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UPRISERS | Highlighting Asian American Trailblazers
May 27, 2019
As AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage month comes to a close, we wanted to highlight some incredible Asian American Uprisers who have been trailblazers in their respective industries.
Sandra Oh has been a modern trailblazer for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. She is the first Asian American female to win multiple Golden Globe awards, one in 2006 for Best Supporting Actress through her well-loved role as Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy and another in 2019 for Best Actress in her current role as Eve Polostri on BBC America’s Killing Eve. She was also the first Asian American to host the Golden Globe awards and in her opening monologue she stated,
I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change.
Sandra has been a strong advocate for Asian representation in entertainment. However, she believes that her actions speak louder than her words. She was on the TIME 100 Most Influential People 2019 list and said,
If you see my face again and again and again and there is someone that looks like me, there is something that I believe opens up in the psyche and the people that we have not considered, stories we have not considered before, we have not been open to, suddenly we are.
Make your life count – and the world will be a better place because you tried.
Ellison Onizuka was a pioneer in every form of the word. Born and raised in a small town on the Big Island in Hawaii, Ellison defied all odds and fulfilled his dream by becoming the very first Asian American to go to space in 1985 on the space shuttle Discovery. He was scheduled to make a second trip to space on the Challenger mission in 1986 that unfortunately was not successful and ended in a tragic explosion.
Although he lost his life, he left behind an incredible legacy. After his first trip to space, he came back to his hometown to visit local schools and educated students about space exploration. You can find many tributes to Ellison’s life all over the universe which includes the Onizuka crater on the moon, an asteroid, Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street in Little Tokyo, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, and the list goes on. Additionally, on the last page of every U.S. Passport, you will find one of his famous quotes,
Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds...to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.
Patsy Mink was the first Asian American woman, and woman of color voted into U.S. Congress in 1965. Prior to her political career, she was the first Japanese American female to practice law in her home state of Hawaii. She was an advocate for causes and policies even if it wasn’t the popular decision and instead of blending in, stood up to make her voice heard.
Patsy worked on many national initiatives for not only Asian Americans but females all over the nation and aided in constructing Title IX which mandated equal treatment for women and men in education. She used her political power to bring justice to those who were underrepresented and carried out change. She stated,
We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences ... to make sure that others ... do not have to suffer the same discrimination.
In 1990 Patsy returned to politics and sat in the U.S. House of Representatives for twelve years. She advocated for greater change and called out courage from her fellow representatives.
Photo by Independent Minds UK
It has been a challenge for Asian Americans to break through the U.S. music scene. However, one has made himself a household name. Steve Aoki truly took over the electronic/dance scene in 2010, after twenty years of producing music. With hits like “Boneless” and “I’m In The House”, his songs became featured in many commercials and major motion pictures. He was noted by Forbes as “The Hardest Working DJ in the World” and was even nominated for a Grammy in 2013.
Steve has also collaborated with some of the biggest artists from Lil Jon, to global pop sensation BTS whose music video for “Waste It On Me” featured an all Asian-American celebrity cast. “Waste It On Me” charted #1 worldwide upon 24 hours of its release.
With a “Do it yourself” motto, Steve founded his music label Dim Mak records that has signed many artists like Deorro, Keys N Krates, and discovered The Chainsmokers. He is also an entrepreneur operating many restaurants and merchandise ventures.
Aside from his contributions to the music industry, he has also been making great efforts to give back. He created the Aoki Foundation, which aids in brain research and disaster relief. He often donates $1 from every ticket sold on his tours or concerts to his foundation as well as other nonprofit organizations.
Evelyn Yoshimura was a civil rights activist and founding member/editor of Gidra, a publication known as “The voice of the Asian American movement” that broke through the “model-minority” stereotype and shared journalism, graphic art, and social, cultural and political commentary.
Gidra was outspoken on topics that many Asian immigrants stayed silent about due to fear such as Japanese internment camps, the Vietnam War, and the gentrification of Asian communities. In a paper on Racism and Misogyny Toward Asian Women during the Vietnam War in 1971, she wrote,
We must destroy the stereotypes of Asian women, and Asian people, as a whole, so we can define ourselves, and be free to realize our full and total potential,” Gidra also fought for ethnic studies to be taught on college campuses.
Evelyn has also been defending Little Tokyo, in Los Angeles, against gentrification for over 40 years. In her 1973 article Higher Rises Lower Depths, she wrote about the redevelopment in Little Tokyo and how it only benefited the rich white men or Japanese businessmen while leaving many local businesses owned by lower-class immigrants at a disadvantage. Evelyn is currently the Community Organizing Director for the Little Tokyo Service Center and has been continuing to voice the concerns of the residents and advocate for a better Little Tokyo.
We are so grateful for these trailblazers and the many other individuals who have paved the way for Asian American and Pacific Islanders to be represented and respected across all industries. As Uprisers, we hope to follow their legacies and build upon their accomplishments.