Advancing Justice | AAJC

Oct 7, 2021

12 min read

A New Generation of Advocates and Leaders to Come Together

Presenting our Fall 2021 Youth Leadership Summit Cohort!

On October 18 to 22, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) will host its signature Youth Leadership Summit (YLS). Since 2014, Advancing Justice | AAJC has organized this multi-day leadership development program for student advocates focused on advocacy, communications, and civic engagement around issues impacting Asian American communities, from college campuses to Capitol Hill. During this annual convening, we provide a unique opportunity for young advocates from across the country to learn from and network with federal policy advocates and national leaders. In addition, students build and strengthen their own networks of burgeoning leaders across the country. The October session will be the second Youth Leadership Summit hosted this year.

Through interactive workshops, hands-on trainings, and discussions with leaders on Capitol Hill, participants build advocacy and communications skills and gain a deeper understanding of how they can impact policy decisions.

Over the years, we have had the privilege of convening exemplary young advocates from a myriad of diverse communities and spanning all regions across the country. We are thrilled to announce our 9th Youth Leadership Summit cohort.

Advancing Justice | AAJC uses AAPI when referring to our collective Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The following terminology is also used by our students below: Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) and AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander).

Abigail Jiang (She/They), Chinese American, Junior, Caltech

Abigail Jiang is a junior at Caltech, studying Materials Science and History. Growing up in a predominantly white area of the Pacific Northwest, Abigail only recently started exploring and developing their identity as a second generation Chinese American. The lack of ethnic studies at her university propelled her to pick up an additional History major, where she explores the Asian American experience through an intersectional and social justice focused lens. On campus, Abigail is a co-founder and current co-president of APIDA+, the first and only Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American umbrella organization at Caltech since the 1990s. They also chair the Advocacy Committee, addressing undergrad issues related to accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion-related issues for undergrads. Alongside their ongoing STEM research in quantum and sustainability-related materials, she has also spearheaded programs to support first-generation, low-income, and other minority high school students through STEM research opportunities. Ultimately, Abigail hopes to combine her passions for education, identity development, and community advocacy through her career and beyond.

Amy Zhai (She/Her/Hers), Chinese American, Freshman, Stanford University

Amy Zhai is a freshman at Stanford University interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and a master’s degree in Public Policy. She is energized by migrant justice, educational equity, and liberation for the Asian American community and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Outside of class, she is the Co-Director of Outreach for the XinSheng Project, an initiative that publishes Leftist in-language articles on WeChat for a Chinese American audience. She has previously worked for OCA-DC as an Anti-Asian American Hate Policy and Advocacy Intern, and as an intern for the Asian American Education Project. In high school in Maryland, she founded an Asian American progressive student organization that successfully advocated for an Asian American Studies course and represented the Asian American student interest in our county government. She hopes to join more groups in college that serve the Asian American community. Amy plans to attend law school and work in public interest as an immigration or civil rights lawyer. In her free time, she loves reading and learning foreign languages (Spanish and Japanese).

Bonnie Chen (She/Her), Chinese American, Junior, Brandeis University

Bonnie Chen is a junior at Brandeis University pursuing a degree in Sociology with minors in Asian American Studies and Creative Writing. She was born in the U.S. and raised in Fuzhou, Fujian before moving back to NYC. On campus, she is the Digital Media Chair for Brandeis Asian American Student Association and the Director of Academic Affairs for the Brandeis Student Union. Currently, Bonnie is the Development and Communications Coordinator at the Asian American Commission. In the past, Bonnie has worked with the W.O.W. Project as a Program Coordinator, devising and implementing a curriculum focused on the intersection of art and advocacy for W.O.W.’s youth program, Resist Recycle Regenerate, and supporting W.O.W.’s anniversary programming and fundraising efforts. Additionally, she was the Program Manager for W.O.W.’s fifth Storefront Artist Residency program, assisting with programming logistics and the Artist’s Opening event. Bonnie has also worked with Kundiman as the Development Intern, actively shaped Kundiman’s two Virtual Fundraisers and the Kundiman Forever Recurring Donor Campaign. Bonnie is dedicated to serving the Asian American community and hopes to continue her work in community organizing, political advocacy, and civic engagement.

