EPISODE FOURTEEN: AMANDA NGUYEN
Amanda Nguyen is an activist, survivor, noble peace prize nominee and founder of social justice incubator, Rise and a future astronaut. After surviving a rape on her college campus, Amanda experienced the broken justice system for sexual violence survivors first-hand and set out to change the law. She and her team passed the Sexual Assault Survivors Rights Act in Congress unanimously and she has since gone on to help pass 33 bills. Amanda recently spoke out and demanded a spotlight on the rise in anti-Asian violence that has occurred since the pandemic began, igniting a much-needed national conversation. Amanda shares with Between Headlines the importance of including Asian American Pacific Islanders in anti-racist work and what we can all do to stop the hate.
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Alison Hall, Amanda Nguyen
Alison Hall 00:10
You're listening to between headlines. I'm Alison Hall. For today's between headlines I spoke with Amanda when Amanda is a force. She is an activist, a founder, a sexual violence survivor, and a future astronaut. Amanda has been on my list of dream guests for a while. She is the founder of an organization called rise, which is a social justice incubator that she started after penning her own civil rights into existence. Amanda's organization has passed 33 laws. She was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She has been making waves for years and recently she spoke out about a deeply personal issue, the rise of anti Asian violence in the United States. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic Asian American Pacific Islanders, also known as aapis have seen a tragic uptick in violence and racist rhetoric against them. Some reports say it's a 150% increase in violence, and an 800% increase in anti Asian racist language on social media. But not many people outside of the Asian American community. We're even talking about it. But the attacks kept happening. And 84 year old Thai man in San Francisco was killed. And Amanda sent out a call for action. She posted an Instagram video calling out the media asking journalists to cover these important stories at an individual level. And on the concerning trend itself. It worked, the conversation has been started and media outlets, journalists, celebrities. And hopefully, everyday people in their homes are having conversations about how to support and uplift the Asian American Pacific Islander community. I wanted to talk to Amanda about her work from helping start these important conversations to her work at rise and her very real goal of becoming an astronaut. I got so much out of my conversation with Amanda. And I hope you do too. And we have so many different topics to talk to you about based on your resume and all that you do. It's like you're a cat with nine lives. You're living all of them simultaneously. So I don't know how you do it. The main reason why I really want to talk to you, of course, is all of the work that you're doing around getting people to talk about pay attention to, and hopefully make change around the uptick in anti Asian American violence that's been occurring over the past year in this country. You had this Instagram video that went viral with a call to action for people to pay attention to it for the mainstream media to pay attention to it. Tell me about that. You know what inspired you to take your Instagram page and to really try to get this conversation going.
Amanda Nguyen 03:16
First of all, thank you so much for covering this story. And in talking to me, I quite simply was hurt. And seeing these videos of my community members being killed and attacked in very gruesome ways. You know, it was certainly a poisonous drip that amplified during the pandemic, from March 2020, when a two year old and a six year old were stabbed in a grocery store and the perpetrator said he did it because he thought they were Chinese and spreading COVID to an elderly woman being lit on fire to a young woman in in, I think New York who had acid thrown on her all the way to these recent string of events. You know which death the Filipino man with his face slashed open. So when I read about these things, I was so hurt and when I tried to find out more information about it, I saw that the stories weren't being covered. And that's when I got mad. I decided you know what, if mainstream media isn't going to do it, I'm going to turn to social media, and I'm going to call them out and we're going to ask for people to help me and overnight, millions of people rallied to my call for action. 3 million people watch the video in 24 hours and 11 point 4 million posts went up in response to video. So Tick Tock changed their homepage. Instagram helped push out another video to over 300 million people. And White House press corps asked if President Biden had seen the video.
Alison Hall 05:05
Wow, that's incredible. I mean, and it worked. People are having these discussions. Now it is very much a part of mainstream media. And I think it's obviously social media conversations and beyond just the Asian American community. White people are talking about it, all different races are talking about it, it's clearly an issue that people are starting to focus on. And it sounds like it really started with that video, which is incredible. I know that you we were just speaking offline. And you had said that, you know, it can be overwhelming lots of people that are reaching out to you and telling you their story in that even just reminds me of the beginning of the me tube movement. As people start sharing their stories, they say, hey, that happened to me too. And it makes them feel more comfortable speaking about their experiences, so tell me about that. I mean, your inbox just must be flooded.
