Jessica Nguyen sits down with Helena Berbano to delve into how and why Asian-Americans are so politically disengaged. Given Helena’s active involvement in campaigning for Asian-American women candidates, she speaks about the power of political engagement and how the lack of such action negatively impacts the larger community.
We start the podcast with Helena speaking about the difficulties of working and existing in a white male-dominated space that heavily relies on having connections. Still holding onto her authenticity, she has found a way to adapt within this space as a woman of color. Working in politics, she has also gained insights into why the Asian-American community has lower engagement with politics compared to other communities. Besides more obvious factors like voter suppression tactics and language barriers, there are also issues with lack of contact and lingering trauma from past experiences with corrupt politics. Taking these into consideration, we should reevaluate what would be the most effective ways to get more of the community (both young and older generations) to be more politically involved. Helena recommends redefining the negative connotation around the word “politics” through honest conversations about causes and issues they genuinely care about. Using that as a stepping stone, one can start by getting involved in local elections because no matter how small or big the political stage is, representation of diverse perspectives matters.
When it comes to being an activist, Helena reminds us that one does not have to be out in the frontlines protesting or go knocking door-to-door to call themselves activists. What is most important is to find the route to activism that is most authentic and accessible for them. Stay tuned to the end of the episode to learn about resources and/or spaces to explore if you are interested in being more involved in political movements.
HELENA BERBANO is a 2nd generation Filipina American who is an organizer, activist, and campaign operative. She has managed national voter engagement programs and has advised a number of Massachusetts state and local grassroots advocacy groups on their campaigns. During her tenure as Director of Special Projects at Nonprofit VOTE she focused on voter registration and outreach with disenfranchised communities and collaborated and trained a variety of advocacy and nonprofit networks, including the National Association of Community Health Centers, YWCA, United Way Worldwide, and League of Women Voters.
One of her biggest passions is getting more women and people of color elected into public office. In 2016, she organized a national coalition of Asian American Pacific Islander millennials in support of Secretary Clinton. She also has invested in leadership in her home state of Massachusetts. In 2017, she served as Campaign Manager for Nicole Castillo's bid for Newton city council, and in 2018 she served as Strategic Advisor for now State Representative Tram Nguyen. Most recently she served as Director of Operations for Dr. Mohammad Dar’s bid for the 8th Congressional District in MA.
She holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she was given the distinctions of McCormack Scholar, Keough Capstone Fellow, and Best Capstone for her research focused on women of color public office initiatives. She is the outgoing Co-Director of New Leaders Council - Boston and formally sat on the Mass NOW PAC and Young Democrats of Massachusetts boards. On her days off, she listens to musical theatre compilations and avidly sings power ballads at karaoke.
Jessica Nguyen sits down with Abigail Hing Wen, the author of Asian-American young adult novel “Loveboat, Taipei,” to learn about her journey in becoming a published author. Working in artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley, Abigail had no idea she would ever become a writer. Although she grew up reading books all the time, the idea for a book never came until she graduated from law school in 2007. Her journey started with the novel FOXSTONE and has continued over the course of 12 years where she continued to work on her craft, even getting an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 5 books later, she came out with “Loveboat, Taipei,” a story based on her own experiences attending a summer camp in Taiwan where she was able to revel in Asian culture and build amazing relationships. For Abigail, this coming-of-age story was written with the intent for 1) the Asian community to feel that they too can be protagonists of a novel and 2) showcase the diversity and humanity that exists within the community. Tune in to the episode to learn when the sequel is scheduled to be released!
When pitching her work to publishing companies, some challenges she faced included not being able to get through marketing due to gatekeepers not being able to relate with the characters–an issue that writers of color often face in the white-dominant publishing space. Despite these challenges, she has found strength in being able to work with agents who share the same vision for her work. We end the podcast with Abigail telling aspiring novelists to continuously write and find people they can resonate with. Despite all the obstacles and barriers that exist in this journey, she encourages people to never give up since “a writer’s life is mostly rejection.”