Caitlin Chan (She/They), Chinese American, Sophomore, Bates College

Caitlin Chan is a sophomore at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. She is a varsity student-athlete double majoring in math and gender & sexuality studies with a minor in Chinese and competes on the Women’s Rowing and Ice Hockey teams. On-campus, she is a Dana Scholars nominee, a Bates STEM Scholar, secretary of the Fem STEM Friends club, interim president of the figure skating club, and is also a member of Asian American Students in Action and Public Health Initiative. Currently, they are also involved with the Center for Purposeful Work as a pre-med studies fellow, the Academic Resource Center as a peer tutor for first-years, and a general research assistant for their advisor at Bates. As a member of the AAPI and LGBTQIA2+ community with an interest in public health, Caitlin strives to explore and advocate for the intersectionality of both communities while continually assessing her own positionality and situatedness. She hopes to use her own knowledge and experiences to inspire others to raise their voices in fighting for justice, equality, and understanding our differences.

Catherine “Cat” Le (She/Her), Vietnamese Chinese American, Sophomore, Wheaton College (MA)

Cat Le is a sophomore at Wheaton College (MA) pursuing a major in public health sociology and a double minor in public policy and social justice. She is a second-generation Vietnamese-Chinese American, and is interested in how intergenerational trauma is recognized and dealt with in the Southeast Asian Diaspora community. At school, she is a facilitator for intergroup dialogue — a 10-week program consisting of peer-led, semi-structured meetings across different identity groups. Off-campus she worked as a community organizer at a nonprofit called I Have a Future (IHAF); there she co-developed, facilitated, and supervised interactive, virtual trainings about community organizing for middle and high school youth. With IHAF, she has also helped increase MA state funding to support low-income youth by over $5M by scheduling and co-leading legislative meetings. Cat was a Youth Advisory Board Member at Boston Medical Center, where she conducted research on the care youth of color receive. She worked with a subgroup of the board to examine community health priorities using photovoice methodology; they presented their findings at the 2021 Boston Area Research Initiative Conference and authored a soon-to-be published academic manuscript titled “COVID-19 Shines a Light on Health Inequitiesin Communities of Color: A Youth-Driven Photovoice Inquiry.”

Hyra Alenton (She/Hers), Filipino American, Junior, Nevada State College

Hyra Alenton is a junior at Nevada State College (NSC) where she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She is passionate about the right to have access to higher education and an advocate for mental health at NSC by working to help end the stigma of mental health among college students. On-campus, she is the Vice President of Public Relations for Nevada State Student Alliance (NSSA), the student government of NSC. She developed a passion for Public Relations and social media while serving as a senator of the Public Relations Committee and now works for an Asian-focused nonprofit in Las Vegas called the Asian Community Development Council. She hopes to become a Psychotherapist in order to continue being an advocate for mental health especially in the Asian and Pacific Islander community and to continue her work within the field of Public Relations. Whenever she has free time, Hyra loves to eat, take naps, play video games, and stream!

John Hoang (He/Him/They/Them), Vietnamese American, Junior, Earlham College

John Hoang is a junior at Earlham College from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is pursuing his BA in Political Science with a minor in Creative Writing. John is adamant about getting people involved in political action and civic engagement because he believes in the power of everyone’s lived experiences. He is inspired and motivated by revolutionary infrastructures that provide a starting point for conversations about change and redirect energy for equitable change and justice that addresses the heart of inequity marginalized communities face. At Earlham, John is a Bonner Scholar working with underrepresented communities, understanding issues affecting communities while focusing on identity, place, and policy. He is also the Convener for Black & Lavender, creating a safe space for queer students of color, led by queer BIPOC students and their voices at the center of all decisions. John is currently an FCNL Advocacy Corps Organizer lobbying Senators Todd Young & Mike Braun for the Environmental Justice for All Act and the ABQ Justice for Youth Community Collaborative Designated Representative for New Mexico Asian Family Center. Previously, John has been an intern for CAPAL, USDA APHIS, and the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. John also loves to write poetry!

Mia Nakamura (She/Hers), Korean and Japanese American, Junior, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Mia Nakamura is a junior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas pursuing a major in Broadcast Journalism with a special interest in visual productions. On campus, Mia is a part of University Speaks, a student run news show for PBS. Outside of campus, she is an intern for the Asian Community Development Council (ACDC), a non-profit in Las Vegas. There, she became the number two canvasser in the state. If she is not asking people to vote, Mia creates videos for ACDC with the goal of inspiring her community. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Mia grew up in a diverse community and loves to interview people with unique backgrounds. She continues on her path to one day be a news anchor, but for right now she wants to impact the community she is surrounded by.