Amanda Nguyen 06:01
Yeah, it has been flooded, with 1000s of people reaching out. And some even sharing very graphic videos and photos of the racial trauma that they have experienced living in yellow skin. It's a lot to take in. It's also quite humbling. And, you know, the reason why that video went so viral is not only because other people said, Hey, I stand in solidarity, but because people also felt like for the first time their grief was validated, that they could speak their truth and step into the light about some of the darkest experiences that they've had. What do you think it is? Obviously, there
Alison Hall 06:48
are just a huge range of reasons why that there has been an uptick in violence. Also, it needs to be said that, of course, this isn't something that's completely new. And it's definitely a failure on the education system, that it's not taught the vast range of atrocities that have been committed against Asian Americans for a very long time. But especially with the focus on it recently, and in the last year, there's lots of different stats, I can't seem to find one that is complete, but different stats of the huge uptake and percentage of hate crimes. What do you think it is about this past year that is causing this?
Amanda Nguyen 07:26
Yeah, I actually, your example, right, then is indicative of the way that Asian American Pacific Islanders have been omitted systematically from data collection, and it is a symptom of the problem. So to answer your question, the problem is arratia. Its visibility. And it's been happening for centuries, and as soon as APIs stepped foot onto this country, and it happened in structures of power at every single level. So what do I mean by that? In 2010, US Census, the Asian population grew faster than any other major race group in the last decade, we were the margin of victory in Georgia's most recent election. Yet, a studies by Reuters covering political polling shows that parties ignore API's. There's another study in 2009, that showed that some federal agencies do not even include API's in their definition of racial minorities. So that's from you know, the, the polling our government level, federal level, widespread omission, from our history to our schools, you know, people don't know that the internment camps happened, or that one of the biggest lynchings in US history, if not the biggest was against Asian Americans, or that we built, you know, the railroads in the 1800s that connect this country. So it's from our history to our grief to a contribution to our vote to the data collected by the federal government that informs the policies that govern us that we have been erased. And the problem is and disability. And do you think that the problem has just gotten worse in the
Alison Hall 09:09
last year? Or do you think that there's now more reporting happening, or both?
Amanda Nguyen 09:14
It's it's both. I think that when you have erased a group from humanity from the story of what we inform ourselves, right, that's history from how we govern from all the places that I've just met, you mentioned. And then you have one of the only mentioned be a very high profile, while president, the United States who has scapegoated, us as a community we get is a certain type of narrative, a certain type of visibility that has been very harmful, but has had consequences. And those consequences have been live loss.
Alison Hall 09:53
And do you mean with the former administration's classification of the Coronavirus and where it came from, and the disparity Words that they meant that they would use to classify it. Yes. Amanda, you're a part of this community? What does it feel like for you to I mean, see these acts of violence. Also, even just in your inbox, I imagine it's quite triggering for you to be bombarded and take a lot of emotional energy. You know, you're not a bystander, here, you're a part of it, you're an activist, how does it feel for you to, you know, absorb all of the traumas that people are sharing with you and then to also take it on and and to fight for it?
Amanda Nguyen 10:37
Yeah, this is something I do have a little bit of experience in better part of a decade, informed by my work in sexual violence, I went public about being a rape survivor, before the me too movement, and have had these waves of people reaching out and sharing their experiences, is I'm quite honored that people feel like they can share, they feel like there's somebody that makes them feel a little less alone, and I can't, I can't possibly begin to respond to every single one of them. But I do want to thank people for the feeling of hope that they have shared with me from seeing the activism that I do grow over the past several years, it is absolutely overwhelming. And, you know, to that end, what I do is literally clear my Saturdays, where I like lock my phone in a drawer, and I don't even look. Because I think at this point, whenever I open my phone, it's like flames are bursting from it. And I, you know, just set these personal boundaries, and your movement is only as healthy as you are. So being able to have that set time where I'm just taking care of myself instead of, you know, shouldering the world. Is is really helpful. Tell me about
Alison Hall 12:07
this the model myth, or sorry, the model minority myth. What does that mean to you? And what does it mean in the context of aapis
Amanda Nguyen 12:17
model, minority myth refers to an idea that is used as a wedge to separate communities of color. It particularly describes API's as a minority group that acts in a model way. By that I mean, that there, if we put our heads down, and don't complain, and work really hard, that we will climb the ladder, social, economic, corporate ladder, and one day down the line, we will be handed the keys to the kingdom. That has certainly not been true. It is a myth. Because one, it literally whitewashes us in the sense of white adjacency. This idea that API is our monolith instead of celebrating all the differences in the community itself. And then on top of that, it's so damaging, because it pits again, communities of color against each other. And so what I say is, we are not your mind, model minority myth. And we are not going to be silent anymore.
