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10 Young Asian American and Pacific Islander Activists You Should Know
These AAPI youth are making education more inclusive, protecting sacred lands, standing against hate, and more.
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Published: May 6, 2021

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and this year’s celebration comes at a time when hate incidents against AAPI communities have been surging since the pandemic’s start. That’s why it’s more crucial than ever to recognize the contributions, voices, and experiences of AAPI people this AAPI Heritage Month and beyond.

We’re starting by highlighting the work of these 14 young AAPI activists, who’ve made an impact on everything from racial justice to education reform to women’s empowerment.

1) Ashlyn So, 13

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For the past year, Ashlyn So has dedicated herself to fighting the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing racism against AAPI communities. As a fashion designer and seamstress, Ashlyn sewed 1,000 face masks for frontline workers, earning her the People’s Hero award at the E! People’s Choice Awards. She’s since been heavily involved in rallies in southern California standing with survivors of anti-Asian violence, including one she organized herself.

2) Stephanie Hu, 16

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As the COVID-19 pandemic brought a surge in xenophobia and violence against AAPI people, Stephanie Hu envisioned a way to uplift and empower Asian youth like herself. She founded the non-profit Dear Asian Youth, which hosts podcasts, campaigns, and writing for and by AAPI young people. Dear Asian Youth also has a successful Instagram account, where they provide educational resources that highlight AAPI stories, as well as actions to support AAPI-led initiatives.

3) Malavika Kannan, 19

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Through storytelling, Malavika Kannan advocates for and amplifies the voices of young women and girls of color. In 2018, she founded the Homegirl Project, a youth-led digital collective that trains girls of color in political organizing. In 2020, she published her debut book The Bookweaver's Daughter, an award-winning fantasy novel that puts South Asian women at the forefront. Malavika has also co created Slam Gun Violence, a poetry campaign centering youth of color, and organized with the Women’s March and March for Our Lives.

4) Alysa Monteagudo, 16

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When Alysa Monteagudo founded so she CAN, her goal was to include marginalized women in conversations of social justice and help them make an impact on the causes they care about. CAN’s podcast, blog, and social media provide a platform for women of color to raise awareness for global issues while cultivating their skills. Alysa is also a member of the Asian American Organizing Project (AAOP) Youth Action Team, and it was through the organization thatshe first gained an interest in social justice and AAPI activism.

5) Sally Chen, 24

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During their time at Harvard University and beyond, Sally Chen has advocated for affirmative action and holistic admissions processes through the #DefendDiversity campaign. They, along with others, testified before the court in the lawsuit challenging Harvard’s race-conscious admissions standards -- which was ruled in favor of the university in 2020. Sally also called on Harvard to provide students with robust ethnic studies programs, diverse faculty, and support for affinity groups and spaces for marginalized students. They’re currently a Project Manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, and they continue to push for education reform, labor rights, and racial justice.

6) Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi

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In 2014, Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi realized their community didn’t know how to talk about race, even in their high school classrooms. They founded CHOOSE and used this gap in their curriculums as an opportunity to start having tough conversations about intersectionality. They speak about “resonating deeply with experiences of both privilege and oppression” as Asian American women, and finding their role in the fight for racial justice. Their ultimate goal is for every high school in the US to require racial and intersectional literacy curriculum so young people can grow up proud of their backgrounds and supportive of their communities.

7) Pranjal Jain, 19

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Growing up as a formerly undocumented immigrant and Indian American, Pranjal Jain felt she didn’t see herself represented in the kind of work she wanted to do. She founded Global Girlhood to revolutionize representation, inspiring and connecting young women from around the world through storytelling. Through their website and social media, they break down barriers to topics like mental health, consent, birth control, anti-racism, and more. In a time where the internet has kept us connected more than ever, Pranjal is fostering an online community and using social media as a tool for change.

8) Mina Fedor, 12

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Moved by the recent rise in hate incidents against AAPI people, seventh-grader Mina Fedor organized her Bay Area community for an anti-hate rally attended by over 1,200 people. It’s an issue that hits close to home, as Mina’s mother experienced anti-Asian sentiment when someone purposely coughed in her direction last year. Mina and a group of her classmates have also started AAPI Youth Rising to amplify issues facing the AAPI community and share events and actions to make a positive impact on them.

9) Kapulei Flores, 21

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Kapulei Flores is a Native Hawaiian photographer and activist who uses photography to document and share the movement to protect Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano sacred to the Kanaka Maoli people. Kapulei, her family, and her community are fighting to prevent an 18-story telescope from being constructed at its summit. She’s photographed the protests and ceremonies held on Mauna Kea over the past decade to help spread their message, honor the community, and make their movement and culture tangible for people around the world.

10) Jen Li, Yuki Li, Amy Zhang, and Richard Zhao (@aznactivists)

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Together, Jen Li, Yuki Li, Amy Zhang, and Richard Zhao founded the student-led group Asian Teen Activists, better known as @aznactivists on Instagram. The four friends created the account during the COVID-19 pandemic to spotlight the challenges that AAPI people face on a daily basis. Now, it’s become a movement with over 17,000 followers and a team of reporters, writers, graphic designers, and ambassadors. They’re connecting young people with resources about the model minority myth, cultural appropriation, xenophobia within K-pop, worker exploitation in Asia, and more.

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