Champions of Change: AAPI “What’s Your Story” Challenge Winners Part 1

Eddie Lee:
All right. Welcome to the White
House, everyone. My name is Eddie Lee,
I’m the Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement
here at the White House. And I have the honor of serving
as the White House Liaison to the Asian and America and
Pacific Islander Community. And today we’re excited to host
the White House Champions of Change event in which we get to
honor some of the most inspiring AAPI leaders from
around the country. We have been waiting for this
day for a long, long time. And we’re so excited to
have them here with us. And on behalf of
this Administration, let me start off by saying
thank you, thank you, thank you so much for all the
work that you’re doing across this country. Let’s give them a
round of applause. (applause) So how did we get
to this point today? Well, about six months ago we
launched the first ever “What’s Your Story” video challenge in
which we asked the country to share their stories with us. And we really didn’t
know what to expect. But over the course of the last
couple of months we received over 200 videos and 35 essays
from around the country about different aspects of our society
from different geographical locations and different issues. And simply put, we were all
inspired by all of the work that you all have been doing. The personal stories,
the powerful stories, they would show us and they
would remind us about the work that we’re doing here in this
White House and inspire us to keep on pushing for all the work
that you all are doing across this country. We as a community are resilient
as we’ve seen in these videos and these essays. We as a community have
overcome many odds. And we as a community have
taken the successes and the opportunities that we have been
given and turned around and helped those that are
underserved and need a voice in their own communities. And so for that we are very
grateful for all of these champions that are
on the stage today. Today we get to meet
some amazing people. We get to meet a Korean-American
comedian who channeled the power of entertainment into a force of
empowerment around this country; we get to learn about
a basketball program in Philadelphia that taught our
youth not only the art of a sport, but what it means to
grow up to become men and women of character. We got to meet a group of LGBT
leaders who found the courage to speak out not only
for themselves, for millions of people around
this country who need a voice. A Samoian spoken word artist who
used the power of her words to speak out on behalf of LGBT
Pacific Islander and the women of the community. An Indian American artist who
has created some of the most beautiful illustrations and
manages to share the stories of our every day lives
in a single frame. A Vietnamese-American essay
contest winner who has so eloquently shared her story of
her personal struggle and in doing so shinning a very
important light on the plague of mental health in
the AAPI community. And an organization in Boston
who has given immigrants an opportunity to chase the
American dream despite the numerous barriers
that they might face. These are our champions. They stood up for the
underserved in our community and today they stand here
on the stage as an example to all of us. Today we’re going to be very
excited and delighted to hear some of their stories in person
and we’re also going to have a chance to hear from White House
officials from across this building and this
Administration. The first person that I would
like to introduce to you all today is a personal hero
of mine, along with my mom, one of the two folks that
I look up to very greatly, and he is someone that has
really championed these issues in this White House. He is the Assistant
to the President, the Cabinet Secretary and the
co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian-Americans
and Pacific Islanders and we are very excited to have him here. He is a fierce champion
for these issues. And as a co-chair of the
initiative he has asked countless times what can I
do more for this community. What can this Administration
do more for this community. And what can this President
do more to help empower folks around this country. So with that, let me introduce
to you, Mr. Chris Lu. (applause) Chris Lu:
Thank you. Are they going to stand
while I’m talking, Eddie? We don’t want them to
sit down or anything? Welcome to the White House and
congratulations to all of the wonderful Champions of Change on
this remarkable accomplishment. First I’d like to thank Eddie
for that very kind introduction. I first met Eddie a long time
ago back in the campaign back in New Hampshire, it was very cold
back there in December of 2007. And the first time I met Eddie I
knew this kid was going places. We are so proud to have
him in the White House. And this entire “What’s Your
Story” effort is really his brain child. And he brought such incredible
energy and enthusiasm and determination to get this done
so let’s just give Eddie a big round of applause as well. (applause) So as Eddie said,
I wear two different hats in the Administration. My day job is helping the
President to manage the federal departments and agencies. And my night and weekend job
is co-chairing the White House Initiative on Asian-Americans
and Pacific Islanders. We are very fortunate
today to have two of, I think I see two of
our commissioners, and let me just ask
them to stand up, DeStefo is right here and
Hector is right here as well. Just recognize them
for their service. (applause) Both of the jobs that I
have in the White House have the same primary mission,
to make sure that the federal government works more
efficiently and more effectively for all of our customers, all
of you, the American people. To do that it’s critical for us
to get around the country and hear about the issues that
you’re facing in your lives and to hear from you how you want
the federal government to help improve your lives. That’s why over the past two and
a half years the hard-working staff and commissioners of
the initiative have been crisscrossing the country. We’ve gone to 50 different
cities, talked to 25,000 different people, people
at gatherings like this just to share ideas. Now, this face-to-face dialogue
that we have is just one way that we communicate
with all of you. We hope you will follow the very
active Facebook page we have. We have a wonderful website. You can also follow
us on Twitter as well. And I would be remiss if I did
not make a shameless plug for my Twitter handle at this point. (laughter) Now, I have to admit
I did a function like this, Eddie had me do a function like
this three months ago and before that event I literally had
no idea what Twitter was. So we set the account that
morning and we challenged everybody in the room to help
me get to a hundred followers by the end of the day and
we pretty much did it. And so three months later I
think we’re at 730 and so I’m going to challenge everyone in
the room to get us to 800 by the end of the day. It’s ChrisLu44, 44 being
the 44th President, so I hope you will follow us and
it’s a great way to stay on top of the important work
