Asian Heritage Month: Eight Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Activists to Watch Out For


By Esther Yang

Eight is a lucky number in Chinese. In honor of Asian Heritage Month, I’m sharing eight people that I admire through the activist orbit. These are activists that I see at rallies, who are behind the scenes, talk the talk, and practice what they preach.

By Esther Yang

Roosevelt Island Daily News

Honestly, no one wants to be an activist, but they do it because they demand justice, because they care, and most importantly because they want the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community to be counted and to be heard!!!

I am inspired by their altruistic ways, commitment, and putting their families first. They are fearless, courageous, while making time to mentor the next generation. 

1. Karlin Chan, Chinatown Mayor

When vandalism took over Chinatown, Karlin rounded up people of all races to help him bright and early on Saturday morning with brooms to clean up the area.

When Asian violence increased, he and his friends called, texted and emailed everyone (myself included) to attend the rallies across state line and in NYC.

When an Asian elderly person is afraid, Karlin and his Chinatown Block Association show up in solidarity. They introduced themselves to mom-and-pop stores and walked every corner of Chinatown to keep Chinatown safe.

When museums were closed because of the pandemic and we couldn’t see any art, Karlin and his artist friends painted murals for all of us to enjoy. The late famous Photographer Corky Lee took photos of Karlin and his artist friends to document this moment in history.

Karlin trains kids to perform the Lion Dance. His lion dance troupe of High School boys and girls are out there every Lunar New Year or any celebration to Senior Centers, Public schools and Hospitals. 

He visits every new business and promotes them on his social media – be it bubble tea stores, new restaurants, ice cream stores, whatever. Karlin is everywhere because he wants Chinatown and Asian Arts and Culture to continue to exist. He is our Chinatown Mayor.

Mei Chan, Activist & Chef

A tiny little thing but generous in every which way to the Chinese community. Money and going to rallies are NOT the only way to be an activist. Mei is a self-taught chef and owner of Asia Roma restaurant at 40 Mulberry Street in Manhattan.

Mei has generously offered her apartment for documentaries, and supported young producers, filmmakers, artists and activists. Her restaurant is the hub for many businesses and planning get-togethers to make this world better. Winning documentary filmmakers Patrick Chen, Alvin Tsang and many others often gather at her restaurant.

The famous actor Tzi Ma from Wu Assassin and Mulan is a longtime regular at Asia Roma. When Tzi Ma is in town, you can catch him mentoring other young filmmakers and actors at his table. Usually, a group of 10 or 15.

Mei has sponsored many authors like Henry Chang who has written Detective Jack Yu Series – Chinatown Beat, Year of the Dog, Red Jade, Death Money, and Lucky.

Mei supports politicians like John Liu who was then the first Asian NYC City Council member, first Asian Comptroller and now first Asian NYS Senator. She is there for Asian Judges like the retired Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling Cohan (you can read more about Justice Ling Cohan below). Even when her business was down 80% due to the pandemic, Mei made and delivered hot food to our hospital heroes.

Together with her mascot Lucy, who has the loudest bark yet is the sweetest dog, Mei and Lucy are everyone’s #1 fans who come to her restaurant. Asia Roma is NOT your ordinary restaurant and Mei is NOT your typical chef/restaurant owner. She has created a safe and sacred space for planning meetings from a seed of an idea to a great enterprise for others. She doesn’t have a single jealous bone in her body. She is happy when you are successful.

Justice Doris Ling Cohan

Justice Doris Ling-Cohan (凌德麗) was born in NYC’s Chinatown to Chinese immigrant parents. She is the first Asian woman to be elected to NYC Chinatown District Civil Court in 1995. She was also the first woman of Asian descent to be appointed to NYS Supreme Court in 2002 and to NYS Appellate Panel in 2014.

She made news when she agreed with five gay and lesbian couples that denying them marriage rights violated the state constitution (Hernandez v. Robles). The appellate court reversed her decision; but same-sex marriage in NYS New York became legal on July 24, 2011, under the Marriage Equality Act. Justice Ling-Cohan got it right the first time.

She retired in 2020 and currently serves as the first Asian woman on the FINRA National Adjudicatory Council.

Jenny Low, District Leader

Jenny and her family came to the U.S. from China when she was 12 years old with next to nothing and built a life here through hard work, persistence, and determination. A product of NYC public schools, Jenny had to learn English while attending school. She excelled with the support of her parents and community and went on to earn her degree from Yale University.

She built her career in finance for nearly three decades primarily at J.P. Morgan Chase, making loans to small businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses, and managing millions of dollars in charitable giving. She enabled many entrepreneurs to succeed with their first bank loans and, with her charitable giving, Jenny ensured that funds were distributed to programs to help low-income students and students of color, and other causes to improve communities throughout New York and across the globe.

In public service, Jenny has worked in a senior management position at the City Council and knows how to get results. As a District Leader in 65th AD and an activist, Jenny has fought to support the most vulnerable in her community, while achieving historic wins for women and people of color. She served on the board of the Chinese-American Planning Council for 30 years, where she helped struggling immigrants learn English, trained workers for stable careers, and provided youth development to thousands in need. Through her leadership, the CPC has transformed into the largest social services organization serving immigrants on the East Coast.

