Student View
Pictures of three teenagers who are fighting against AAPI discrimination in their own ways

From left to right: Ashlyn So led rallies to raise awareness about anti-Asian attacks; Ben Kim organized a Lunar New Year meal to teach people about his culture; YuYu Yuan used her school debate team to denounce hate.

Courtesy Dennis Yu; Courtesy of Kim family; Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.4, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, W.6-8.4, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Culture • Individual Development and Identity • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions • Civic Ideals and Practices

CHANGEMAKERS

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Taking a Stand for Tolerance

Meet three teens using their unique talents to help stop anti-Asian discrimination in their communities.

What is stronger than hate? For Ben Kim, 17, it is kindness. For YuYu Yuan, 19, it is truth. And for Ashlyn So, 13, it is action.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, all three teens witnessed a surge in attacks in the United States on people who are Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI). The incidents ranged from verbal harassment to physical violence. More than 2,400 such attacks occurred in the first three months of this year alone, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate.

Experts say the increase is partly due to people incorrectly blaming the pandemic on individuals of Asian descent. The virus that causes Covid-19 was first identified in China, but a person’s race has nothing to do with how it spreads, scientists say.

Ben, YuYu, and Ashlyn didn’t wait for someone else to solve the problem. The teens each acted to stop discrimination and create understanding in their own way. Here’s a look at how they have made a difference—and how you can be part of the solution too.

What is stronger than hate? For Ben Kim, 17, it is kindness. For YuYu Yuan, 19, it is truth. And for Ashlyn So, 13, it is action.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, all three teens saw a surge in attacks in the United States on people who are Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI). The attacks ranged from verbal harassment to physical violence. More than 2,400 such attacks took place in the first three months of this year alone. That is according to the group Stop AAPI Hate.

Experts say the increase is partly due to people incorrectly blaming the pandemic on individuals of Asian descent. The virus that causes Covid-19 was first identified in China. But a person’s race has nothing to do with how the virus spreads, scientists say.

Ben, YuYu, and Ashlyn did not wait for someone else to solve the problem. The teens each acted to stop discrimination and create understanding in their own way. Here is a look at how they have made a difference—and how you can be part of the solution too.

Ashlyn So: The Activist

Courtesy Dennis Yu

Ashlyn So never planned to be an activist. But the teen from the San Francisco Bay area of California felt compelled to speak up last winter after seeing a news video of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an Asian elder from her community, being shoved to the ground. The 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand died from his injuries.

“I was very shocked and scared,” Ashlyn says. “I couldn’t just sit here and let it happen.”

Within a week, she had organized her first rally, which she publicized on social media. Hundreds of people showed up. Fueled by what she had seen locally, as well as by other reports of violence against older people of AAPI descent nationwide, the usually shy Ashlyn grabbed a megaphone. She urged the crowd to unite against anti-Asian hate. “I had to put my nerves aside because this is not even about me,” she says. “This is about all the Asian elders who were attacked.”

Since then, Ashlyn has organized another rally and given empowering speeches at dozens of protests. She pushes people to act—such as by learning about other cultures or by supporting small businesses affected by hate crimes. 

Ashlyn, who is Chinese American, is also circulating a petition urging her school district to include AAPI studies in the U.S. history curriculum. “We have such a rich history that I didn’t even learn about in school,” she says. 

Ashlyn has also created a line of “Stand for Asians” hats, with all proceeds going toward the AAPI communities. She hopes to inspire other teens. “I want to empower them,” she says. “I did this, and you can do this too.”

Ashlyn So is a teen from the San Francisco Bay area of California. She never planned to be an activist. But she felt a need to speak up last winter. Ashlyn had seen a news video of Vicha Ratanapakdee. He was an Asian elder from her community. She saw the man being shoved to the ground. The 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand died from his injuries.

“I was very shocked and scared,” Ashlyn says. “I couldn’t just sit here and let it happen.”

Within a week, she had organized her first rally. She publicized it on social media. Hundreds of people showed up. Ashlyn was fueled by what she had seen locally and by other reports of violence against older people of AAPI descent nationwide. The usually shy Ashlyn grabbed a megaphone. She urged the crowd to unite against anti-Asian hate. “I had to put my nerves aside because this is not even about me,” she says. “This is about all the Asian elders who were attacked.”

Since then, Ashlyn has organized another rally. She also has given empowering speeches at dozens of protests. She pushes people to act—such as by learning about other cultures or by supporting small businesses affected by hate crimes.

Ashlyn, who is Chinese American, is circulating a petition. It urges her school district to include AAPI studies in the U.S. history curriculum. “We have such a rich history that I didn’t even learn about in school,” she says.

Ashlyn has also created a line of “Stand for Asians” hats. All proceeds go toward the AAPI communities. She hopes to inspire other teens. “I want to empower them,” she says. “I did this, and you can do this too.”

Courtesy Dennis Yu

Ashlyn (second from left) marches in San Francisco, California, in May.

Ben Kim: The Community Builder

Courtesy of Kim family 

The Lunar New Year is an important holiday in many Asian cultures, marking the start of the new year based on the moon’s cycles. Ben Kim usually celebrates with his family. But this year, the teen from Howard County, Maryland, decided to share the joy with even more people. In February, he organized a Lunar New Year feast for 70 residents and staff at a local homeless shelter.