of the initiative. So as we have traveled around
the country over the past three years, we’ve heard from folks
about the different challenges that they’re facing
in their lives. And just to give you an example,
two weeks ago we were in Atlanta holding a forum for
Asian-Americans in the Southeast region. And in this wonderfully
diverse audience of 400 people, we had everything from recent
Bhutanese immigrants who did not speak English; we had upper
middle class college students from Emory University; we had
advocates who had been spending their entire careers helping
to improve people’s lives; we had small business owners who
ran everything from nail salons to high-tech businesses. We met AAPIs who literally had
traveled overnight by bus from places like Mississippi and
North Carolina and Miami to come tell us their stories. And all of these stories had a
very common theme to them which is a concern that the American
dream that has just been a hallmark of our country was kind
of slipping away from people. So you see whether you’re a
recent immigrant or whether your folks have been in this country
for generations and generations, you know that there has always
been a basic promise in this country: If you work hard, you
can do well enough to buy a home, to raise your family,
to send them to college, to save for your retirement. And that was certainly
the case with my parents. My father worked as an
electrical engineer for the government; my mom
was a bookkeeper. They didn’t make a lot of money. But they did well enough that
we had a comfortable house. They were able to send both
myself and my brother to college and law school. And they were able to
save for their future. These days, unfortunately, that
dream is becoming more and more out of reach for
far too many people. For the past couple of decades
the economic security of the folks in this country
have been eroding. And while certainly there have
been people that have done well during this period of time,
the vast majority of folks have been struggling. They have been struggling
with costs like health care. Costs like education
that keep rising. And paychecks that
keep shrinking. So to be sure our community
has done very well, although we may not be the
model minority that we are often portrayed as in the press, our
community is certainly as a whole wealthier, more
established, better educated. But as we all know and as the
folks up here on stage know, our community is not
a monolithic one. Let me just read you
a few statistics. One quarter of a million AAPIs
have been out of work for more than six months. And AAPIs suffer from
disproportionately longer periods of unemployment
than any other racial group. One out of every six
Asian-Americans lack health insurance. And they suffer
disproportionately from illnesses like hepatitis B. Southeast Asian-Americans have
some of the highest rates of poverty in our country. 38% of Hmong, 38% of Cambodians. Even among Chinese Americans
in places like New York’s Chinatown, 35% of
children live in poverty. In the area of education we
have children of opportunity and children of need. Asian-Americans make up a
disproportionate number of the students at topnotch
universities. Yet when you dig into
the numbers you find a different story. Among Southeast Asian-Americans
the high school dropout rate is staggering, 40% of Hmong, 38%
of Laotian, 35% of Cambodians. And as we have traveled around
the country over the past couple of years, hearing these stories,
much like the stories that were told to a young community
organizer named Barack Obama when he traveled around
the Southside of Chicago, we also know that government
can’t be the answer to all of these problems. The problems are too extensive
and government resources are too scarce. That’s why today’s gathering
and that’s why the work of the people on stage is so important,
they know we know that change doesn’t happen
just in Washington. It happens all
around the country. But all of you
already know that. The Champions of Change who are
here today represent thousands of Asian-Americans and Pacific
Islander leaders who are making a difference in their
communities all around the country. And most of them don’t deserve
— most of them don’t receive the recognition and
honor that they deserve. These champions have
demonstrated what it means to be a force of inspiration
and a force of good in their communities. I’ve watched your videos. I’ve read your essays. And I have to say that I was
incredibly moved by them. They have brought an important
human element to the work that we do here in the White House. And they remind us of the
importance of keep going on the work that we’re doing. It’s because of the work of
these champions that the AAPI community is as
strong as it is today. Whether it’s an LGBT outreach,
immigration, education, civil rights, community
development, youth empowerment, the arts, all of the different
areas that you all are working on, these champions have
worked tirelessly to improve their communities. And it is their leadership that
will enable us to better address the various needed of the
underserved going forward. We are delighted to have all
of you at the White House. And we honor and we are
privileged to know of you and to share the work
that you are doing. Thank you for
being here with us. Thank you for spending your
time and sharing your stories. And thank you for what you are
doing each and every day to make the American dream a
reality for everybody. Thank you. (applause) Eddie Lee:
Thank you, Chris. And let me just say that in
every single speech that I give from now on I’ll be sure to
include his twitter handle, I will be making sure to plug
that in to everything that I do, so it’s one of my talking
points, I guarantee it. At this point I just want to
take a moment to introduce each of our champions to all of you. These are ordinary people doing
extraordinary things and that’s what this Champions of
Change program is all about. It’s about shining a spotlight
on these folks not because, not only because they’re amazing
people but because the work that they’re doing is so valuable to
the strength and the power of our community and this country
as a whole in allowing our folks in this country to achieve
the American dream. And I could go on and on about
their bios but I have had a really difficult time
actually dwindling that down to a couple of sentences,
but I will do my best. The first person I want to
introduce you all to is Terisa Siagotonu who is a spoken word
artist and art educator and community organizer
from the Bay Area. She is currently the Project
Director for the Pacific Islander Education and
Retention Project at UCLA. And her emergence into the
spoken word world as a queer Samoan woman and activist has
granted her the opportunities to perform on stages
around the country. Let’s give her a
round of applause. (applause) Next we have the
Philadelphia Suns represented today by Harry Leong
and Rebecca Chin. The Philadelphia Suns is a
voluntary-led youth organization which focuses on community
building by offering educational, cultural,
social, athletic, and service opportunities
for Asian-American youth. The Suns serve more than 500
