With hate incidents and crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on the rise since the start of the pandemic, a number of highly influential A-listers have come together to raise awareness — and funds — in support of the community.
Last night, nonpartisan nonprofit Public Wise and political action organization Onward Together hosted a virtual fundraiser to benefit the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum, which offers resources to influence policy, drive civic engagement and offer legal advocacy for AAPI women and girls. Among the participants in the event — dubbed #AAPIWomenStrong: Organizing Beyond a Hashtag — were two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan, actress and producer Lucy Liu, author and TV host Padma Lakshmi, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Clinton founded Onward Together in May 2017.)
“Racism, discrimination and violence towards Asian-Americans have been a systemic problem in our country, and it won’t go away unless we do something about it,” Kwan said ahead of moderating the panel. “Truthfully, there are so many ways a person can make a difference to spread the word, volunteer with local organizations and definitely contribute, contribute, contribute.”
Over the past year alone, nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asians were recorded by Stop AAPI Hate — with almost 70% of those incidents, including verbal harassment, shunning and physical assaults, targeting women. In contrast, men made up 29% of reported incidents, while trans and gender nonbinary individuals represented 2% and those who preferred not to identify comprised 1%.
According to researchers and educators, the stereotype that Asian women are docile and subservient could be factors behind this disparity. As such, Liu — who is notably only the second Asian American woman with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the first recipient being Anna May Wong) — suggested that it’s time for AAPI women to speak up.
“What I found more recently is to use your voice,” she said. “This is not something that we’re taught to do, and this is not something that we are encouraged to do … It’s hard to share our feelings in that way, when we’re not asked to do it through a script or when the cameras are rolling.”
Liu added, “I think those are simple steps to take — just using your voice, expressing yourself … I’ve used this phrase before: The bottom line is that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.”
Lakshmi echoed that sentiment, even sharing her own encounters as a South Asian woman in the white- and/or male-dominated culinary and publishing industries. The celebrity has hosted the Emmy-award winning cooking competition series Top Chef since its second season, while her inaugural cookbook, “Easy Exotic,” emerged as a bestseller and won the Best First Book award at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
“There were so many [times when] people would say, ‘Indian-American author,’ and I’m like, ‘How about just author?’ Or they’ll say, ‘female host,’ and I’m like, ‘How about just host?'” she said. “My colleagues don’t get ‘Caucasian American,’ so why must I?”
Lakshmi counteracted, “In fact, I’ve actually started using the term … ‘European Americans.’ If I should say ‘Indian American’ and you should say ‘Chinese American’ or ‘Filipino American’ or whatever your background is, I think we should just all start saying it for everybody. It seems that that would be a great first step to making us equal in how we identify ourselves and each other.”
Also making a prominent appearance was Clinton, who announced a grant of $50,000 to NAPAWF through Onward Together. The former First Lady and Democratic presidential candidate condemned the recent attacks against AAPI women and expressed solidarity for the community. She also argued that allies must do their own part in advocating for AAPI rights, whether by supporting organizations at the local level or opening up discussions about the “very legitimate interests and worries” of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“This is predominantly an issue about the overlapping racism, misogyny, bias and, sadly, hatred that some are expressing toward their fellow human beings,” Clinton said. “It should not fall on the AAPI community … We all have a responsibility to listen to each other, learn from each other, take action, lift up people and groups who are leading the way.”