May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In a time where eight in 10 Asian Americans say that violence against them is rising, it’s especially important to honor the accomplishments of our communities.
While we at YR Media recognize that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith by any means, there’s also value in celebrating young AAPI influencers using their platforms to bring about change in their communities.
So here’s a list we’ve compiled of AAPI creators making waves in all sorts of areas from art to politics.
Alex Lee made history last year, after becoming the youngest legislator to be elected to the California State Assembly in over 80 years. Although some of his first co-authored bills have hit a roadblock, he’s continuing to push forward on advocating for things like banning political contributions from corporations and taxing the state’s wealthiest.
Lee’s election also marks other milestones, including being the first California lawmaker to come out as bisexual. And he represents one out of only 15 Asian or Pacific Islander legislators and elected state office holders.
Nina Duvuluri is the first person of Indian descent and the second Asian American to win Miss America. Since winning the competition in 2014, Davuluri uses her platform to talk about topics such as diversity and inclusion and to spread resources for things like COVID relief in India.
Currently, Duvulari serves as a documentarian with her latest project, “Complexion.” The documentary explores the impact of colorism in the beauty industry and her personal struggle as someone with a darker complexion competing in beauty pageants and for Miss America.
Kapulei Flores is an activist and photographer who uses this medium to preserve the beauty of her homeland Hawaii. Born in 2000, Flores has been capturing the Protect Mauna Kea movement, protests that date back to 2009 in an order to stop the building of a thirty meter telescope on Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is a sacred space for Hawaiians.
Her work can be seen on The 400 Years Project, which focuses on preserving the legacy of native Hawaiians and on her Instagram account dedicated to photography.
Kevin Lionga Aipopo
Kevin Lionga Aipopo leads the 350 Pacific movement, an environmental justice initiative led by Pacific Islanders around the world. They and other “Pacific Climate Warriors” uplift their voices as leaders in the movement to stop climate change. The website serves as a central hub where environmentalists can sign petitions for global campaigns for climate justice.
In addition to being an activist, Aipopo is also a storyteller and poet. They speak from the perspective of a Black, Indigenous, Queer and Trans Samoan person. While everyone in the world is impacted by climate change, Aipopo puts an emphasis on intersectionality when it comes to conversations around climate justice. Especially since Oceanic peoples are the communities who have seen the consequences first.
Artist and rapper Ruby Ibarra, from the San Francisco Bay Area, is known for using her music to express her experiences as a Filipino American and an immigrant — often including Tagalog and Waray in her songs.
She reached over 1.4 Million Streams on Spotify in 2020. Her hit single “A Thousand Cuts” music video features a brown mother on a quest to gain freedom and leave an impact on this world. During the pandemic, she also released “7000 miles: Homecoming” — a docu-film that follows her journey to the Philippines with her Filipino American band members.
Aditi Mayer is a photojournalist and fashion blogger. Her work centers on decolonizing the fashion industry, often calling it out on sustainability issues and the exploitation of labor from the global South.
Mayer posts infographics and mini-explainer style videos detailing environmental and social injustice through an intersectional lens. She also frequently hosts guest panels on her Instagram live to break down social justice movements to inform her followers.
William Yu is very vocal in speaking out on Hollywood and its practice of casting predominantly white actors and actresses in lead roles. Yu took to photoshop to prove his point, cropping out white Americans and replacing them with Korean American actor, John Cho.
Yu’s photoshop work went viral back in 2016 in a series of memes on Twitter. And through this imaginative approach, Yu was able to showcase the problem Hollywood still faces today. Yu continues his work in advocating for more authentic Asian American representation in mainstream media.
As a Filipina American, Anne Castro has many experiences with microaggressions and stereotypes assumed about her. In an interview with Insider, she said she’s been asked, “You eat with chopsticks, don’t you?” and “Is it your people who do nails?”
To address these microaggressions, Castro created a cartoon image of herself and depicts her surrounded by all the things people assume about her. She even draws from her followers, who write to her about their experiences, curating it all together into a series. In the captions, she includes all the questions or comments that were assumed about her or her followers.