Philadelphia youth annually in teaching teamwork through
a variety of activities and programs including sports,
volunteer activities, and participating in the
traditional Chinese Lion Dance performances. Let’s give them a
round of applause. (applause) We also have with
us the Asian Pride Project represented today by Elena
Chang and Suma Reddy. And I know that there are
folks in the audience who also represent this organization. The Asian Pride Project
fosters great visibility, pride and acceptance
for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Asians
and Pacific Islander people and their families, cultural
communities and beyond. The Asian Pride Project is led
by a small group of dedicated and passionate leaders of
New York City’s Asian American LGBT organizations. Let’s give them a
round of applause. (applause) Next we have the
Chinese Immigration Student Leadership Program led
by Chu Huang and Amy Lee. The Chinese Immigrant Student
Leadership Program is a pilot leadership program for Chinese
immigrant students in a Chinese sheltered English instruction
program at Charlestown High School in Boston, Massachusetts. The program seeks to help the
students develop as leaders by focusing on building the
students’ capacity to affect positive changes
in their school. And I know there are also folks
in this audience who represent this organization
so thank you all. (applause) Next we have Paul
PK Kim who is the founder of Kollaboration, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated
to empowering the community through entertainments. It’s main annual event is a
talent show which takes place in 15 cities and draws over
20,000 people annually. He is also a standup comedian,
a regular at the world famous Laugh factory in Hollywood
and has performed at over 70 universities. Give him a round of applause. (applause) Next we have Nidhi
Chanani who is an artist who creates illustrations that
capture the every day romantic and whimsical
moments in our life. Nidhi connects with a wide
audience that is eager to be represented which demonstrates
a need for strong female Asian voices within the arts. Her work inspires aspiring
artists young and old to pursue creativity and to recognize
that art can be their voice and path in life. Let’s give her a
round of applause. (applause) And finally we have My
Linh Vo who is the winner of the essay contest via her
essay “What’s In A Name.” Currently a doctoral student
in clinical psychology, My Linh is developing a skill
set to provide culturally responsive services
to the underserved, the underrerepresented,
and the marginalized individuals and families. She is passionate about her
profession rooted in her Vietnamese-American immigrant
background and proud of her family history. She hopes to honor her
family, teachers, mentors, friends and many others who
have made her and helped her to become what she is today. Let’s give her a
round of applause. (applause) And with that we’re going to
transition into our first panel. So if our second panel, I will
dismiss you all to sit down. And I am also going to introduce
our moderator for the first panel who is Gautam Raghavan. He is my colleague in the
Office of Public Engagements, the Associate Director who
directs outreach engagement to the LGBT community. Prior to joining the White House
Gautam served as a Deputy White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Defense and as the
outreach lead for the Department of Defenses’ “don’t ask,
don’t tell” working group. Please welcome our next panel. (applause) Gautam Raghavan:
Thank you, Eddie. It’s an honor to be here. I feel surrounded by greatness. I like that I put me
right in the middle. Like I said, it’s an honor to
be here and we have some time to ask our first group of champions
a few questions about their work, what brought them to this
place so I’m going to start with a few questions but then I hope
you’ll start thinking about your own questions as well so that
when we turn it over you’re ready to go. So my first question for all of
you is really I’d love to hear about, having seen your videos,
that’s just sort of a snapshot of who you are and
the work that you do, I’d love to hear from you a
little bit about, you know, what bring you here. Like what inspired you to do
the work that you do and what inspired you to participate
in this challenge. Do you guys want to start first? Harry Leong:
Sure, I’m Harry Leong
and I’m really honored and really blessed to just being
recognized for the work that I’ve been a product of. And I think that being part of
the program and having grown up in a program where I
was mentored, I was led, I was directed,
I was disciplined, those are the type of things
that really helped me as an impressionable teen at that time
to the person that I am today. So, yeah, I guess just being
part of the program and being placed into responsibility to
care for our next generation, I think that that’s
a big encouragement, a big motivation for me
to do the work that I do. Gautam Raghavan:
Sure. Rebecca? Rebecca Chin:
Hi, I’m Rebecca. My involvement with the Suns
started pretty much the same way as Harry but a little later. I actually grew up in — I was
born in Chinatown but I grew up kind of out of Chinatown so
I was a bit removed from the community and then decided to
join the Suns to just, you know, make friends and that kind
of provided this program, this family of people that
I eventually helped shape my upbringing as a very
impressionable teenager. So my work with the Sun mainly
comes from wanting to give back just because this
gave me so much. Gautam Ragavan:
Terisa? Terisa Siagatonu:
Talofa! Good morning,
my name is Terisa Siagatonu. I’m born and raised
in the Bay Area. And the work I do what you can
gather from my video is that I am a spoken word artist but I am
also an arts educator and like my bio said I also work in
college access for the Pacific Islander community mainly
because I come from a community where we grew up really working
class and we grew up where college access wasn’t a reality
for a lot of the young people in my community. And luckily I did get to go
to college and I know all the reasons why and I
know who to thank. For example, my dad and
my parents, you know, for coming and migrating all the
way here from Samoa just to give us a better life; right? And so I work with young people
who constantly doubt themselves that college is an option for
them because they’re not smart enough, they can’t make it. They feel incompetent
and things like that. And so I work with spoken word
poetry and public speaking mixed with college access really helps
to integrate the need for youth empowerment in the
community that I work with, particularly with the Pacific
Islander students that I work with because, you know, we’re
constantly misrepresenting or underrepresented within
AAPI spaces but also just within society. And so I’m here trying to be
a voice and create avenues for young people in my community
to stand up and speak for themselves, too Suma Reddy:
Hi. I think as a lesbian South
Asian I began to realize that visibility was extremely
important for our communities. For me to accept myself for who
I was and for our communities to accept ourselves for each other. And, you know, to paraphrase