1) Follow author Abigail Hing Wen AND Project Voice on 1 of the following social media platforms
2) Write an Apple Podcasts review for Project Voice
3) Tag 3 friends in the comments (any social media platform)
Jessica Nguyen sits down with Florence Shin and Athina Wang from COVRY Eyewear to talk about how they celebrate and set a new standard for diversity in the eyewear industry. These long-time friends who ended up going to schools on opposite coasts, found themselves working in the same city after college. With offices that were a block away from each other, Florence and Athina met each other during lunch breaks to discuss their business ideas. Realizing that they were always having to settle for eyewear that didn’t fit well, they want to create a product that would reflect the beauty of diverse face shapes. Unlike other fashion pieces that could be easily hemmed and altered to fit one’s body, adjusting pieces that were meant for the face was much more complicated. That is how COVRY was born.
What started as their personal desire to produce eyewear that fit them well, soon became this movement away from one-size-fit-all to pieces with sizes that fit real people. In this pursuit of creating eyewear that combines fun, functionality, and comfort, Florence and Athina talk about the importance of listening to their customers. Whether it’s gathering responses via social media or talking to people in person at popups, it was important they were able to hear what their customers wanted and needed to adjust their design accordingly. We end the podcast with the two discussing their favorite pieces and what smart features or superpowers they would want their glasses to have.
COVRY celebrates diversity through handcrafted prescription eyewear. Our eyewear goes beyond the standard fit with our exclusive Elevated Fit® designed for comfort. Each design combines high quality materials, such as plant-based acetate, vegan leather and UV protection, with an effortless, classic style for women and men. 👓 👓 👓
About the Co-Founders of COVRY: Before they were the founders of COVRY, ATHING WANG and FLORENCE SHIN were high school friends with a passion for the fashion industry. Although they had never planned to start a business together, they connected on their struggle for finding stylish eyewear that fit their low nose bridges and high cheekbones. This inspired them to create COVRY's signature Elevated Fit® and embark on journey to smile with confidence.
Athina’s Instagram: @athina.w
Florence’s Instagram: @florence.shin
Julie McConnell sits down with Cece Horbat to discuss all things environmentalism. As someone who has been interested in the environment after watching NBC commercials about recycling, Cece is now majoring in environmental justice at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
Responding to the article “Five Ways to Make the Outdoors More Inclusive,” Cece finds a correlation between the diversity of the environment and the human population and feels that it is inherently wrong that some people do not have equitable access to the resources that the earth has to water, whether that’s clean air, water, or even healthy. This lack of equity may be due to a variety of factors such as geographic location, economic stress, and/or lack of education.
What also comes hand in hand with this lack of access to the outdoors is the lack of awareness of how humans are impacting the environment. Although the topic itself may be complicated and overwhelming to tackle, Cece encourages people to start by reflecting on their individual choices. It starts with consciousness and the willingness to educate yourself about how you can be living more sustainably, whether that is reusing plastic bags or even buying a reusable boba straw. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution and you have to figure out what changes you can make in your everyday life that works for you. As Cece said, “We all deserve a safe and happy place that gives us what we need, and the earth does that, so we need to respect it in the best way that we can.”
CECE HORBAT is a Chinese Adoptee from Albany, NY. Aside from her love for a good deep discussion about adoption, she's passionate about the environment. CeCe is pursuing her masters degree at the University of Michigan studying Environmental Justice. When she's not drowning in homework, you can find her in search for the best new food place while sipping some boba and petting a dog.
Julie Connell sits down with Nkauj Iab Yang from Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) to deliver an engaging and educational episode centered around trauma–from how it's defined to the long-term consequences that unfold when trauma goes unaddressed. This episode covers a wide variety of trauma with trauma being defined as emotionally and physically distressing experiences that challenge one's ability to cope.
The conversation starts off with a focus on the older generation who lived through the war in Southeast Asia and fled their homeland for the sake of their well being and safety. Besides having experienced violence firsthand, these individuals had to face many stressors that came with resettling in a foreign country. Faced with language barriers and lack of access to resources and information regarding higher education, many Southeast Asian communities suffer from high rates of unemployment and poverty. Many people had to learn how to navigate America on their own since there was no pre-existing Southeast Asian community to provide guidance or emotional support.
