"Hope Lies in the History of Our Fight": 17 Social Media Stars Amplifying APIA Experiences

When you scroll through your FYP on TikTok or your Instagram feed, do you only see yourself, your culture, your beliefs reflected on the screen? Amid a global pandemic that has contributed to countless hate crimes against the APIA community, APIA social media activists have taken a stand by delivering little pockets of hope in the form of educational videos, entertaining skits, and inside looks at their everyday lives. After decades of being silenced, these creators are speaking up louder than ever to amplify the experiences of different APIA cultures and foster a space where voices from all backgrounds can be heard. As the community continues to fight for equality and justice, read on to hear what gives each of these stars hope for the future in 2021.

Editor's note: We at POPSUGAR choose to use the term APIA to represent the Asian Pacific Islander American community. For this particular story, you will find the acronyms APIA and AAPI used interchangeably by the activists we spoke with, depending on how they chose to identify. Read more from our editors on the subject here.

Nadya Okamoto

In 2018, Nadya Okamoto published Period Power: A Manifesto For the Menstrual Movement to address taboos around menstruation. Now 23, Nadya, a student at Harvard, is also the founder of August, a lifestyle brand with the goal of reimagining the way we discuss menstruation, and a cofounder of period.org, a nonprofit seeking to end period poverty and the stigma around menstrual health.

What gives Nadya hope for the future in 2021: "I have never felt so connected to the wider AAPI community than I do now. I grew up in white-dominated cities like Portland, OR — which is actually the whitest major city in the United States — and didn't realize until recently how silenced I felt by phenomena like the model minority myth. When 'AAPI' as a label is supposed to encapsulate dozens of different ethnicities and cultures, it was hard for me to decipher what it actually meant to be Asian American.

"In the last few months, from my own academic studies and unlearning/learning, I feel really excited about my new understanding of what it means to be AAPI. As I learned from the work of author and professor Daryl Maeda, the Asian American movement was built upon 'commitments of interracial and transnational solidarities' — and I feel that so strongly, especially in this moment of witnessing our cultural reckoning with the need for racial justice."

Elena Shinohara

Elena Shinohara knows how to put the rhythm in rhythmic gymnastics. In high school, Elena was the only elite-level rhythmic gymnast in the entire state of Georgia and has since won the state championship 12 times. After practicing the sport for 15 years, Elena, a biochemistry major at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is a member of the official US rhythmic gymnastics national team and often demonstrates her strength and flexibility in fun TikTok dance videos.

What gives Elena hope for the future in 2021: "As a member of the AAPI community, seeing how active the community is gives me hope for the future in 2021. Throughout the hate crimes and racist remarks that have happened over the past years, the AAPI community continues to speak out and raise their voices. Now, there are more and more people bringing light to the hate crimes and attacks. Being able to speak out about these injustices allows others to become aware of the racism towards Asians. I hope to continue to see the community speak up about their experiences and come together to create change."

Tiffy Chen

Raised on some of the "best street food in the world," Tiffy Chen is a full-time tech manager with a passion for cooking. Spending as much time in the kitchen as possible, Tiffy whips up delicious recipes from around the world and presents them in 60-second clips on TikTok, making meals like Japanese mushroom risotto and Korean braised quail eggs look easy. At the core of her videos is the desire to share bits and pieces of her Taiwanese culture and inspire her viewers to expand their cultural knowledge.

What gives Tiffy hope for the future in 2021: "To be honest, I think the fact that a whole platform like TikTok is highlighting API Month is already just so amazing. [TikTok] has done so much beyond sharing, [like] highlighting a lot of small businesses. And I think that is just so amazing to me, that our whole platform is celebrating, and we're encouraging other people to share their culture as well, beyond just the trailblazers. I think that is really hopeful. It's just so exciting to me that everyone now has a space to share their story."

Frances Wang

If you're ever in Florida, keep an eye out for CBS Miami news anchor Frances Wang on your TV screen. As an expansion of her newscasting, Frances, who has nearly 200,000 TikTok followers, uses her platform to highlight Asian hate crimes, encourage antiracist behavior, and provide context behind major news stories in a digestible format.

What gives Frances hope for the future in 2021: "Despite a painful year for so many, including the AAPI community, I do feel hopeful for the future. I feel hopeful when I see my Asian American and Pacific Islander brothers and sisters bravely speak out, some of them sharing their stories for the first time. I feel hopeful when I see AAPIs from East to South to Southeast Asia supporting one another, amplifying each other's voices. I feel hopeful when I see people want to learn our history — what brought us here, our contributions to this country, and sadly, a history of racism and discrimination against us.