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, you know, whether
we acknowledge it or not, or whether we know it or
not, lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgenders in
our Asian communities, are our families,
our friends and our neighbors. Elena Chang:
Hi, my name is Elena. I would have to say that for a
lot of members for Asian Pride Project our
inspiration is family. For me, my inspiration
is my mother. She had stood by me
through everything, especially when it wasn’t so
easy for her to accept me when I first came out. I actually told her I was going
to the White House and she kind of laughed and said, oh,
is it for the gay stuff? And, I said, yes, it’s for the
gay stuff but much, much more. So with that, you know,
again, we are very honored to be here today. Gautam Raghavan:
You know, Elena, I think that is a great
transition into another question I had which is something I think
all of you have done is interact and interface with culture
and tradition since these are important parts
of our community. So I’d love to her from you
first, but from all of you, about how you have been able
to — well, two questions. First, what are the challenges
that you have encountered in incorporating your issues
but also, you know, addressing in a respectful
manner cultural values and tradition but also where
have you had opportunities, like where has there been a
seamless joining of the two? Elena Chang:
Right, I guess I could
start with a few of the challenges because Asian
Pride Project we are a multi-media platform. We tell different types of
stories through audio work, writing, video and artwork. And through the collection of
some of these stories we find that it’s relatively easier to
access stories by LGBT youth, for example. A lot of families have a harder
time being in front of the camera or let alone just talking
about experiences about having LGBT children. And I think there is a big
cultural barrier there and there is also a language barrier. So what we’re ideally trying
to do is have several of our stories in different languages. There seems to be this
phenomenon that being LGBT is kind of western or American or
just translated into English, so I think language is kind of
one of our challenges on that. But, Suma, if you want to. Suma Reddy:
Yeah, I think to add it to,
as Elena was saying, I think one of the biggest
challenges is even if you we have supportive families
and communities, it’s great you’re gay
but don’t be visible. So it’s hard to do this type of
work because the whole point is really gaining the acceptance
of our community as a whole and, you know, on a more kind of
just running this type of thing, we are very resource
constrained. We have, you know,
full-time jobs, and partners and whatnot so I
think building the community of support, whether financially
or just operationally, is really important and we
hope people will come forth. Gautam Raghavan:
Sure. And Harry and Rebecca, if you
could talk about sort of the challenges of or opportunities
in dealing with tradition and culture. Harry Leong:
I think one of the
challenges for what we do in using sports as a
vehicle to build up youth is basically acceptance. I think many of the parents, we,
especially immigrant parents, first generation parents who
aren’t necessarily supportive of this type of work. I think more recently I think
Jeremy Lin has kind of come into the news and he’s also at our
level meaning he is born and raised here and good things
do come out of what he’s done. Having gone to school and being
a success not only on the courts but as well as in the
education realm as well. So I think that that has really
helped us as an organization and when we have a greater number of
children who are willing to be a part of our programs, more so in
the last few months because of what Jeremy Lin has done and the
example that he set for us as Asian-Americans. Gautam Raghavan:
Do you want to comment? Rebecca Chin:
Yeah, to add on that
that the biggest challenge for Asians in sports is just
that you never saw Asians in sports before Jeremy Lin. And, I mean, growing up we had
all the other ones that were from China but, you know, to us,
it was like the overseas people wasn’t similar to us so we
didn’t really see them on the same level. So I remember when I helped
found The Lady Suns Womens Program of our
basketball program, it was very difficult
to just get girls, like themselves to think of
themselves as athletes like they can sweat in front of boys. And then if they did want to
join it was another challenge to actually get their parents to
be okay with them coming out to weekly practices, going to
tournaments and just not being in school or not being at home. So the cultural barrier there I
still think is very much alive even though Jeremy Lin is now on
the national stage because we do have several actually younger
girls who in 8th or 9th grade and their parents won’t let them
come to practice sometimes just because — there
actually is no reason, they just don’t want
them to come to practice. So especially for the female
Asian population it’s still very much a challenge nowadays
just to make it part of their future opportunities. Gautam Raghavan:
Terisa, I think if
you could speak to that as well, but also talk a
little bit about, you know, one thing I was struck with both
the work that you do and that you do is that you’re really
shaking up the message by challenging preconceptions about
who we are and the kinds of things that we do. So I would love for you to
talk a little bit about that. Terisa Siagatonu:
Yeah, so a big
cornerstone in the Pacific Islander community and in our
culture is respect and it was really difficult trying to tap
into spoken word poetry in which case it really pushes me to
speak out about issues that are really important to me but also
issues that are really taboo in my community like being
queer, being working class, being an empowered women who
is speaking in front of and challenging all these ideas
and that affect me; right? So to imagine my young people
who are constantly told that they have to be quiet and they
have to just respect whatever their parents and their
elders say and do, I had to straddle between, like,
where do I fall in line between not disrespecting my family,
not disrespecting my parents, but also knowing that my voice
is important and that what I have to say matters. And I still struggle with that,
and I’m still shaking up here as my parents are in
crowd, you know, this is a really
emotional thing. And so, yeah, with public
speaking being the number 1 fear in America even over death,
that’s like a big thing; right? It’s like people would rather
be in the casket than say the eulogy like at a funeral. And I try to say that
to break the ice. To say that, you know, there is
a lot of youth that I work with they just don’t want
to say anything. They don’t even want to
introduce themselves and things like that. And so I know like every time I
have to step up and speak like this I know I am representing
more than just myself and that there is a lot of people out
there that maybe me coming out is going to make it easier for
