A New Generation of AAPI Power
Welcoming our 2017 Youth Leadership Summit Participants
By John C. Yang
Since 2014, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC has convened college leaders for an annual Youth Leadership Summit, a three-day leadership development program for young Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) advocates that is focused on advocacy, civic engagement, and national policy areas impacting our communities. Through this annual convening, we provide a unique opportunity for exemplary young advocates from across the country to both interact with their peers as well as learn from and network with policy advocates and national leaders. Through interactive workshops, hands-on activities, and a visit to Capitol Hill, participants build advocacy skills and gain a deeper understanding of how advocacy and activism affect policy decisions.
College is a time for discovery and formation. As a college student, I became involved with the Campus YM/YWCA — one of the largest volunteer service organizations at Washington University (St. Louis). Two distinct memories of that time have helped shaped my career. During one Spring Break, I went down to Brownsville, Texas, not to party but to build a house for an impoverished family. Building a roof under the blazing sun, I got only a glimpse of how hard life could be for construction workers and other who work outdoors under a variety of conditions. I also saw the extreme poverty that some communities face. In my last year in college, I served as Chair of that organization. As a result, when President George H.W. Bush visited the campus to extoll the benefits of volunteerism, I was honored to have a seat next to him and spoke with him at some length during lunch. Although I have since come to disagree with many of his policies, his words about service to the public, to the community, and to the country, have always stuck with me. Almost thirty years later, my college experiences continue to inform, inspire and drive me.
This year’s Summit will take place September 14–16 in Washington, D.C. We’re pleased to announce the 20 finalists who will be joining us next month.
Adrian Narayan, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, is a student research assistant at StudyLA, an undergraduate research center that focuses on socio-political issues facing the county and city of Los Angeles. He is a member of Sursum Corda, a co-ed service organization that assists local non-profits with student volunteers such as the Boys and Girls Club. Adrian is passionate about social activism in his community which has led him to intern with several nonprofits and government officials such as Congress member Karen Bass. On his college campus, Adrian is actively bringing about cultural and social awareness from the surrounding Los Angeles community and into the campus culture through social activities and student government policies. He identifies strongly with his Pacific Islander and Asian American heritage since he is Fijian American and Indian American. Adrian was born and raised in Los Angeles and enjoys spending his free time surfing, hiking, and being with loved ones too. He intends to work in the government sector and serve the public interest after graduating with a B.A. from Loyola Marymount University in 2018.
Amy Miao is a junior at Brown University studying Economics and Public Policy with an interest in Urban Policy. Originating from Honolulu, Hawaii, she grew up in a predominately AAPI community, yet it wasn’t until college, when she was no longer surrounded by majority AAPI folks, that she became interested and invested in much better representation for people of color, not only in the government, but in all careers and aspects of life. Amy cares greatly about economic and racial justice and recognizes the importance of intersectionality. At Brown, she puts this into practice. Amy identifies with the first-generation and low-income identity and is the co-president of FirstGens@Brown, a club dedicated to supporting first-generation college students, who are often low-income with other historically marginalized identities. She practices Taekwondo, which has helped develop her character as well as body and mind awareness. Amy is also a part of Brown’s Asian American Students Association, where she facilitates conversations on AAPI issues. Having worked with multiple nonprofit and grassroots organizations, she plans to bring her passion for social justice into her post college life, working for nonprofits, governments, and ultimately becoming an urban planner, working for the good of the community.
Andrea Lin is a senior at American University studying public relations and graphic design. She is currently the co-editor-in-chief of AWOL Magazine, a student-run journalism publication on campus, as well as the design intern for the Investigative Reporting Workshop. She is passionate about student media and innovative storytelling, especially when it comes from communities of color addressing the gaps in mainstream historical narratives. Previously, she and a few of her peers coordinated a DC-wide video recording for Letter for Black Lives. During her summers, Andrea volunteers at a nonprofit cultural leadership camp for Taiwanese American youth where she mentors middle school students and works on her never-fading sandal tan lines.
Andy Gu is a senior studying Computer Science and Philosophy at the University of Southern California. His interests lie in the fields of digital privacy and immigration policy, specifically in the context of the Asian Pacific community. As the outgoing president of the Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, he helped raise awareness of issues concerning the Asian Pacific Islander community in Los Angeles and beyond. Additionally, he is an active volunteer at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, where he has assisted at local immigration clinics and volunteered as a poll monitor in the 2016 election. With regards to computer science, he conducted research in digital privacy and previously worked as a security engineering intern at Spotify. In his free time, Andy likes bubble tea, biking, and reading books about technology.
Ayesha Wahidi is a proud Pakistani-Muslim American born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a junior at DePaul University in Chicago where she is majoring in Elementary and Bilingual Education. She got the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Thailand last semester, which has driven her to pursue a career teaching abroad after she graduates. Ayesha is a Gates Millennium Scholar and a LEDA Career Fellow who hopes to one day open a Montessori school for first generation, low income kids. She is passionate about interfaith work, social justice, and good food. At her previous university, she was a Peer Minister for Residence Life and Campus Ministry, helping her residents with mental, emotional, and spiritual self-care. She also served as co-president for Better Together, a national initiative started by the Interfaith Youth Core that focuses on ending xenophobia by building relationships and educating through dialogue and service.