Alison Hall 13:32
And I think one of the points you brought up about the community of even just in the words, Asian American Pacific Islander, I mean, there are several different cultures and people and socio economic classes and just all different types of people. And I think one thing that's happening with this racial reckoning that so many of us are going through is, in a way we're starting to group people together, even in our language. Do you think that that's problematic? And how do we solve that? How do we honor people in the ways that they deserve to be for their differences?
Amanda Nguyen 14:09
Yeah, yeah, I think one of the reasons why my video was like fire meets gasoline is because so long, the dialogue around race has been a binary, black or white. And there are so many shades between. And it's so important that when people work on their anti racism, they include the Asian American Experience include a Latin x experience, they include indigenous experience, and I think it's, it's incumbent upon us to be thoughtful. And as we're doing our part in creating a more equitable society as we do our part in defining for our generation. What more perfect union is that? We think carefully about how to be intersectional you How to do cross community work.
Alison Hall 15:02
I was also reading about with a recent uptick in violence and just violence and hate crimes over the years with Asian American Pacific Islanders. Do you find that? Or is this correct? That there's a bit of a culture of on reporting, especially with the older generation, perhaps there's a idea of as you had said, you know, just put your head down and work and don't complain. Is that true? And are you finding that, with the younger generation of people starting to speak out now saying no, like, this is not okay, we have to talk about it. And is there maybe an intergenerational difference of how to deal with this,
Amanda Nguyen 15:44
there's no doubt that older generations, especially those who are immigrants, came over here who have come over here, who fought to get here to have a better life, and just are trying their best to survive. There is no doubt that in for many of them, being able to speak freely is a privilege and a luxury, something that they came over here, not expecting or come up came over here, just thinking that they couldn't access it, which is a shame, because we're all supposed to be a community here in America, we have ideals that we live up to. And if we're all Americans, in some way or form unless we're indigenous, we are hyphenated Americans. So yes, to answer your question, I think that there is a cultural difference. I think social media has a big part to play in it, you know, and older generations. Literacy within social media versus newer generations, literacy, social media, and doubtedly was a platform that helped create this moment, especially because the platform in itself is democratizing, in a sense, it at least doesn't get keep as much as well, mainstream media, right? Are these other structural places that I've discussed before? I so because of that, people's ideas, opinions and stories, which are empathy machines, that's what stories do. We're able to be heard, listened to, and validated. Absolutely.
Alison Hall 17:22
Amanda, have you experienced throughout your life, if you feel comfortable sharing different ranges of racism against you for being Asian American?
Amanda Nguyen 17:33
Yeah. There are so many painful moments, truly painful moments. And it's always, when I get asked this question. It's always that calculus of risk benefit analysis, cost benefit analysis of Okay, well, do I share it and then basically out people who are racist? And why am I protecting them when they're clearly in the raw? But is it worth it? You know, to be cross examined, but these are all the questions right to that relate to your previous question about like, why is it that some people don't speak up about this? And it's a very valid, it's a very valid reaction. If people do not feel like they are safe enough to they have no security for them to make the judgment call, you know what, I'm just not going to talk about it in my life right now. That I do feel like we are at an inflection point where more people feel like they can speak up about their truths. So to answer you know, some examples, my friends, especially during this pandemic, who are API have messaged me about how they are drawing their eyeliner a different way, in order to make their eyes seem bigger, how they are so worried for their parents or grandparents, as they are doing basic things like existing in grocery shopping, walking on the street, because these attacks have happened in these places. And, you know, for me, I can't tell you the amount of times that I've walked into a space where people instantly think that I don't belong. And even if these spaces are progressive, I look around and I'm the only API. And it's still disappointing that we are an afterthought, even if a thought at all. There are so many folks that poll on different issues, and API's are consistently omitted. And you know what silence is violence. I'm calling that out. A group of people cannot be omitted, especially if you espouse values of inclusion and diversity.
Alison Hall 19:56
Absolutely. I mean, that's the perfect lead into my next question is what Do you hope comes from these conversations that we're having? And what can the average person do? What can I do?
Amanda Nguyen 20:07
So the problem is invisibility, therefore, the solution must be visibility. And I think right now millions of people are responding to the need for API, educational content. The core of it is about empathy. We're seeing our community dehumanised because people aren't familiar with us, because there have been efforts systematically to make us into other the perpetual foreigner. And, you know, I think it's hard for people to empathize with our pain if they don't know our stories. And so we can combat xenophobia and racism, by humanizing the AAPI community. So, for me, that's creating educational content, that's something that my team is working on. That's creating visibility around this issue. By this point, there have been corporations, Airbnb, Amazon, to name a few that have sent out my video to their entire workforce. And I would like to see as we are coming up to May, which is AAPI, Heritage Month, what else they're going to do. Same with the white house with our elected leaders. I have calling on elected leaders to speak up and denounce the violence. Beyond that, show me show us how you are going to uplift the AAPI community. And of course, your as we're doing this work, I'm so grateful, you know, to my team at rise, who are working over time on this issue, pulling together this educational content. And so folks who are listening, want to help you can absolutely do so. You can you know, sign up to volunteer or donate at rise now.us slash donate?
