Asian and Asian American leaders who inspire me
For the whole month of May in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month this year, I felt called to highlight my favorite Asian and Asian American leaders who have influenced me to cultivate my creativity and strengthen my own voice.
While I wrote a Twitter thread back in May, I want to elaborate to spread the love for the AAPI community.
Celebrating culture and identity should not be restrained to any one arbitrary month, so on this fine mid-July morning, please enjoy the following list of some of the most influential Asian voices worth knowing.
I hope you’ll find as much value in their content as I do.
Disclaimer: I do not condone placing public figures on a pedestal. I’m spreading awareness about those who have uplifted my personal experience and creative journey thanks to their positive impact.
Youtube/Media and Entertainment
Jenn is a Youtuber who’s been creating content weekly since 2010. She pioneered a new career (and industry) by simply pursuing her passions and committing to what she loved — fashion and creating videos — even when she didn’t know exactly where it’d lead.
Her authenticity, attention to detail, constant expansion, and personal growth contribute to her success.
The way she forged and spearheaded a never-before-seen career path out of being herself demonstrates how the Universe works in your favor when you have things fit you instead of you having to twist, contort, and force into things.
For fashion inspo, Gen Z energy, and chaotic, TikTok-style editing, I turn to Kaiti Yoo. Watching Kaiti is like watching a younger sister go through college, which is reminiscent of your own college days.
Kaiti’s edits hook you in. Entertaining, funny, and lighthearted. That’s what you can expect, although I’ll link you to her video on graduation that almost made me cry.
Content aside, her business strategy is equally admirable, and no doubt played a role in her meteoric rise. Namely, the care she pays her target audience and her subsequent video execution — a class act.
The multi-talented Noah Raquel dances, sings, plays instruments, mixes and produces music, edits videos, and more. His work embodies Julia Cameron’s quote:
“Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite — getting something down.”
If Noah didn’t execute his ideas, the world would be deprived of his talents.
With comedy, skits, storytelling, and hard-hitting takes on relevant societal topics, Anna Akana does it all! She’s been on YouTube for close to a decade now, and in the meantime, she’s landed and created opportunities for herself in entertainment. We love to see it.
Her most recent video provides an especially nuanced and in-depth analysis worth watching.
Kristy Arnett Moreno
Kristy is a more recent discovery, yet her impact has been just as poignant. She approaches historically taboo topics with openness and vulnerability as she shares her personal experience with pregnancy, how to have better sex in a long-term partnership, and more. As a result, she normalizes conversations that would very much benefit society at large. For that, I appreciate her work.
Moreover, she doesn’t fit within a mold or a box. Self-described film-maker, writer, poker player, mom, and wife, she embodies multiple identities, which I believe provides her with a richer take on life.
Jeannie Mai Jenkins
The Real Daytime was the first show of its kind, featuring Black, Latina, and Asian women at the table on daytime television. Jeannie offered informed, articulate, and fresh talking points on top of her fun, positive, and lively energy. To have Asian representation through her on daytime TV has been a game changer.
Witnessing her growth throughout the years has been nothing short of transformative. From her divorce to her healthy weight gain journey, to healing and getting to know herself, to finding true love, getting married, and having a baby — coming from a woman who declared countless times how she never wanted to be a mom — it’s been a roller coaster with a story that turns out beautifully.
Behind Malama Life is a creator named Sophie. I called in her content halfway through 2021, and her videos provide me solace in a world full of distractions.
Sophie’s voice soothes a frazzled nervous system through her peaceful message surrounding slow, intentional living away from the hustle harder mentality.
Her videos promote the idea that as long as you prioritize your days according to your values, you can’t go wrong. I gained particular insight from her videos on mindful decluttering and cutting costs from your budget.
Leaders in Tech
Shout out to Jean Hsu and Winnie Lim, original staff members and contributors to this platform from the mid-2010s. At the impressionable age of 24, I read Jean and Winnie’s words and felt represented in a way I hadn’t known before as it relates to writing online.
Years ago, Julie Zhuo wrote on here weekly for a year during her time as a design leader at Facebook where she shared knowledge and inspiration on life and work in her industry. I remember reading her words and also feeling seen and represented.
She never ceases to spread truth and awareness when it comes to all the wild hiring practices that tech startups still employ to this day. Her zingers ground and validate the notion that it’s not me who’s the problem — it’s them! The system.
Leaders in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The following people are community builders, organizers, consultants, activists, speakers, and writers whose work and mission are centered around intersectional justice and social equity.
While these individuals’ impact and missions must be further delved into when it comes to the extent of their urgency, necessity, and relevance, I wouldn’t do them justice with just a few paragraphs.
So, for now, I will share their names and tidbits gleaned from their bios, and I invite you to learn more through the links below.
Kim Tran, PhD
Michelle MiJung Kim
“empower[s] leaders and teams to lead inclusively and authentically, through modern, interactive, and action-oriented workshops”
One of my favorite pieces by Michelle is on queerness and bisexuality. It can be found here.
Founder of Reappropriate, one of the internet’s oldest blogs on race and feminism
Lao Artists, Leaders, and Creatives
Saving some of the best for last, I want to show some love to my Lao sisters who have made waves and continue to pave the way for young artists like me to rise up to the scene.
Known on Twitter and Instagram as Catzuella, Catzie Vilayphonh is an award-winning writer and poet who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago.
She performed an original poem at a fundraising gala that I helped organize for non-profit organizations benefiting local communities in Laos. Read more about Catzie’s contributions to the Asian American and Lao American, communities, at the Asian Arts Initiative website.
Soudavone is a Lao entrepreneur, actress, model, and founder of My Spring Rolls, a CBD product and lifestyle company that embodies holistic wellness, community, equity, and accessibility.
She moved from New York to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career while running her own business and the Get It Girl Community page on Instagram. There, she microblogs and shares her transparent and relatable journey into entrepreneurship, healing, and living in alignment with your divine purpose.
Her recent post hits home when she writes:
“Remember baby bears, don’t let regular a** bishes be your status quo! You deserve better. Do you boo! Love your fave Cool Lao Aunty 💕”
On that note, this wraps up my highlight reel of inspiring AAPI community builders, leaders, influencers, creatives, and artists. I hope this brings some light into your day and gives you new faces and voices to discover.
Thanks for reading!
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