it, his official coming out to the world. In a Twitter post, Yang wrote I created this music video as my personal way of coming out as a proud gay man who has many unheard, specific stories to tell. I withheld because of fear and shame shaped by my background but I promise to give my full truth in the rest of my lifes work. His video raised about $120,217 for The Trevor Project, an organization with which Yang volunteers. The Trevor Project is a national organization founded in 1998 that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. In October of 2019, Yang was awarded the Human Rights Campaigns Visibility Award and in May of 2020 Yang was also awarded the Phenom Award for LGBTQ+ Activism, from the Shorty Awards, for his work with The Trevor Project.

This is a month that allows an open space for the celebration of the unique cultures belonging to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities as well as a space for community members to show what makes their cultures special to them.

A not as widely known, but equally phenomenal, member of the API community who has been working towards positive change within their own community and the world is activist singer-songwriter Hwane Rios. Rios is a Native Hawaiian who is a community leader of the Protect Mauna Kea movement in Hawaii. Rios has been a part of this movement since 2011 along with her mother, Pua Case, and sister Kapulei Flores. As an Indigenous woman, she is on the frontlines of this movement to protect the sacred land of Mauna a Wakea. Rios has been nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year and her album titled K Kiai Mauna Together We Rise has been nominated for Contemporary Album of the Year by the N Hk Hanohano Awards for 2020. Two of Rios most powerful songs about the Mauna Kea protests and Native solidarity are Together We Rise and Warrior Rising ft. Lkea Trask.

Another powerful woman in the API community is actress and self-proclaimed feminist-in-progress Jameela Jamil. Jamil, nationally British and ethnically Pakistani and Indian, is the founder of the I Weigh community and podcast of the same name. A big point of her activism is radical inclusivity and creating a culture without shame. Jamil created I Weigh, originally starting as an Instagram account, to provide a safe, radically inclusive community on social media: Activism can seem daunting At I Weigh Community We believe in brick-by-brick activism, and making a difference in large numbers. Jamil states in the I Weigh website welcome letter, Were going to have to come together and do this as one to really shift the narrative of our society. Through her website and podcast, Jamil helps people from marginalized groups, as well as celebrities, share their unique stories about topics such as mental health and the challenge of being body positive in a scrutinizing society.

Phil Kaye, a spoken-word poet, is another member of the API community working to change the world for the better. Kaye, a Japanese/Jewish-American, is a National Poetry Slam Finalist as well as the two-time recipient of the CUPSI (College Union Poetry Slam Invitational) award for Pushing the Art Forward, which he received for outstanding innovation in the art of performance poetry. Kaye is also the co-director of Project Voice, along with close friend and fellow Japanese/Jewish-American poet Sarah Kay (no relation). Project Voice was created with the purpose of utilizing poetry to encourage self-expression among school-age children.

Kaye has also taught poetry workshops in maximum security prisons across the country through the SPACE program, which is a program dedicated to providing inmates with a space for critical engagement and creative thought through participation, collaboration, reflection, skill-building and creative expression. In a 2014 Ted Talk, Kaye talked about his time spent with the inmates, saying They were not writing for recognition. They were writing for the sake of writing. To figure things out, for the promise of self-discovery We share the dusty corners of ourselves, the parts no one asks about, the things that dont show up on a police record or an artist bio. This workshop program also helped Kaye create one of his most popular poems titled Repetition. In sharing his own personal narrative through poetry, Kaye also provides a space where those struggling with the juxtaposition of their mixed heritage can reflect and learn to love themselves for all they are.

One last API figure I would like to introduce is Filipina transgender model and activist, Geena Rocero. In 2014, Rocero officially came out in a Ted Talk titled Why I must come out in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility. In her Ted Talk, Rocero mentions her move to the United States, a place where she could officially change her gender marker, something she was unable to do in her home country of the Philippines. Rocero recalled, in 2001, I moved to San Francisco, and I remember looking at my California drivers license with the name Geena and gender marker F. That was a powerful moment. For some people, their I.D. is their license to drive or even to get a drink, but for me, that was my license to live, to feel dignified. Rocero is the founder of Gender Proud Productions, a production company focused on using media to elevate justice and equality for the transgender community. Rocero has been a part of many works, including producing the Logo TV web series, also produced by Gender Proud Productions, Beautiful As I Want to Be, which highlights trans youth and received the 2016 GLAAD Media Award, and working with Fusion/Univision, an American TV channel, to create No League of Their Own, a TV documentary about transgender athletes which went on to win the 2017 Association of LGBTQ Journalists Best in Health and Fitness Coverage. Rocero is also a board member of NY LGBT Center as well as an ambassador for The Stonewall Inn.

take this time to celebrate yourself as a member of the API community in whatever way being API means to you and to also learn what you can do to help better this world we are all a part of.

While being involved in activism may seem like a daunting task, it is important to remember that activism done in even the smallest of ways makes a difference to someone, somewhere. These phenomenal API community members all started from small spaces, but through hard work, the help of their respective communities and a little luck, they have become influencers and advocates for the issues most dear to them that affect people on a global scale. As the month of May comes to a close in the next week, take this time to celebrate yourself as a member of the API community in whatever way being API means to you and to also learn what you can do to help better this world we are all a part of. Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; in the words of actress Sandra Oh, Its an honor just to be Asian and in honor of what wouldve been singer-songwriter Israel Kamakawiwooles 61st birthday on May 20, Be strong, know who you are, no be shame, stand up, e ala e.

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