"I feel hopeful when I see people want to be a part of that change. I feel hopeful when I see unity and people of all races show up for #StopAsianHate rallies and show up in other ways, from social media to putting in work behind the scenes. I feel hopeful when I see greater representation for us in all industries, from politics to media. I feel hopeful that, unlike many in my generation and before us, boys and girls will grow up proud to speak our languages, wear our cultural clothing, learn our history in class, and bring our dishes to school.

"I feel hopeful that in a time of so much anti-Asian hate and violence, our community will finally be seen. Our community will finally be heard. And our community will finally be accepted as Americans."

Mikaele Oloa

Polynesian entertainer Mikaele Oloa has been crowned the World Fireknife Champion five times for his skill in performing the ceremonial Samoan dance the Siva Afi. But he's also made a name for himself on TikTok by sharing pieces of his Polynesian culture, including traditional recipes and explanations of Polynesian slang.

What gives Mikaele hope for the future in 2021: "What gives me hope for the future is how amazing the response has been from people around the world on TikTok! Everyone has been so interested and engaged with my content. I'm so grateful for all the positive comments on my videos, how people love learning about new Polynesian words from my posts, and how some of my followers have actually tried my Polynesian recipes themselves! There are so many amazing cultures here in the API and it's always great to see us all uplifting and supporting each other!"

Cassandra Lam

Tired of existing in a toxic work environment, Cassandra Lam and her friend Karen Mok cofounded The Cosmos, a space for Asian women to prioritize self-care, safety, and community. Cassandra is also the founder of Give Good Care, an online community working to close the gap to mental healthcare for Asian women.

What gives Cassandra hope for the future in 2021: "In these times of nonstop police brutality, increased anti-Asian violence, and ongoing collective trauma, I find hope in the incredible cross-racial solidarity I've seen that empowers more and more of us to imagine, dream, and co-create a future that truly cares for every living thing, including Mother Earth. I find joy in learning about the beautiful possibilities for healing and redemption that our transformative-justice and disability-justice movements offer. I find beauty in our commitment to envisioning a better future that centers love as a tool for justice."

Janette Ok

As an influencer, Janette Ok has made a name for herself in the lifestyle, fashion, and beauty spaces by creating content that promotes diversity and size inclusivity. Known for sharing fun fashion and beauty hacks, she also shines a light on her Korean culture and the importance of representation in all forms across social media.

What gives Janette hope for the future in 2021: "I've always believed that growth happens during adversity. This mindset is one I have been taught to embrace from my Korean heritage because we as a nation have been through so much within the last 100 years. From being one of the world's poorest countries to now ranked top 10 in GDP over the course of a short period of time, this has instilled a great sense of pride and work ethic in me. I have seen change firsthand and I believe it is possible. We live in the most advanced time in history while living in a tragic time for many APIA community members, but my hope lies in the history of our fight, our pride, and our voices."

Kari Okubo

If you want receipts, you have to hit follow on Kari Okubo's TikTok account. Originally from Oahu, HI, Kari is an outspoken advocate for racial equity and the safety of the APIA community, delivering useful facts and statistics about the APIA community on a weekly basis. She is also the social director for Hate Is a Virus, a nonprofit working to dismantle racism and hate by "creating safe spaces for dialogue and education."

What gives Kari hope for the future in 2021: "What makes me hopeful for the future in 2021 is people reclaiming and redefining their identities, and finding power in their stories. Social media has given us access to learn about one another and celebrate each other. Through spreading awareness on social media, as well as working with Hate Is a Virus, a nonprofit organization to dismantle racism and hate, I have been able to meet and learn about so many amazing individuals engaging in the work to not only push for true representation but dismantle oppressive systems at large. Our strength as individuals is tied to our strength as a community, and as we continue to build bridges and become our best advocates, we will create the change that we desire to see.

"As we continue to reclaim our stories and identities, I am hopeful for the true breadth and depth of API representation to be seen and respected. Representation in this diverse community means learning from Polynesians, Melanesians, Micronesians, West Asians, Central Asians, South Asians, Southeast Asians, East Asians, multiracial API, and LGBTQIA+ API. We are not a monolith and only when all of our stories are told and the whole spectrum of our community is truly represented can we break the stereotypes that have been set to divide us not only from each other but in America at large."

Young Yuh

Skin-care enthusiast Young Yuh, aka the Egg King, combines entertainment with education in his funny TikTok videos testing everything from chlorophyll masks and pimple patches to what would happen if you layered on an entire bottle of toner. With over 1.5 million followers, Young hopes his videos make skin care feel more accessible to those who are just starting on their skin-care journeys.

What gives Young hope for the future in 2021: "For me [what gives me hope] is the fact that people have been so active in spreading awareness and the fact that we're actually coming together. Because at the end of the day, I felt like the Asian community, we were all kind of split. We were all under the Asian umbrella, but then we weren't really connected. There's Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian. But now it's kind of like the movement has been rallying us. We're all feeling very united.