Mei Tomko (She/Her), Chinese American, Junior, American University

Mei Tomko is a junior at American University majoring in International Relations. As a transracial Chinese adoptee, Mei’s connection to her Asian American identity has greatly shaped her interest in amplifying transracial adoptee voices in Asian American spaces. She is particularly passionate about facilitating conversations on the deeply-embedded history and dynamics of adoption within the greater Asian American community. Outside of school, Mei is the Co-President of the Asian American Student Union where she has led multiple dialogues between adoptees and non-adoptees on adoption-centered topics over the past three semesters. This semester, she aims to welcome students of all backgrounds in the Asian American Student Union, dismantling social notions of not being “Asian enough.” In the past, she has worked with FAIR Girls as a Prevention Education and Outreach Intern creating webinars and blog posts on how Asian Americans are specifically vulnerable to trafficking through societal forces like Orientalism. And over the summer, she worked with A/PI Domestic Violence Resource Project to create a survivor-centered healing space on coping with times of transition in life. Looking forward, Mei hopes to pursue a career in human rights with a specific focus on human trafficking. She wants to continue working to implement anti-trafficking programs in schools and workplaces in order to equip communities with the information necessary to stay safe.

Sora Heo (She/Her), Korean American, Junior, University of California, San Diego

Sora Heo is a junior studying International Studies-Political Science and Arabic. As the proud product of immigrants, Sora has been active in immigrant and refugee advocacy and justice causes. In her home city of Chicago, Sora was a citizenship test tutor for a local non-profit, providing support throughout the naturalization process for U.S. citizenship. On campus, she had the privilege of serving as executive director of No Lost Generation, her college’s sole refugee empowerment organization, alongside a dedicated leadership board coordinating academic panels on refugee issues, language exchanges, and volunteering initiatives. Additionally, she served as bystander intervention director of It’s On Us, a student initiative focused on combatting sexual assault on campus. By way of her passion for increasing civic engagement, she has staffed multiple progressive campaigns across the nation: Katie Porter and Christina Hale’s congressional campaigns, Andrew Yang for Mayor, and Tricia Shimamura for NYC Council, where has worked on voter outreach, voter protection, and policy research. She has held internships for her local congressman, USAID, and currently, she is a research intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She aspires to be a foreign policy analyst while remaining active in immigrant and refugee justice causes.

Sunnie Liu (She/They), Chinese American, Senior, Yale University

Sunnie Liu is a senior at Yale University double majoring in History and Studio Art. On campus, Sunnie is a co-head of staff at the Yale Asian American Cultural Center, curator and gallery guide at Yale Center for British Art, and educator of K-12 migrant-centered U.S. history for Immigrant History Project. Beyond Yale, Sunnie has combatted disinformation on WeChat as the co-founder of Xīn Shēng Project, organized for transnational labor solidarity and anti-imperialism with Justice is Global, researched exclusionary zoning policy with Desegregate Connecticut, advocated for Medicaid expansion in Texas with Children’s Defense Fund, and fought for workers and tenants’ rights with Mobilization for Justice. Sunnie is also an interdisciplinary artist recognized by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Gidra Media, and Yale Norfolk School of Art Residency. Since Sunnie was born in southern China but grew up in Houston, Texas, Sunnie’s positionality as a migrant dedicated to intersectional justice, Chinese American whose family works in Chinatown, and Houstonian/Texan/Southerner is integral to all of Sunnie’s work. You can learn more at sunnieliu.com, and find Sunnie on social media @sunniexliu. Sunnie is excited to learn from and be in community with AAPI policy leaders and fellow young advocates!

Valentina Chan (She/Hers), Vietnamese-Chinese American, Senior, University of California, San Diego

Valentina Chan is a Vietnamese-Chinese American born and raised in Orange County, California. She is a first-generation four-year university student, currently a senior at the University of California, San Diego. In June 2022, she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a focus on Public Law and a minor in Psychology. After graduation, Valentina plans to attend law school and pursue a career in public service where she can uplift the communities around her. At UC San Diego, Valentina has served on the leadership boards of the Asian & Pacific Islander Student Alliance and Kappa Alpha Pi, a co-ed pre-law fraternity, facilitating access to resources and organizing events for the Asian and pre-law communities on campus. This past year, she worked as a Marketing and Public Policy intern at the California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce in addition to researching Asian American civic engagement trends from the 2020 Presidential Election through UC Center Sacramento. Currently, Valentina is serving in the JusticeCorps service program, where she assists self-represented litigants in navigating the California justice system. Valentina is excited for the opportunity to participate in Advancing Justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit, and hopes to learn more about how she can continue serving her community in addition to growing as a student, activist, and individual.

This Youth Leadership Summit is made possible through the support of State Farm and American Eagle.