another young person to come out maybe just that much more or
maybe me speaking about being Samoan and empowered will make
another like Samoan girl out there be, like, you know,
like maybe, you know, I could do it too
and things like that. So that’s still a
struggle, you know, and that generation gap
will always be there. And so my place as I get older
is to figure out how to not lose my culture and how to
not jeopardize, you know, how I grew up and what I hold
as value while still doing this work that I feel is so important
with our young people and with speaking our stories
and having it be told. Gautam Raghavan:
I have one more question,
but why don’t we, I know there are folks in the
audience who have questions as well, so please start,
if you would like to start lining up there is a
microphone over there and there is a microphone over there. Don’t be shy. I saw Ben. You already had a
question lined up? Maybe not. But please feel free to line
up so that you can ask your questions too. One question I wanted to ask
all of you is — I hope you know that you’re inspiring all of us
with your work and your video. What I would love to hear from
you is who inspires you and the work that you do? Who wants to start? Suma, you want to go? Suma Reddy:
Sure. I mean, I think it’s
everyone who’s come before me, as cliché as that sounds. I think there’s been
a lot of — you know, when I moved to New York City,
I knew hardly any south Asian gays. And I googled South Asian gay. And the South Asian Lesbian
and Gay Association of New York City popped up. And then, through
joining that network, I just met a lot of I amazing
activists, community workers, you know, finance people,
doctors, lawyers, engineers, who are all committed to this. And their families and their
friends and their neighbors. That’s really what drives us,
getting that support and getting that umph to keep going. Elena Chang:
I would have to say (foreign language), which basically means older
sisters, older brothers, younger sisters,
younger brothers. Brothers and sisters inspire me. My team members here,
Jason, Dennis, Aries, my partner Jamie inspires me. Ryan inspires me. Most of all, I would have to
say one of my best friends who passed away, AJ, inspires me. I’m sorry that she wasn’t
able to be here today. Gautam Raghavan:
Who’s next? Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
Well, my family who’s all sitting in that
area of the room. And yeah, kind of like
what Suma was saying. I’m always constantly looking
back at like who had to lay down on their stomach for me to cross
over on their backs for me to be anywhere where I’m going. So Sephiena is
one of my mentors. He’s the one that created
the project that I’m now the director of. So passing it down like that. Like our community is so small
that I have no other choice but to always look back
at who was around me, what does the village
consist of that’s raising me? Right. So that’s my family. That’s mentors like xxSephiena. That’s my staff who’s currently
at work right now in L.A. That’s my boss. The students that I work
with are all my inspirations. And my grandpa who was supposed
to be here but he got sick at the last minute, he’s
my biggest inspiration. So yeah. Harry Leong:
For me, I can say that
I am really encouraged and inspired by the
people that we serve. I think the opportunities
that we have, particularly seeing young
people like Rebecca for example, who have grown up and become
leaders within the organization. But I think — also on a
personal level, I think for me, what inspires me is
actually my faith. Or what motivates
me is my faith. I think my faith as a
believer in Jesus Christ. I think that my faith has really
encouraged me and caused me to really be — try to be — to
seek to be obedient and just caring for whoever
comes into my path. Rebecca Chin:
For me it’s
pretty much the same. With the SUNS organization,
it’s very familial. Everybody pretty much
either hangs out or grew up in Chinatown. So when you leave the house,
you see everybody you know. And we basically hang
out every other day. And so when I see the girls and
the guys that I grew up with into men and women who are off
to college getting careers, doing bigger things,
it’s very, you know, awe inspiring to see them come
from what you knew of them as a freshman in high school
to a college graduate. So those are the daily
inspirations that come out of that. But I do have to give credit to
my mom who has taught me that if you want to do anything,
you have to do it yourself. So that actually has like
taught me to — you know, I wanted to play basketball. There was no outlet for me
to play basketball in the tournaments because they’re all
either 18 under boys or men. And so when I asked Harry
about ten years ago, like can we play in this
national tournament, he’s like yeah, if you can
get enough girls, do it. You know, I’ll give
you the resources. So my inspiration there is
that my mom gave me the mental mindset to do what I needed
to do to get what I wanted to get done. And then Harry from trusting me,
giving me the resources and the faith to just do, take it to
the direction that I want. Gautam Raghavan:
We have a couple
questions lined up. So why don’t we start over here? Audience:
Thank you. I’m Genie Nguyen with Voice
of Vietnamese Americans. I congratulate all of
you, the champions here, and the champions
in the audience. And thank you, Eddie,
and Chris Lu and the White House for doing this. You see the name, Voice
of Vietnamese Americans. I found it because I feel
that we didn’t have a voice. But today, I heard a lot of
voice, very strong, very loud. Thank you. So I’m among the
first generations. I came here as a refugee
when I was your age, teens. And now that I feel there’s a
gap between me and my children. And I would like to ask of
you would you say something, what can we, the
older generation, the first generations do to
support you and to make other people who have not found a
voice like you to come out? And what would you
do from now on? What is the next step that
you will go up from here? Thank you. Suma Reddy:
I can probably answer
that in one sentence. My family personally is
incredibly supportive. My twin sister is here. My parents have been amazing. But over all, if our families
can support us and accept us and tell their sisters,
brothers, cousins, mothers that it’s okay to
be gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender. That’s what we need. We need people to
speak about this topic. Rebecca Chin:
I guess to address
your question of trying to kind of connect with your
children who are growing up in a very different environment
than you are, than you have, is the opposite. It’s maybe to listen. I think that — you
know, my parents, one of them came
over from Hong Kong. And one of them was born in
Philadelphia, but in Chinatown, which is kind of a whole
country in itself anyway. So like the mindsets were very,
very different growing up. And I actually have
a twin sister too. And she’s in the audience. So when we were growing
up, we were a handful. We had all these, you
know, American ideals. But then we grew up in a very
Cantonese/Hong Kong household. Like my mom could barely
understand English when she came over, but she had the patience
