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10 AAPI Women Who are Champions of Change

// May 19, 2023

Happy AAPI Heritage Month!

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado recognizes 10 trailblazing Asian American and Pacific Islander women who have positively impacted not only their own communities, but their country with their leadership, activism, and artistry. Read on and learn more about a few AAPI women who have overcome prejudicial barriers and used their voices as a catalyst for change

Cecilia Chung, Activist 

Cecilia Chung fights for equitable healthcare access for LGBTQ communities. She is a groundbreaking advocate for the transgender community and those living with HIV/AIDS. She is changing the dreaded narrative around HIV/AIDS and bringing life, hope, and love to these communities. Chung served on California’s Civil Rights Enforcement Working Group and lobbied for San Francisco to be the first U.S. city to pay for gender reassignment surgery for uninsured transgender patients. She is a founding organizer of Trans March and the first Deputy Director of the Transgender Law Center.  In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed her to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. In 2015, Chung founded Positively Trans, a network intended to address the stigma and inequities faced by transgender people, particularly people of color, living with HIV. Chung has received a substantial number of rewards for her long record of public service. 

“The only way that we can really create change is not just changing peoples’ minds. We also need to find ways to change peoples’ hearts. If everyone realized that they might have a friend, a cousin, a co-worker, a mother, a father, a son, or daughter or grandchild who is transgender, maybe that will start shifting some of these conversations.” – Cecilia Chung, ABC 7 News

Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States 

Kamala Harris has shattered glass ceilings for multiple marginalized communities. She is the 49th Vice President of the United States, making her the first woman, Indian American, and African American to hold the post.  She previously served in the U.S. Senate and as attorney general of California. Harris was also the first woman and African American to hold the position of attorney general of California. Harris has become the highest-ranking woman official in U.S. history. Although she is a woman of many firsts, she certainly hopes she won’t be the last. 

“My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’ That’s why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us.” – Kamala Harris, Vice President-Elect acceptance speech

Maya Lin, Designer & Sculptor

Maya Lin is an architect and sculptor. During her senior year at Yale, Lin entered a nationwide competition sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to create a design for a monument honoring those who had served and died in the war. Her design, which received a B in her class at Yale, won. Lin rose to notoriety for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is displayed in Washington, D.C.  She also designed a memorial for the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Now, her work focuses on environmental themes. 

“I try to give people a different way of looking at their surroundings. That’s an art to me.” – Maya Lin

Lisa Ling, Journalist and TV Personality

Lisa Ling is no stranger to being in the spotlight. She started her career at 16 as the host of “Scratch”, an adolescent news program that aired nationwide. Two years later, she joined Channel One News as one of the channel’s youngest reporters. She aired in over two dozen countries and became the network’s senior war correspondent at age 25. She is the executive producer and host of “This Is Life” on CNN. She served as a co-host for “The View”, host of “National Geographic Explorer”, and correspondent for “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado had the privilege of having Lisa Ling as a 2009 Annual Luncheon speaker! 

“Refrain from being too judgmental. You’ll often be surprised by what people have to offer.” – Lisa Ling

Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink, Former U.S. Representative

Patsy Mink is a woman of many firsts who never backs down from a challenge. Mink was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress, the first Japanese American to practice law in Hawaii, and the first Asian American to run for U.S. President. She has championed major legislative bills like Title IX, the Early Childhood Education Act, and the Women’s Educational Equity Act. Mink received criticism for her interracial marriage and was denied the right to take the bar for being married and having a child. Mink challenged this discrimination and passed the bar. Not only did she practice law, but she started her own practice and founded the Oahu Young Democrats in 1954. 

