Amanda Nguyen has been speaking out on civil rights issues for the better part of a decade, but she didn’t expect a recent Instagram video to go viral and spark a national conversation about anti-Asian racism in the US.
On February 5, Nguyen posted a video on Instagram asking national media to better cover the recent wave of anti-Asian violence targeting elderly residents from the San Francisco Bay area to New York City. York. She had tried in vain to find reports of incidents, including those involving 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, who died of injuries after being pushed onto the sidewalk, and Noel Quintana, 61, who was stabbed in the face for one meter. confrontation in New York.
“I decided, ‘You know what? If traditional media is blocking us, I’m going to turn to social media and have a call to action for mainstream media to elevate Asian stories.” Nguyen tells CNBC Make It.
The message took off. The video racked up millions of views and response posts on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. He has spoken about the issue in media such as NBC, ABC and CNN; and on February 8, the senior White House correspondent for CBS News Weijia Jiang asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki if President Joe Biden had seen videos, like Nguyen’s, about the attacks.
Last month, the millennial activist helped share the work of Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that documents and addresses anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic and its efforts to support Asian American communities.
The Harvard graduate has worked in the activism space since 2013, when she became a rape survivor during her time in college. Following her experience with what she felt was a broken criminal justice system, she helped draft the first Bill of Rights for Survivors of Sexual Assault, which established consistent rules and procedures at the federal level. to prosecute crimes of sexual assault. Since then, 21 states have adopted similar legislation, and Nguyen is working with lawmakers to pass laws in all 50 states.
Nguyen became the founder and CEO of Rise, a national nonprofit civil rights organization, which has helped pass 33 laws and created civil rights protections for more than 60 million survivors of sexual assault through the approval of bills state by state.
She has been featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list twice, was featured on Time’s 100 Next list in 2019, and was named a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for her activism in 2019.
Nguyen, 29, recently spoke to CNBC Make It about her latest advocacy work around racial justice for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic and beyond.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you expect your message about anti-Asian racism to go viral?
Not absolutely not. In fact, I thought I’d lose followers, because every time I posted about race, I did. And I said to myself, ‘You know what? I don’t care, because people need to know. ‘
People just don’t know. And I think a lot of this is due to ignorance. The problem here is invisibility. So the solution is visibility.
We are in a time of reckoning right now. It has been so heartwarming and heartbreaking to see the wave of people speaking; literally thousands of people text me every day with stories like: ‘My father was murdered, can you improve the story?’ Or, ‘My grandmother was assaulted, can you improve the story?’
I also received messages like, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel like I can talk about the pain that I have experienced or the racism that I have experienced living in this yellow skin.’
Reading that has been so amazing and powerful.
While the video was certainly a first domino, we wouldn’t be here without literally millions of people feeling like, ‘You know what? It’s okay for them to see you and tell our truth. ‘
Anti-Asian discrimination in the US dates back to the 19th century. How does this moment feel different?
At Rise, we’ve had people on the ground working on this for almost a decade. There is a turning point now because we have had these horrible acts of violence captured on camera. It’s so hard to get away from what’s recorded. It is also because these acts of violence have been increasing.
Also, people say they have been through this experience and are asking for help. When people come together in solidarity, it helps create a new space to speak.
Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness. How do you expect awareness to turn into action outside of these platforms?
It is very simple. There are structural and systematic exclusions that have happened to the AAPI community. It’s not just in the newsrooms; it is also clearly in our federal government.
I want to hear from the secretary of education about why the history of AAPI is not taught in schools. Why don’t people know about the internment camps, or how was one of the biggest lynchings in American history against the AAPI community?
I want to know why people are not taught our contributions either.
There are so many things that people can do to educate themselves, not only about our history but also about our culture. Empathy will be the solution for this, and visibility generates empathy.
You can start from home. Turn on your computer and learn more about the AAPI community and hear from grassroots organizers on the ground.
The AAPI organization has a long history. Whose work has informed your approach to activism at this time?
Russell Jeung, a Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, he has been so eloquent in calling for racial solidarity between communities. It is so important that we understand that this is not a zero-sum situation. They are not the ‘Olympics of oppression’. But we have to do this together. We are stronger together.
It is important that people not only learn about the history of AAPI as an elective in college, if it is offered at colleges. You must start from elementary, middle, and high school. It must start from the beginning so that we are seen as part of this community.
I don’t think there has been an Asian American who hasn’t been asked the question, ‘Where are you from? No seriously, where are you really from? It seems innocent, but at the bottom of that, it is another. It’s the idea that you don’t belong. When you have this stereotype of a perpetual foreigner, it’s easy to be the scapegoat. The consequence of that has been the loss of life.
How do you plan to continue this type of work?
It is important that we focus on education and that people understand where roots of misinformation [around the coronavirus, and related xenophobia] have come from, where ignorance can and should be stopped, and how people can contribute and raise Asian American voices.
At Rise, we are building the plane as it flies and putting on a campaign that will educate people to know what the Asian-American experience is like now. Democracy is intended for all the people of the town. So, Rise will provide educational content that will talk about Black and Asian solidarity, talk about the history of the AAPI and celebrate it.
As a community organizer who got involved in this work because she needed civil rights and no one was going to write them to me, what I want people to take away from this is that you can completely change the world.
It really, really matters what you think and your pain, your anger, your hope, all of that matters. I just want people to know that the most powerful tool they have is their voice, and no one is powerless when we come together and demand that they see us.
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