“Who is the Asian American Woman?”: An Open Letter to Our Community

Being Asian American carries the weight of two worlds. Each of these worlds is vast in its own right, rich in history, culture, nuance, languages, values, and even templates for survival. As children of immigrants and/or refugees, we learned from a young age to navigate the tangible boundary between home and America. Sometimes, this boundary was permeable, allowing us to weave in and out to cobble together our own path. Other times, crossing this boundary came at a cost.

These public and private transactions that we engage in daily, by virtue of who we are and what we represent, serve as reminders that we possess some inalienable otherness within. Our multiple identities are separate yet inextricably intertwined. This complex relationship is sometimes illustrated by the hyphen found in Asian-American.

For this initiative however, Karen Mok and I prefer the single blank space in between. It’s effortless, but profound and prominent. It symbolizes many different things — the freedom to create anew, the capacity for fullness in emptiness, the eye of a storm long brewing, a clean slate ripe for definition and color, an opportunity to build a bridge to connect our distinct worlds. Sharing this intentional language is important because we believe that choices — including, but not limited to, the nomenclature we use, the way we speak to one another, and who gets to represent us — matter as signals informing the world of how we’d like to be seen or treated.

Our partnership behind this yet-to-be-announced initiative comes at a time when we’re seeing Asian and Asian American women gain momentum in the public sphere. In 2017, we got an all-Asian leading cast for Crazy Rich Asians with Constance Wu at the helm.

We also got Awkwafina in Oceans 8, Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Mindy Kaling in A Wrinkle in Time. These are strong indicators of representation shifting in our favor, but we must continue to be relentless in our resistance and persistent in our demands. We can’t move the needle alone. We need to organize at the grassroots, to connect the creators, change makers, entrepreneurs, and leaders across communities, industries, and locations. Together, we have the power, knowledge, and support to build what we need not just to survive, but to thrive.

On Nov 29, we began with a single powerful question: “What does it take for an Asian American woman to flourish and thrive?”

From the overwhelmingly positive responses to our FB and Instagram posts, we’re optimistic that we’re not the only ones thinking about these issues. So far, we’ve heard from over 60 Asian and Asian American women from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Vancouver, London, Toronto, and beyond who shared their doubts, questions, and hopes. These voices and conversations became the foundation for our mission statement.

Our Mission

  1. To bring AAPI women together to create a new paradigm that considers our diversity as people, our well-being as individuals, and our right to thrive on our own terms
  2. To form genuine connections within our diverse community, cultivate new friendships and partnerships, and establish a supportive network of AAPI women dedicated to learning and growing together
  3. To realize our potential as creators and harness our collective agency to build new narratives, activate and inspire our communities, and build sustainable infrastructure to drive larger-scale impact

Our Call to Action

If this resonates with you, we want to hear from you! We’re organizing a Kickoff Retreat for AAPI women in Seattle, WA from Jan 26–28, 2018 as a concrete next step in building this collaborative movement.

Get in touch with us for more information here: www.bit.ly/LetsTalkAAPI

About Us

Karen Mok is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Disorient, a media platform dedicated to telling the stories of immigrant and and minority creators. Her expertise lies at the intersection of media, technology, and global communities. Prior to founding Disorient, Karen led international expansion at Stripe, a $9B fintech company; was COO of a global community of creative entrepreneurs called Sandbox; and launched the media news app Timeline, which was named one of Apple’s Best New Apps. Her motivation to build experiences that connect cultures and communities is rooted in her personal experience as the daughter of immigrant parents born and raised in a small town in the American South.

Cassandra Lam is the founder of Akin, a digital storytelling platform that collects, shares, and elevates anonymous short stories. Through storytelling, Akin strives to inspire dialogue and empower the creation of new realities as told or witnessed by our storytellers — ordinary people who endure and achieve extraordinary things. Cassandra’s love for storytelling as a tool for changing lives and narratives flows directly to her work in big data consulting at Opera Solutions, education, and social justice. Earlier this year, she completed an 18-month fellowship with Revive the Dream Institute, where she partnered with Edbuild, a nonprofit focused on bringing common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools, to author a case study on the current politics of school funding. As a first-generation Southeast Asian woman, proud daughter of Vietnamese boat refugees, and San Gabriel Valley native, she carries a legacy of stories that informs her perspective, activism, and passions.


We are constantly reassessing and expanding our definitions to prioritize using up-to-date, intentional, and inclusive language. If you see an opportunity to further expand any of the below, please message us.

  • Asian American women: Inclusive of self-identifying women, femmes, gender nonconforming, queer, and transgender individuals of Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian descent [0]
  • Creator: An individual who dares to imagine a bigger, bolder, and better world; who refuses to settle for the status quo; who recognizes her power to shape, change, or build a brighter future for herself and her community.

[0] Reference: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/08/key-facts-about-asian-americans/

Comments, questions, ideas? Don’t hesitate to contact us directly. You can find us on Twitter @cassielam and @kmok88. Thank you for reading!

Co-Founder @jointhecosmos. First gen Vietnamese-American empowering storytelling everywhere as a form of resistance, healing, and survival.