"We are proud to say we're Asian, and we don't think of it as our own personal ethnic race; we think of it as a whole, as a family. I feel like people have been really coming together in that sense and now we're taking action and actually making the movement go forward instead of just talking about it. So just seeing all these people actually actively do things for the movement and awareness, that is the hope and dream that I could never have wished for more, and it's happening now, and it's only building more and more."

Tiffany Yu

When she was 9 years old, Tiffany Yu was involved in a car crash that took her father's life and left her right hand permanently paralyzed. Today, she is a three-time TEDx speaker and the founder of Diversability, an organization seeking to change the stigma around disability and create a community for disabled people and nondisabled allies.

What gives Tiffany hope for the future in 2021: "What gives me hope for the future is that we will not stall on the progress that we've made in terms of moving the conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, liberation, and intersectionality forward. Intersectionality is so complicated. And I'm still doing the work to try to better understand, because so much of how I viewed disability in that first decade after I became disabled was based on ableist thinking that came from the East, that came from my parents from East Asia. And how can I embrace and sit in the fact that there are parts of my identity that culturally discriminate against other parts of identity?

"I think what's giving me hope is that we will continue to deepen our understanding of intersectionality and what it means to really live in a more equitable world. I just want to be unapologetically myself and be seen in that. That's something I talk a lot about, but I also want to be safe in that. And I noticed, at least over the past two or three months, this idea of safety is something that I hadn't talked about before, but it's just as important. I don't think we can have equity if people walk outside of their door and don't feel safe being who they are."

Milan Mathew

You'll never catch fashion blogger Milan Mathew missing the opportunity to show off a new look. Proud of her Malayali Indian American heritage, Milan makes a point of incorporating pieces of her Desi culture into her outfits and sharing fashion tips for styling traditional Desi accessories like jhumki earrings and tikka headpieces.

What gives Milan hope for the future in 2021: "I think seeing communities just coming together [makes me hopeful]. It's good to know that people are curious about [other cultures] and they're willing to learn. And another thing is there's such a thin line between appreciation and appropriation. But the fact that people are so willing to learn and it's not like, 'Oh, I'm not going to listen to you.' It's like, 'OK, what are the meanings behind things? And I want to learn and be respectful,' things like that. Also in the beginning, there weren't many creators of color. I feel doing cultural content and seeing so many new creators of fashion or whatever it may be is really inspiring."

Sandra Jeenie Kwon

Beyond providing much-needed guidance when it comes to choosing the best seat on an airplane, flight attendant and TikTok star Sandra Jeenie Kwon knows how to make her 5.7 million followers smile with funny skits about her workday. When she's not acting out an entire screenplay in 60 seconds or less, she also makes lighthearted videos about what it's like growing up with a Korean mom.

What gives Sandra hope for the future in 2021: "I hope for a future that embraces our colorful cultural backgrounds rather than [uses them] against us in the form of discrimination and hatred. I am so proud of our APIA community for stepping up to educate the world. Change doesn't happen overnight, but the point is that change is happening."

Jasmine Tuitama-Roberts

Samoan TikTok star Jasmine Tuitama-Roberts is best known for using her platform to answer questions about Polynesian culture and draw attention to the lack of Polynesian representation in APIA-focused media and content. Candid, insightful, and hilarious, her videos are worth a click if you're looking to learn something new.

What gives Jasmine hope for the future in 2021: "Speaking as a Pacific Islander in the diaspora, I grew up during a time where people were simply not aware of the Pacific Islands, its history, culture, and the indigenous people who come from the ocean. In a place like America, where everything is so big that it can very easily make a cluster of islands in the Pacific seem microscopic, I had no choice but to live my life accustomed to coming from a seemingly invisible culture, my ancestors' history — our triumphs as one of the world's greatest voyagers, sailing through the Pacific only guided by the sea and the stars and our sorrows as another indigenous population whose land was taken from them — reduced to one or two sentences in my history textbooks.

"If there was any kind of acknowledgement of Pacific Islanders, it would come in the image of a tropical island paradise, wonderfully intricate and bold tattoos, or some kind of Polynesian floor show, only facets of a more complex image that not everybody cared to understand. Having a complete image of Pacific Islanders meant that not only were you recognizing that we were indeed visible and existed but also that we exist outside of a restricted image of who we are; we lived outside of stereotypes and were much more than pieces of our culture that outsiders enjoyed consuming without trying to understand us. I was used to people not understanding and I accepted that reality for myself, because how could I expect to learn and share what I know about my people if others outside my community didn't even see us to begin with?