Bo Daraphant is a rising fourth year student studying International Studies at University of California, Irvine. In addition, he is an artist and an activist. He immigrated to the US at the age of 13 and has lived in his newfound home in Los Angeles since then. Outside of school, Bo has spent his college years advocating for immigrant rights, writing poetry, and creating artwork. He hopes built on his experiences in advocacy from working with the White House Initiative on AAPIs, National AAPI DACA Collaborative, California Nurses Association, and UPLIFT LA to become a social entrepreneur creating sustainable programs that will help developing countries and underserved communities. Bo uses his art as his healing process by expressing his emotions, ideology, and story within his creations.
Hoyon Mephokee is a 5th year senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studies political science and art history. In his freshman and sophomore years, he served on his campus student government and as state deputy finance director for the College Democrats of Wisconsin and also volunteered on a number of political campaigns. In his junior year, he was the president of the Asian American Student Union (AASU) at UW-Madison. Last year he served as AASU’s senior advisor where he worked with its education team and also served on the Midwest Asian American Students Union (MAASU) Executive Coordinating Committee as its secretary. Hoyon self-identifies as a 1.5-generation immigrant. He was born to a Korean mother and a Thai father and was raised in Bangkok where he attended an American high school. Through his experiences, he developed an interest in issues of race, class, gender and sexuality, and of other identities. He understands that these issues do not simply exist in separate bubbles, but that they manifest and intersect in and between different communities in vastly different ways.
Jaslin Kaur is a student leader and activist for the eradication of gender-based violence. A recent graduate from Nassau Community College with an Associate of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies, she is working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Women’s Studies at Hunter College. Jaslin is a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow where she is developing her project, SAWADA: South Asian Women Against Domestic Abuse. She is also the Founder and Developer of the annual conference, Women in Charge: A Forum on Women’s Leadership. She has twice served as a Youth Delegate to the International Young Leaders Assembly at the United Nations. She has taught activism and social justice education to high school girls of color as a Summer Empowerment Training Dean at Sadie Nash Leadership Project. She has been featured in various media, including make/Shift magazine, Glimpse Magazine, WBAI 99.5 FM Pacifica Radio, and on ITV Gold. This fall, Jaslin will be presenting the RefuGIRL project at the Clinton Global Initiative University Summit, integrating refugee girls in political processes.
Julie Wu is an art student entering her senior year at The Ohio State University. She has been involved in the APIA community throughout her college career and currently serves as the chairperson of the Midwest Asian American Students Union (MAASU) as well as president of the Asian American Association at OSU. In addition to her involvement within student organizations, she enjoys experimenting with photography, videography, poetry, and other creative outlets. As she continues to learn about the issues faced by communities of color and reflects upon her own experiences as a Chinese American womxn based in the Midwest, she hopes to discover the balance between her passions of art and advocacy.
Justin Lo is a rising senior at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, studying Political Science with a concentration in Law and Justice and Law and Theory. He identifies as a Hmong American male and aspires to help the AAPI community navigate the legal system. Justin hopes to become an immigration attorney to give a voice to the voiceless and to defend those who really need the law, and those who need the law to protect them. On his campus, Justin is actively involved in his fraternity, Lambda Phi Epsilon, as a charter and as the president. In addition, Justin is one of the founding members of Asian Students In Alliance (ASIA) which seeks to advocate for Asian American representation on campus through the Multicultural Student Affairs Office. Justin assisted with North Korean refugee resettlement while studying in South Korea. It is from this experience that he is inspired to help immigrants maneuver the legal system. Justin is applying to law school and working on his application for the Fulbright Scholars program to achieve a master’s degree in Global Affairs and Korean Studies. Justin believes we should use our success to give back to the community that shaped us as Asian Americans.
Mariyah Jahangiri is a rising second year Pakistani American student at Grinnell College, Iowa. She was born in Indiana, after which she continuously moved: Mariyah has lived in 12 different states while growing up and attended high school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She intends on completing a double major in Political Science and Sociology, and she is especially interested in political advocacy in marginalized communities in the U.S. This summer, she is working as a Public Policy and Research Intern at the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. She will be returning to campus early for training to become a Grinnell Advocate, as part of a student organization running a 24-hour hotline on campus for survivors of sexual violence. She will also be training to become a mentor for Peer Connections Pre-Orientation Program (PCPOP), a program at Grinnell that provides mentors for incoming students of underrepresented backgrounds, including students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and first-generation students. Other work she is involved with on campus includes teaching and tutoring through the Grinnell Liberal Arts in Prison program, co-leading the Muslim Student Association, performing as an actress in politically relevant productions on campus, and being an active member of the South Asian community.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Michelle Gan is a senior studying Public Policy with a concentration in International Development and a minor in Statistics at the University of Chicago. She believes deeply in the importance of community-informed, data-driven policy in addressing global urban inequality, especially around education, poverty, labor, and immigration. Michelle has experience with student labor activism, research on Asian American adolescent youth, community journalism, and teaching in urban public schools. Her past internships include working for a globally-focused policy research and advocacy nonprofit in the Philippines on the effects of free trade agreements and public-private partnerships on the poor, a Chicago law and policy center focused on affordable housing, early education, and criminal justice reform, and the Illinois governor’s office of education.