During the pandemic, Jenny was out knocking on doors and delivering food for seniors and our hospital heroes.

James Oh, Jr., Asian Networking Leader

James Oh Senior came to the states after graduating Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and then attended Baruch College to learn the American way of business. Shortly after he brought Katherine (his wife) and his parents over to the states for a better life, James Oh, Jr was born in 1980.

Throughout life, James Jr. had acquired many passions in life. Among them were singing, dancing, martial arts, networking/mentoring and Asian culture. He had a lengthy career in technology sales spanning from account executive level to global head of sales at his last company. Throughout all his engagements one thing remained common, his passion for people.

James has sat on 20+ board groups in New York City for social to professional networking groups. He currently still sits on the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce as their Senior Events Director and Co-Host to NYAPM, one of the largest if not the largest Asian networking group in NYC with over 10,000 members to date.

Soeko Prasetyo, Indonesian Church Community

Soeko Prasetyo was born in Surakarta, Indonesia, and completed his law degree at Universitas Islam, Indonesia, Jogyakarta, and then studied tour and tourism management at NYU.

Soeko visited the United States in 1971 to promote Indonesian crafts for the Indonesian Ministry of Commerce. Soeko then became a Private Investigator specializing in Intellectual Property. He was the president of Indonesia’s Christian community PERWAKRIN running 38 Tristate churches in NJ, PA and NYC.

As President of the Indonesian Christian Community in New York, Soeko worked closely with ICE, Local lawmakers and other community organizations to assist Indonesian immigrants be permanent residents and become U.S. Citizens.

Evelyn Yang, Sexual Assault Advocate

A sexual assault advocate, Evelyn is the author of “A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse,” which was released in April 2021 in honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Her bravery is to be commended. Evelyn is out there speaking and advocating for victims who are too embarrassed to speak up. It makes a tremendous difference for people to believe victims and for them to start the healing process.

Evelyn is a board member of KultureCity, a nonprofit committed to creating a more sensory inclusive world, and a member of RAINN’s National Leadership Council. 

A true New Yorker, she was born in Queens, New York. Her parents, who immigrated from Taiwan and Hong Kong, raised her in Flushing and Bayside, Queens. She attended public schools and graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Economics. She met her husband Andrew in NYC, and they married in City Hall in 2011. She is a mother to two boys.

Evelyn is a passionate advocate for survivors of sexual assault, autism acceptance, and special needs families. After sharing her own story of sexual assault with the world in 2020, Evelyn has been committed to empowering adults and children alike through education, advocacy, and legislation such as New York’s Child Victims Act and Adult Survivors Act. Evelyn supported her husband Andrew during his 2020 Presidential campaign and continues to support him in for his 2021 New York City Mayoral race. Kindness matters, so it is not ok when people say Evelyn and Andrew are tourists and not New Yorker – it perpetuates the stereotype that AAPI do not belong here and can encourage the increase of violence against AAPI. 

Trip Yang, Political Consultant

Trip is a smart, kind soul who has a cool last name like mine. 😊

I first met Trip when he was running Margaret Chin’s NYC Council campaign.  Despite the demanding schedule, Trip was so chill and he balanced everything with kindness.

Trip is a progressive political strategist who is the founder of Trip Yang Strategies, a top boutique political consulting firm based in New York. Trip’s clients for the 2021 NYC cycle include Andrew Yang for Mayor, Jumaane Williams for Public Advocate, Jo Anne Simon for Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Gonzalez for Brooklyn DA, and Gale Brewer for City Council.

Trip started his career in electoral politics as a field organizer for President Obama’s campaign in Iowa and has since organized and led campaigns in over a half-dozen states, and is a veteran organizer for three presidential cycles. Trip is a 2020 recipient of the City & State’s Power 50 Consultant recognition and City & State’s NYC 40 under 40 Rising Stars award. Nationally, Trip is a 2018 recipient of the National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs 40 Under 40 Award.

Trip is super generous with his time if you can catch him. He apologizes profusely if he owes you a call or for calling late at night. Only political junkies and activists are night owls and early birds at the same time.

Previously, Trip spearheaded NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ landslide win as the campaign manager in an unprecedented 17 candidate field for NYC’s second highest office. In addition, Trip helped lead multiple candidates to historic milestones as the Senior Advisor to both Tish James’ campaign for Attorney General when she was the first black woman elected statewide as well as Eric Gonzalez’s trailblazing win when he was elected the first Latino District Attorney in New York State.

Beyond his work elevating progressive candidates and candidates of color, Trip is an outspoken activist for diversifying leadership roles in the political campaign industry. 

Trip is the happiest, sleep-deprived person I have ever met.

Photo credit: Mon Yuck Yu

How can you be an ally for AAPI not just for this month but every day?

By sharing your huge hearts, kindness, paying it forward, and giving every AAPI an opportunity to be in a leadership position.

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