"Today, our voices have a lot more volume than they used to because of the internet and social media, and that's exactly how I've found myself in this peculiar situation as somebody who uses social media to inform the masses about the Pacific Islander experience. Despite recent traumatic events in the AAPI community, I still remain optimistic for 2021 because I've seen how open people are to listening and learning from people who are not like them. It's not at all perfect and there are still plenty of individuals who are committed to living with hate in their hearts, but what makes the difference is that there are always going to be more people who are willing to rally around you in support and help amplify your voice. I believe in the power of communication and that alone is what makes me hopeful for 2021."

Cindy Chen

After losing her 9-to-5 job as a graphic designer in 2020, fine artist Cindy Chen gave herself a three-week deadline to share her beautiful makeup creations online. Now, Cindy has over 1.6 million TikTok followers and has built her own business from the ground up. Today, Cindy hosts a mentorship program for aspiring beauty influencers and continues to share her intricate geometric designs on TikTok and beyond.

What gives Cindy hope for the future in 2021: "As someone who grew up as Taiwanese diaspora in the Philippines and went to an international school, I learned two major things. The first was how to find common ground between different people, even if we had wildly different views. The second was that having Eurocentric features was considered more attractive (as portrayed in the media).

"I spent my childhood ashamed of my Taiwanese features and was made fun of for the large beauty mark on my forehead. But when I started putting my makeup art out on social media, I received messages from people saying that they had never seen someone with a beauty mark on their face just like them. It made them feel more normal, more accepted.

"I didn't know the role I played until I was already in it but it made me proud to be in this position. So first of all, I am hopeful that people will try their best to find common ground with each other. Inclusion is not the echo chamber of our beliefs, but the willingness to include those who have different opinions from ours.

"Secondly, I am hopeful that we can change media representation. My role as a social media influencer will hopefully inspire others who look like me, or show those who felt like they weren't 'meant' to pursue their creative passions because of their appearance, that they were meant to be whoever they wanted to be."

Ashlyn So

Ashlyn So made her New York Fashion Week debut when she was only 9 years old. Now 13, Ashlyn is a skilled designer with two NYFW shows under her belt and an "accidental activist" who regularly uses her platform to speak out about Asian American hate crimes.

What gives Ashlyn hope for the future in 2021: "I think seeing so many people who are really wanting to speak up and take action, especially in youth now [gives me hope]. People are seeing that they want to make a change and it's because it kind of hits home. People are thinking that this could've been my family, this could've been my mom, this could've been my grandma, my grandpa. I see so many people posting about it but also organizing rallies and organizing seminars. I see conferences, and that really makes me hopeful, not only for 2021 but for the future, too."

Joanne Molinaro

Popular for her captivating voice-overs set to cooking footage, Joanne Molinaro, aka @thekoreanvegan, has gained over 2.3 million TikTok followers. Her intimate stories about personal moments, family history, and mental health are helpful reminders to reflect and take a second to look at life from a new angle.

What gives Joanne hope for the future in 2021: "I think what makes me hopeful is what I am observing as a change in behavior by API. I've been at my law firm for almost 17 years and the prevailing modus operandi of the Asian American community in the legal industry is, 'Duck your head, keep your head down, don't rock the boat, don't complain, do your job.' That's the way we paved our way to success. But what ultimately ends up happening is, because of that, we become disengaged.

"And what I start to see now, particularly in the legal industry but I think across the board with this younger generation, is an unwillingness to abide or adopt that methodology anymore. They are speaking out; they are identifying instances of micro- or macroaggressions; they are not willing to be silenced and complicit anymore; they want people to understand their stories and they are becoming bolder and bolder. And I think that that's so important, because what it does is two things. Number one, it brings awareness to their struggle, [to] people who are otherwise completely oblivious to it, quite frankly. And then, on top of that, it [makes it so] we are now allowed to view each other horizontally.

"We can now talk about these issues, we can support each other through our pain. We can say, 'Hey, I know exactly what you're feeling.' But if we didn't communicate what we were feeling to each other before, there was no way for us to say, 'I support you, I stand with you, I understand you, you're not alone.' And that's what I'm seeing right now with what's happening, is this groundswell of solidarity within the API community. That is what gives me a lot of hope. That we are building a consortium within all of the different segments of the API community that will outlast what we're seeing, this insidious wave of crime against our community."

William Lex Ham

Known for his dark roles on TV, actor and activist William Lex Ham adds a spot of sunshine to life off screen with impassioned clips documenting rallies and protests advocating for justice and equality. His videos encourage members of the APIA community to take pride in their heritage and provide helpful tips for allies looking to protect APIA friends and neighbors.

What gives William hope for the future in 2021: "The silver lining of the tragedies the APIA community has faced throughout the past year is seeing our very broad, diverse community come together in love and support of one another. For 2021 and beyond, I have incredible hope as so many APIA people are stepping into our power; owning our voices and stories."