Miru Osuga is a fourth-year Communications major at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also pursuing a double minor in Asian American Studies and Environmental Studies and a Master of Science in Social Policy through the School of Social Policy & Practice at Penn. A Japanese-Taiwanese American, Miru is involved on campus in the United Minorities Council, Penn Taiwanese Society, Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, and Spice Collective (a discussion space for Asian American women). Born and raised in New York City, she thrives in urban spaces and has a special place for urban forests after interning at the Forest Service through the Conference for Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) in 2016. This past 2017 summer, she worked as a legislative intern at Senator Tammy Duckworth’s DC office through Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). Miru loves graphic design, violin, community, Yuri Kochiyama, Yuna, and stories.
Originally from Arizona, Natasha Menon is a sophomore studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics with a minor in Legal Studies and a certificate in Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania. Along with being the Social Justice Committee Director for the Undergraduate Assembly, she is a member of the Civic Scholars program, the Penn Masti South Asian fusion dance team, the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, and the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH) Board of Advisors. After graduation, she intends to pursue a law degree, as she is especially interested in immigration and education policy. In her free time, she enjoys reading and exploring Philadelphia’s food scene.
Nayab Khan is from Queens, New York City. Her parents came to the United States from Pakistan in the 1980s and since then, New York City has been her home. As a first-generation college student, she is a senior studying Biology and she is submatriculating into the Master’s program in Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, she is the Vice President of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Co-Chair of the Programs in Religious, Interfaith, and Spiritual Matters (PRISM). In addition, she is one of the Facilitators of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative (APALI), which is an experiential program that is part of the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH) through discussion of APA issues and exploration of APA identity. She is also a research assistant at the Wenqin Luo Lab in the Perelman School of Medicine. When she is not busy studying away or attending meetings, she likes to go on runs, draw, and explore the many coffee shops in Philly.
Nelyn Phillip is from the island of Chuuk Micronesia and is a student at Portland State University studying community development and women’s studies. Art is a way to express herself creatively about what she is passionate about. Nelyn is passionate about changing her community for the better and education. Nelyn is an activist for climate change and reducing youth violence. Nelyn is excited to attend this year’s Advancing Justice | AAJC conference to help expand knowledge and understand more of the civil and social justice issues as they affect the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
Rachell Gulanes is an undergraduate student at the University of Alaska Anchorage as a Legal Studies major. She is the chair of the Filipina/o American organization, Alaskeros Kasamahan, and is an intern for both a federal judge and the U.S. Probation & Pretrial Services office in Alaska. She also comes from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, an island along the Aleutian Chain. When in Dutch Harbor, she volunteers for her community’s Filipina/o American Bayanihan Association. In her spare time, Rachell likes to go on food adventures and hike different trails around Alaska.
Ronit Dastidar is a senior majoring in Microbiology and Cell Science, with minors in Public Health and Health Disparities in Society, at the University of Florida. On campus, he currently serves as the Internal Vice President of the Filipino Student Association and Executive Director of Def Talent Jam XXV, a nationwide dance competition. He began his journey in APIA advocacy by joining the UF Asian American Student Union and serving as the External Vice President. In this role, he bridged communities of color, educated students about APIA issues, and programmed campus-wide events. Ronit is extremely passionate about public health initiatives concerning APIA populations and the need for disaggregated data. After completing his undergraduate career, he hopes to obtain a Masters of Public Health and work to reduce the impact of health disparities in the US. Aside from school and involvement, Ronit enjoys traveling, dancing, watching House of Cards and Avatar the Last Airbender, and obnoxiously cheering on the Florida Gators at the most inopportune times.
Tess Griffin is an activist who is passionate about reproductive justice and is currently a Senior at Hofstra University in New York. She is majoring in Women’s Studies and minoring in Political Science, Chinese, and Dance. She is also an executive board member for her clubs Student Advocates for Safer Sex and transcenDANCE. She works closely with her peers and Planned Parenthood of Nassau County to provide the information and services college students want and need to continue their education safely and comfortably. She has organized events in collaboration with other activist clubs to promote intersectionality on her campus through round table discussions on cultural appropriation and the Gender Neutral Housing Initiative. Tess spent most of her childhood in Tianjin, China before moving to Honolulu, Hawaii, for the remainder of grade school. After graduating, Tess plans on pursuing a career in advocacy in New York. In Tess’ free time she likes to choreograph and perform for her club transcenDANCE.
Vy Doan is a senior at Pomona College studying Public Policy/Psychology and Asian American Studies. On campus, she has been involved with the Vietnamese Student Association, Asian American Resource Center, the Quest community, and community engagement opportunities. She is deeply passionate about health access and equity, especially among Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career that centers intergenerational healing from trauma. In her free time, she enjoys photography, art, and petting fluffy corgis.
The Youth Leadership Summit is made possible through the generous support of State Farm.