For Ben, sharing the meal was a positive way to teach people about his Korean heritage. “Until that point, only a couple of people I knew celebrated the Lunar New Year locally,” he says. “I wanted to really highlight the Asian culture.” 

The Lunar New Year is an important holiday in many Asian cultures. It marks the start of the new year based on the moon’s cycles. Ben Kim is a teen from Howard County, Maryland. He usually celebrates the Lunar New Year with his family. But this year, he decided to share the joy with even more people. In February, he organized a Lunar New Year feast for 70 residents and staff at a local homeless shelter.

For Ben, sharing the meal was a great way to teach people about his Korean heritage. “Until that point, only a couple of people I knew celebrated the Lunar New Year locally,” he says. “I wanted to really highlight the Asian culture.”

“I wanted to help people appreciate the diversity instead of fearing the unknown.”

The holiday menu showcased a variety of traditional foods from different parts of Asia, including Chinese longevity noodles and Korean pan-fried dumplings. Ben raised money online to pay for the ingredients and organized volunteers from 12 families to cook the mega meal. He made 200 dumplings by hand with his mother and sister. 

In addition to providing a positive experience for local families who had struggled during a difficult year, Ben says getting more community members to understand, value, and enjoy Asian culture was especially important to him. 

“I wanted to help people appreciate the diversity instead of fearing the unknown,” he says. “It all stems back to seeing other people as people.” 

The holiday menu presented a variety of traditional foods from different parts of Asia. It included Chinese longevity noodles and Korean pan-fried dumplings. Ben raised money online to pay for the ingredients. He organized volunteers from 12 families to cook the mega meal. He made 200 dumplings by hand with his mother and sister.

The celebration provided a positive experience for local families who had struggled during a difficult year. Ben says that was very important to him. So was getting more community members to understand, value, and enjoy Asian culture.

“I wanted to help people appreciate the diversity instead of fearing the unknown,” he says. “It all stems back to seeing other people as people.”

Courtesy of Kim family

Ben (right) and his sister assemble dumplings.

YuYu Yuan: The Orator

Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

This past school year, YuYu Yuan delivered the same speech dozens of times for virtual speech and debate tournaments. Standing in front of her laptop, she smiled, gestured, and joked. But her underlying message was dead serious: Stop blaming me for Covid-19.

Originally from China, YuYu moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a young child. “Through elementary and middle school, I never really saw another face like mine,” she recalls. She felt even more isolated during the pandemic, when she was afraid to even run errands for fear of being harassed. 

YuYu used her speeches to educate about disease stigma—when a group of people is incorrectly blamed for an illness and avoided or harassed because of it. She told audiences how disease stigma has occurred multiple times in history, including today, when people associate Covid-19 with people of Asian descent. “Instead of targeting the disease, we have chosen to target the people,” she told listeners. 

YuYu won multiple awards for her speech. But the teen’s primary goal was to help people understand—and reject—disease stigma. Be careful with the words you use to describe diseases, share only factual information, and speak up if you hear people do otherwise, she advises. 

“If we just stand by and let racism happen, then it creates this kind of snowball effect,” YuYu warns. “We are made up of multiple races. We should be promoting inclusion.”

This past school year, YuYu Yuan delivered the same speech dozens of times for virtual speech and debate tournaments. Standing in front of her laptop, she smiled, gestured, and joked. But her underlying message was dead serious: Stop blaming me for Covid-19.

YuYu is originally from China. She moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a young child. “Through elementary and middle school, I never really saw another face like mine,” she recalls. She felt even more isolated during the pandemic. She was afraid to even run errands for fear of being harassed.

YuYu used her speeches to educate about disease stigma. That is when a group of people is incorrectly blamed for an illness and avoided or harassed because of it. She told audiences how disease stigma has occurred multiple times in history, including today, when people associate Covid-19 with people of Asian descent. “Instead of targeting the disease, we have chosen to target the people,” she told listeners.

YuYu won multiple awards for her speech. But the teen’s main goal was to help people understand and reject disease stigma. Be careful with the words you use to describe diseases, she advises. Share only factual information. Speak up if you hear people do otherwise. 

“If we just stand by and let racism happen, then it creates this kind of snowball effect,” YuYu warns. “We are made up of multiple races. We should be promoting inclusion.”

Courtesy Suzi Savage

YuYu delivers her speech to students in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

How YOU Can Help

Here are three ways you can promote understanding and tolerance of people from all backgrounds. 

Widen Your World
Seek out books, shows, and articles about people from other races, religions, or backgrounds. The more you know about other groups, the easier it is to identify and empathize with them. 

Say Something
If you feel safe doing so, speak up when friends or relatives make a joke or comment about someone’s background—even if the target of the joke is not present. A quick “that’s not funny” or “cut it out” can reset the tone.

Support Change
With a parent’s permission, take part in peaceful rallies in favor of causes you support. Write or email lawmakers, asking them to pass anti-hate legislation. Volunteer or raise donations for groups that promote equality.

Widen Your World
Seek out books, shows, and articles about people from other races, religions, or backgrounds. The more you know about other groups, the easier it is to identify and empathize with them. 

Say Something
If you feel safe doing so, speak up when friends or relatives make a joke or comment about someone’s background—even if the target of the joke is not present. A quick “that’s not funny” or “cut it out” can reset the tone.

Support Change
With a parent’s permission, take part in peaceful rallies in favor of causes you support. Write or email lawmakers, asking them to pass anti-hate legislation. Volunteer or raise donations for groups that promote equality.

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