to listen and not judge. And that kind of allowed us
to just grow into whatever our potential was versus any like
shape or form that she saw in Hong Kong which wasn’t
necessarily relevant in America. Harry Leong:
I actually would be remiss if I did not mention my
family support in what I do. But I think my parents
and my siblings, they’ve always supported
what I’ve done. And I think your question in
regard to how you can reach or care for the next generation
or how do you get respect, I think the big thing is
being able to respect them for who they are. We see that many times in our
organization where we don’t have many parents involved or even
show up to support what we do as an organization, whether it
be community service or the sporting aspect. That’s definitely something. Just being there for
them is probably a huge, huge benefit to your children. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
I think, in my community parent involvement is so crucial. But it’s also hard because young
people aren’t allowed to talk. And we’re not allowed to give
our opinions about things. But I think listening to your
children is a really big thing. But also children
and younger people. Also empathizing with what our
parents have been through in order to get here. It took me a while to be at
— make peace with all the struggles that I had with like
my relationships with my parents to know that dang,
they had to go through a lot for me to be here. So we have to kind of
meet midway, right. But also, for parents to know
that the upbringing of your child is not just your
sole responsibility. It is a communal effort. It’s the school’s
responsibility. It’s your minister’s,
everyone that you live with in your neighborhood. You know, you give birth to
your kids and you raise them. But it’s a group effort. Like you don’t fail just
because things are going wrong. Like there’s something
mechanically wrong if — you know, we’re not all imbalanced. And that’s what I try to
communicate with myself and with my family. Like this is a group
effort, you know. There’s no pointing blame. We need to continue to work
together in all of this. Elena Chang:
I would also say, you know, just try to keep an
open mind, you know, in terms of connecting
with your child. It’s really important to try
your best to be there for them through the listening
and also the speaking. And when I say listen, don’t
listen too much to the gossip that’s around. You know, when you go to church
and you hear groups of Asian women speaking about something,
you don’t have to always listen to that per se. But take the time to sit
down with your child and connect with them. And open your heart and feel
the love that you have for them through your own
experiences with them. Gautam Raghavan:
I want to go over here. Ben? Audience:
Thank you for challenging me to ask a question. Actually, I also
have a twin brother. (laughter) The secret AAPI twin
cabal is doing its work. Actually I was giggling back
there about how we were using the word queer in the White
House and just the fact that we’re able to take a word that
has been used against us for so long and that we’ve empowered
it and are using it here. So that’s what I was
doing when you called. But I actually wanted to ask a
question about the challenges that all of you faced in
putting your videos together. I know that many of you
have resource issues, just trying to get the
work done on a day to day. And then the challenges
to come here. You know, you’ve traveled from
California, from New York, from Pennsylvania. And I just wanted to be able to
hear more about kind of what it took to get you to this point
because I think you’ve all done really great work. And I just wanted to
congratulate all of you as well. So thank you. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
That’s such a great question. In terms of the video, I had to
really think that — you know, you have to have a lot of
resources or connections in order to make such an impactful
video that has all these like flashy effects and
things like that. Thank goodness, I had a friend
who’s at USC for film who helped me create the video. He’s also Samoan. So putting him up there was also
important for me because there’s not a lot of AAPI filmmakers
that aspire to do film making. So he helped me with my video. We filmed it at one of the
high schools that I work at in Carson, California,
at Carson High School. We were trying to figure
out what angle to go with. I’m really satisfied with
how the video came out. But in terms of what
it took to get here, you know I know my family spent
a lot of money that we probably don’t even have or shouldn’t
even be spending to all be here for these few days. But that’s how much support I
have and so much love I have in my life that they’re taking work
off just to like come here — whoa, from California,
from the Bay area. I came from L.A. and things like that. And we’re all here until Sunday. And the financial burden that is
on this trip was also something to highlight of like — it’s not
as easily accessible for us to just take work off and come and
speak as a champion of change, trying to be a champion of
change but knowing I still have work to do, I still have
other hats that I wear, things like that. So highlighting that and wanting
to thank my family for what it took for you all to come
out here to support me here. And I know like all
of us probably have like similar situations. Like, how did we get the money
to just come all the way here? But we also thank the initiative
for even allowing the space to even exist. So it’s a straddle
between — you know, there’s always something that
we’re struggling with but we’re also succeeding in as well. Suma Reddy: I think
on a personal level, I think the biggest challenge
for me was that a year ago on Facebook — I wasn’t out. I was deathly afraid of cousins’
cousins’ cousins, aunts, uncles, finding out that I was gay. And so it still makes
me shake a little. It meant so much to me yesterday
— I have a grandmother who’s extremely sick in India. So the entire family
is over there. And my sister called my dad
and told him about this event. And he called really happy
and was like, congratulations! And I was like, wait,
how did you know? And he was like, oh, you
know, your sister told me. So it meant so much that my
family is supportive, you know, of me being proud and out,
you know, and doing this work. So I think on a personal
level, that was my journey. Elena Chang:
I would say the actual
shooting and editing of the video wasn’t too
much of a challenge. But in the process of creating
the video and kind of going over some of the interviews
that we already had, I realized that I had
outed my grandmother. And it’s not because
she’s LGBT but because her granddaughter is gay. So that was a bit of a challenge
to really think and process and have a talk with her,
sit down and tell her that this was going to be a
project that would gain this type of national visibility. And at the end of
the day, you know, she told me to do whatever
it took to get the stories out there. And I really appreciate
that, despite the challenges. Rebecca Chin:
Well, creating a video was not just a resource issue for me. It was more of an
experience issue. This was actually the first
thing I’ve ever created in a video form. I’ve done photography before,
but never in like — it’s very different type of thinking. And my sister actually
pushed it on me. She found out about the contest. She told me about it. And we were like oh,
Harry makes like the perfect candidate because he does
all this for the community. And everybody, you know,
loves him and recognizes him. But we were like oh,
we don’t own a camera, we don’t have the software. I have my film camera from,
you know, high school. But she kept pushing it on me. Eventually I was
like, you know what, we should do this because
there’s no other more perfect person for it. So then I reached out to my
community through the xxsons, and I had people give
me their equipment. I had people, of course, run
away from the camera when I started shooting. But eventually they like
warmed up and supported me and, you know, let
themselves show through. And then I had a friend who
actually wasn’t able to make it today because he was sick. He basically is like
a master editor. He does videos as a
freelance videographer. He had me use his
like $10,000 — $20,000 equipment to help me make
the wonderful video that came out of it. So it’s just the support of the
community that allowed me to create what I could create
in the short period of time. And getting here. I mean, we’re from Philadelphia. So it’s not as crazy of a hike
as the rest of the panelists, but we did decide to make it
an overnight trip just so we wouldn’t have to
rush in the morning. And, you know, the financial
burden is always going to be an obstacle on your ladder to
success because — especially in the Asian population. We don’t always value, you
know, certain things like — the support of my family allowed
us to come together for this honorary event which, you
know, doesn’t make money. It doesn’t do anything
monetary like that. So I know some families
who wouldn’t have been as supportive. But if you have people behind
you, they push you forward. Gautam Raghavan:
Why don’t we go
back over to this side? Audience:
Wow. Okay. Thank you for doing what you do. That’s great. My name is Fun Lu,
(phonetic)and I have one question for you guy’s. If you could say one sentence to
the children and the adults out there that are in
that dark place, that are facing the challenges
that you guys have managed or are going through the
process of overcoming? What would that sentence be? Suma Reddy:
Be who you are and find the support wherever
you can find it. Rebecca Chin:
I guess my cents would be don’t be afraid to try. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
I think mine would be, if you don’t tell your story,
someone else will tell it for you. Elena Chang:
I don’t know
exactly where you are, but I can totally relate. And that’s why I’m still here. (laughter) Gautam Raghavan:
Pressure’s on! Harry Leong:
I was thinking the aspect of just finding hope
wherever you can find it. Find hope in yourself. Find hope in God. Find hope in friends. Audience:
Thank you. What you said was just as
inspirational as what you do. Thank you. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
Thank you. Elena Chang:
Thank you. Gautam Raghavan:
Why don’t we go over here? Audience:
Thank you guys again for coming and for doing what you do. To follow up with the question
earlier about connecting older generation with
younger generation, I wanted to ask how is your
process in connecting Asian youth with Asian American youth? Because sometimes that
can be just two different worlds for them. Harry Leong:
Thanks, Rebecca,
for the question. Rebecca Chin:
That’s my twin sister. Sorry. (laughter) Harry Leong:
We actually do that. We go across the board as
far as who we care for. I mean, it doesn’t matter
if they’re American born, if they’re foreign born,
if they’re lesbian, gay. It doesn’t matter. We do what we can to help the
person where they are and try to meet their needs. I mean, a lot of it is just
mentoring and training and building up the youth. Rebecca Chin:
I think that’s kind
of the beauty of sports, that no matter whether you speak
English or you speak Fukienese or, you know,
you’re lesbian, gay. You’re just really
bad or really good. When you’re on the court, like
especially in a community sports organization, as long as you’re
giving your all and you’re trying and you’re hustling,
everybody gives you credit for it. So I think that’s why —
even though with the xxsuns, we do so much more. We do a lot of
community service. We do a lot of social activities
just so everybody can expand their — be exposed
to different people. And we do our Chinese
traditional line dance performances. Sports is like the
great attracter. And then it’s also
the great equalizer. And so when — I played with
people who had, you know, no English at all. But it was fine on the
court because you don’t need anymore than that. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
Well, I don’t work directly with the Asian American community. But in the Pacific
Islander community, I know retention of culture
and language is a big thing, especially since more
and more as we get older, we’re working — we’re becoming
part of generations where we’re not taught the language of
our native language when we’re growing up and the culture is
getting more lost as more of us are born and raised
here in the mainland. And so working
directly with PIER, the Pacific Islander Education
Retention program at UCLA, that’s an aspect of our
project or component, cultural awareness,
things like that. As well as church being a really
big foundation in our community, a big pillar of who we are
as Pacific Islander people. Church is where a lot of our
retention of culture comes from because most of the churches
that we go to as Pacific Islanders are all done
in our native language. All of the activities are
shaped around this family, this village type culture. And so that’s where a
lot of retention of who we are comes from. So it’s a straddle. It’s hard because a lot of our
younger folks are growing up in the American culture. And so trying to figure out how
to infuse both while not losing who we are is a struggle. But it’s a process as well. Gautam Raghavan:
I think we have — sorry. Please. Elena Chang:
I was just going to say also, along with cultural awareness,
a lot of our younger youth, they’re not really reading. They’re just sitting in front of
the television watching certain types of shows. So for the Asian Pride Project,
we’re really trying to reach out to different media outlets to
have those kids that are also sitting in front of the TV,
seeing these types of LGBT experiences reflected through
the screen or through when they’re going through on
their social media outlets. So that’s kind of the way
we’re dealing with it. Suma Reddy:
And just to add,
for the older generation, a key part of what we’re trying
to do is make it multilingual. So for our parent’s generation
and our grandparent’s generation, that is so important
for them to understand. Gautam Raghavan:
I think we have time for the last two questions that
are over here, so please. Audience:
My name is Mean Visa.