“We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences… to make sure that others… do not have to suffer the same discrimination.” – Patsy Mink


Celeste Ng, Novelist 

Celeste Ng loves to stir the pot in her novels, which often include elements of mystery, family drama, and social commentary. Ng’s breakout piece was rejected 17 times before being published. Now, she is a New York Times bestselling novelist. Her works include Everything I Never Told Youand “Little Fires Everywhere”, which became a Hulu series. Her new novel, “Our Missing Hearts”, is out now and instantly became a New York Times bestseller. Ng uses her platform to combat bigotry and advocate for more books with diverse backgrounds. 

“It’s so easy, as a writer, to get stuck in your own head, to live in the little worlds you create. To forget that there are people out there reading your work, people who may be deeply affected by what you do, that you are writing not just for yourself, but for them.” – Celeste Ng

Indra Nooyi, Business Executive

Indra Nooyi is an Indian-born American businesswoman, who served as the former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo. She was the first woman of color and the first immigrant to head a Fortune 50 company. Nooyi was responsible for guiding a major restructuring of PepsiCo. This included the company’s spin-off of its restaurants into Tricon Global Restaurants and revitalizing PepsiCo’s bottling operations. She pushed for more environmentally sustainable operation practices. Under her leadership, PepsiCo’s revenues increased from $35 billion to $63.5 billion. Nooyi continues to serve on different corporate and nonprofit boards. Now, she is the co-director of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. 

“Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I’ve never forgotten that.” – Indra Nooyi



Ai-jen Poo, Activist

Ai-jen Poo is an award-winning labor activist, organizer, author, and leader in the women’s movement. She is the Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, director of Caring Across Generations, co-founder of SuperMajority, and trustee of the Ford Foundation. Ai-jen Poo was named one of TIME magazine’s most influential people and appeared on Newsweek’s list of “150 Fearless Women”. Poo was influential in championing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which the New York state legislature passed on June 1, 2010. The bill legitimated domestic workers and gave them the same lawful rights as any other employee, such as vacation time and overtime pay.  It was an honor to have Poo speak at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s Chat4Change: Caring for Colorado’s Care Workers.  

“I believe that love is the most powerful force for change in the world. I often compare great campaigns to great love affairs because they’re an incredible container for transformation. You can change policy, but you also change relationships and people in the process.” – Ai-jen Poo

Junko Tabei, Mountaineer 

Junko Tabei reached peak success in the mountain climbing world when she became the first woman to conquer Mount Everest. When Tabei began her climbing journey, she was often discriminated against by men. They accused her of trying to find a husband rather than a climbing partner. Therefore, in 1969, Junko founded the Joshi-Tohan mountaineering club for women only, whose motto was “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.” Tabei led her club on a number of ascents, including the first woman-only ascent to Annapurna III, in Nepal. She completed the Seven Summits in 1992, climbing a mountain on every continent. Her love for climbing inspired her to write 7 books about her experiences and environmentalism. She studied the impact of garbage left on mountains and advocated for environmentally friendly climbing practices. 

“Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top; it is the willpower that is the most important. This willpower you cannot buy with money or be given by others… it rises from your heart.” – Junko Tabei

Michelle Yeoh, Actress 

Michelle Yeoh’s journey illustrates that what is meant for you will be for you. She is the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Yeoh had an extensive background in ballet training, and she hoped to pursue a career as a ballerina and open her own dance studio. Unfortunately, an injury derailed her hopes of a performance career. One day, Yeoh’s friend recommended her to Hong Kong businessman Dickson Poon, who needed last-minute talent for a TV advertisement. Yeoh met with Poon, and the next day she filmed a wristwatch commercial with actor Jackie Chan. This jumpstarted her acting career, and she often played roles that incorporated her ballet and martial arts background. She has acted in numerous notable movies like, “Crazy Rich Asians”, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, and “Crouching​​ Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her stellar performance in “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once”. 

“I gravitate towards roles where women find strength in very difficult, uncompromising situations but maintain clarity in mind, discipline at heart, and a certain strength in spirit.” -Michelle Yeoh


Learn more!

Visit Stop AAPI Hate and visit our Anti-racism and Allyship Resources page to learn how to support AAPI communities. 

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