Because survival was of the highest priority, people oftentimes found themselves too busy to find time to cope with their trauma. This results in 1) unaddressed trauma that gets more harsh and violent as it is passed from one generation to the next and 2) lack of positive, community-defined coping mechanisms. The conversation now shifts to the younger generation who are negatively impacted by intergenerational trauma while also having to deal with present-day stressors as a result of data aggregation. Because the data of all Asian American communities get grouped together, many of the nuanced problems faced by the Southeast Asian community often gets overlooked. Although in reality there is an education and wealth disparity gap between the Southeast Asian and East Asian communities, the perception that they all fall under the Model Minority Myth has hindered Southeast Asian communities from accessing necessary services and resources. Yang emphasizes how we need to focus on highlighting appropriate and accurate data that reflects the story and situation of these communities.
We end the podcast reflecting on the importance of speaking out about trauma and combating the stigmatization of mental health as a form of collective healing.
SEARAC is a national civil rights organization that empowers Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese American communities to create a socially just and equitable society. As representatives of the largest refugee community ever resettled in the United States, SEARAC stands together with other refugee communities, communities of color, and social justice movements in pursuit of social equity.
NKAUJ IAB YANG is the Director of California Policy and Programs. She works closely with Southeast Asian American led and serving organizations throughout California to build a statewide Southeast Asian American equity agenda, identify the appropriate strategies, and advocate for local and state policy change. Nkauj Iab spent the last 13 years committed to youth organizing, youth development, and policy advocacy.
She holds a Master of Arts in ethnic studies from San Francisco State University and a bachelor of arts in ethnic studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
Jessica Nguyen sits down with Cynthia Koo and Irene Kwong to talk about their experiences as Asian-American women business owners in the stationery industry. In this interview, we explore how they turned their passion into a career while dealing with obstacles from external pressures.
Cynthia and Irene briefly introduce Wonton In A Million and Simply Gilded, respectively, before delving into how their obsession with stationary during their childhood carried over to adulthood. Their interest to pursue this interest professionally grew as they discovered the welcoming stationary community. As they look back on their journey as creative entrepreneurs, they reflect on how it wasn’t something they set out to do full-time right from the beginning. Facing difficulties with breaking into the market and their fears of financial instability, the process to eventually go all-in on their passion projects was gradual as they built confidence in their craft. Technology played a crucial part in that process as it enabled them to find inspiration, do research, and connect with other artists and designers.
Because there is no definite guidebook when it comes to being an entrepreneur in the creative industry, they advise aspiring entrepreneurs to be really passionate about their craft and to strike a balance between consuming and producing art. When faced with creator’s block, they advise artists to change it up by trying things that are new and challenging. They also want to remind the listeners that this path is never set in stone and that although things may shift as things progress, it’s important to maintain the mindset that the path to success may be long and arduous.
Given how far they’ve come with their businesses, they want to share their experiences with the greater community, particularly Asian American women, by speaking at conferences or doing a podcast episode like this one. They hope that by talking about their stories, Asian American women who have thoughts about starting their own business will feel seen and heard, empowering them to pursue their passions even if it is the road less traveled.
CYNTHIA KOO is the founder and designer of Wonton In A Million, a stationery brand that's home of the Dimsum Steam Team. She grew up eating dimsum at Oriental Garden, the restaurant my dad has managed in New York City for over 30 years and one day in 2015, she started wondering why there weren’t punny greeting cards featuring the little dumplings, buns, and pastries that made up her favorite Chinese cuisine. Thus, Wonton In A Million was born. Her sincere hope is that the Dimsum Steam Team makes you happy and hungry, inspires you to eat more dimsum, and "touches your heart" (the literal translation of "dimsum")!
IRENE KWONG is an unconventional entrepreneur with a deep love for exploring the imaginative world she inhabited in her childhood. After departing from an almost decade-long career in pharmacy, she finally had the opportunity to live her dream of building a creative business (and playing with stickers all day!). She currently resides in Seattle, WA with her husband Darren and 2 kids, Jake and Lily.
Simply gilded specializes in beautiful and whimsical stationery products for home, office, creative expression, and beyond! From magical washi tape designs to notepads, magnets, pins, pens, a monthly subscription box, and more, simply gilded strives to spark joy and delight with their products and messaging.
Simply Gilded: @simplygilded
Simply Gilded Box: @simplygildedbox
Juniper Bunny: @xoxojuniper