(phonetic) First of all, I would like
to say kudos to all of you. I did went through your
essays — not the essays, the video challenge. And I was really moved and very
inspired for all the work that you guys did. My question here is to Terisa. I’m actually a Pacific Islander
from the federated states of Micronesia. And you’re actually the only
Pacific Islander up there, so I’m really proud of you,
what you’ve done so far. What is your next — as
us coming from, you know, tiny islands from the Pacific
all the way to America, to try to pursue our dreams,
with all the work you’ve done, what is the next level of
inspiration as being the Champions of Change today are
you going to do when you get back to California? What are you trying to
strive for to give back to Samoa one day? Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
Goodness. Thank you for your question. After my job at UCLA —
I’ve been thinking a lot. I know grad school is
somewhere in the distance. I’m going to grad
school, mom and dad. I promise. They keep asking me, are
you going to grad school? I’m going to grad school. But there are so many
prospects going on. Like myself, I just want to pick
up and I want to move to Samoa. I’ve never lived there. I wasn’t born and raised
there like my parents were, but I want to get immersed in
the culture and I want to learn the language because I don’t
know how far I can get with working with my PI community if
there are so many things that I don’t know for myself. So that’s one of my
things I want to do. University of Hawaii is one of
the schools I was thinking of going to. There’s a lot of things that
I’ve seen for myself that involve not being here in the
states for a while and like just transporting myself
somewhere else. I’ve applied for artist
residency in Australia. I’m waiting to here back. I don’t know. But I know it involves me
needing to step out of my — most of it is just
comfort zones. I’m scared. I’m scared of doing something
that involves being away from my family. I’m scared of doing something
that will put me in more financial instability. But I know in my
heart, if I’m happy, if I’m doing exactly what I
devoted the rest of my life to anyway with the people
that I want to work with, then I should be okay. But yeah, those are some of the
ideas that I have going on in my immediate future. Audience Member:
Thank you. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
Thank you. Gautam Raghavan:
And our last question. Audience:
Hi, My name is Steve. I’m a junior at GW. First I would like to thank
you for highlighting that public speaking is
society’s worst fear. It’s also one of mine. But I was just
wondering, you know, all these issues are really
important to our community. But is there a defining moment
in your life when you realized that you really wanted to be
champions for your cause or really wanted to speak up? Harry Leong:
I don’t think there’s necessarily a time for me. I think that I saw the need in
the community and I stepped in, and that’s where it’s grown. Terisa Tinei Siagatonu:
I think it was the moment where I realized I didn’t have
any option other than I’m going to college. Like there was no other
option in my household. Like I’m getting an education,
I have to go to college. And that was always
the mentality. And then working with young
people who don’t have those resources or coming from
communities where — how can they go to college when they
have so many obligations in their life, was one
of the moments for me. And I think also in
college, first year, when I was a freshman,
I worked with the AAPI college access project. And one of my cousins
actually came up on it. And I didn’t know
she was coming. And so I was reading her essay
of why she wanted to come. And I was learning a lot more
about her that I didn’t even know personally. And I was like, if this is
happening in my own family and I’m working with so many youth
that I’m so far removed from, how can I make this part of
not just something I do but something that I am,
like this is who I am. So that’s where that dedication
and commitment comes from. Elena Chang:
I think for me when I was a kid, I was teased a lot
for various reasons, for being Asian and kind of
being artsy and being different. And for a very long time,
I was very quiet about it. And I was kind of silenced. And I held that for a
long period of time. And I felt like that silence
was kind of suffocating. And it got to a point
where one day — again, I had mentioned one of
my really close friends, ultimately it was this type
of silence that resulted in her death. And you know,
I felt like I really couldn’t be silent anymore. Suma Reddy:
I think for me as well,
it’s personal. It coincides with my
realizing I am gay, accepting it and then
coming out to my family. And it was the toughest thing
I’ve ever ever had to do. And I’ve done the Peace Corps,
and that was pretty hard. (laughter) So you just realize that,
hey, you can do anything. And you want to share
that with people. Rebecca Chin:
I’m actually so surprised
I’m sitting up here on the Champion of Change panel
because I never intended to do what I’m being recognized for. It was just kind of
I saw an opportunity. And I cared about the people
that I surrounded myself with. And so I continue to do
this every day, every week, just because it
needs to get done. And, you know, it’s
helping so many people. I mean, the Champions of Change
for us is all the leaders in our organization, which we have
about like half a dozen to a dozen volunteer leaders who
have full-time families, full-time jobs. And they dedicate themselves to
coming out to all the meetings, all the events, organizing
events for like hundreds and hundreds of people. And so a personal thing
that I can speak to, about wanting to change things,
is that I’m also like a very stubborn and prideful person. So growing up, when people are
like, oh, you can’t do that, I’ll be like, why can’t I do it? Especially — I was kind
of a Tomboy growing up, so then all these kids
would be like, no, you can’t play with us. I would be like,
why can’t I play with you? Kind of like that was my
personal like — I guess the thing in my head that turned on
like I can do it and I will show you that I can. Gautam Raghavan:
Thank you all very, very much for your time
and your questions. Could we have a round of
applause for all of them? (applause) I would also like us to
have a round of applause for all the twin sisters and
family members in the audience. And parents. So with that, I’ll turn
it back over to Eddie. Eddie Lee:
Thank you, Gautam,
for leading an amazing panel. You know, I think that as I
reflected back on what these folks are saying, this is just a
phenomenal and historic moment. This is actually our first
Champions of Change that features solely on AAPIs. So it’s an exciting
opportunity for us to just hear from all of you. And the leadership that you have
demonstrated in your communities is an example to all of us that
these champions are not just representing themselves, but
they’re representing millions of people around this country. So we’re very delighted to
hear your stories and your vulnerability with
everything that you shared. Let’s give them another round
of applause as we dismiss them. (applause)