Alison Hall 21:57
I mean, tell me about rise. It's such an incredible organization that you founded out of a very personal experience that you touched on earlier. What does rise do and how did it come to be?
Amanda Nguyen 22:12
rise is a civil rights accelerator. And what we do is we accelerate civil rights movements. It's based off of yc, 500 startups, so tech accelerators, but instead of resourcing startup, for profit, we resource activists and campaigns of all different issues, we started with the issue of sexual violence, because that's why I founded rise. I needed civil rights after I was raped, I found out that my rape kit could be destroyed and tested at six months in Massachusetts, even if the statute of limitations there's 15 years. And I thought that was really unfair. And I started speaking up about it, I remember walking into my local area of crisis center, and there weren't enough seats for us in the waiting room. And I thought to myself, Oh, my gosh, no, I, I cared about this issue before, I had no idea how many people is impacted, and also had no idea how broken what a cough gas Labyrinth, the criminal justice system would be for survivors. So rise originally started off working on survivors of sexual violence, civil rights, we still do, we passed the survivor Bill of Rights, unanimously through United States Congress in 2016. And since then, we've passed 33 laws. And those laws not only include survivor rights, but also include gun violence rights, and we're currently working on voting rights, youth rights, which Paris Hilton is one of my students, and, of course, anti Asian discrimination
Alison Hall 23:56
I mean, that's just so incredible. I can't even imagine the amount of bravery that you have in your pinky finger to to just go ahead with all of that and to create such change out of such a personal experience. I think there's that phrase, like, the personal is political. But I think that, you know, that doesn't even touch on how loaded it is to even just tell your story every time you know, on podcasts and interviews and to to talk about your deeply personal trauma. So thank you for sharing that. I know, you know, maybe you tell people all the time because of what you do, but I think it really is important to acknowledge, like, how heavy that is. Does it feel does it feel heavy to us still to be working on these issues, and especially the ones that are so personal to you?
Amanda Nguyen 24:50
Yeah, yeah, I mean, honestly, it's a bit of exposure therapy too, in the sense that like after literally the 100,000 time You've talked about it. You know, it's, it's, you know, just something that happened. But that's also something that I really take to heart, which is showing people that you can work on really difficult issues without giving up who you are the rest of you. And, you know, I love space, my backgrounds in astrophysics, and I want to be an astronaut. And I love fashion. And I think it's so important when people are able to look at my work to understand You know what, like, you can change the world, but also you don't have to give up what you love. Because we are multitudes.
Alison Hall 25:39
Totally, and we're not just defined by one thing that not only happened to us, but also that, you know, that we're working on I am not just a journalist. I am many things. And yeah, that's so important. I mean, your love of space is so cool. And I love you. You want to be an astronaut? When are you going to fit that in?
Amanda Nguyen 26:00
Alison Hall 26:04
Is that something that you're actually working on? Like, do you have a goal? I know you worked at NASA, NASA. So it's, you're obviously very qualified. But do you have like a five year plan like Moscow to space? It then
Amanda Nguyen 26:16
1,000%? Yes. So I'm working on getting my pilot license right now. And also, all the necessary steps in order to start off first, with training as an analog astronaut, and then moving on to other things. But I, it's honestly, my self care, it's so nerdy, but nature and space, which I guess space is part of nature, in a sense, is my self care, just, you know, when you look onto the sky, and you see all of those stars are the lights that are shining up to you, it's it's both so humbling, and also makes me feel so special, because that light that you see is our past, right? And that that photon has traveled, you know, millions, if not billions of years to reach your eye. And so, for the Fermi paradox, right, where probability wise life is supposed to be all over the universe, and yet, we still haven't found any. And the fact that we are able not only to be alive, but to be conscious of it, and to try and find purpose and meaning that that is so special, you know, so every day I wake up, and my question is, what is my place in the universe? And what am I going to do about it? And I think both activism and astrophysics answers, those questions.
Alison Hall 27:46
Totally. I mean, it's just incredible. And I love, from my perspective, from what it sounds like with rise as you're bringing people along with you, and giving them the tools that you have, which is just so incredible. Amanda, before we go, I just want to know, what do you think people get wrong about the Asian American Pacific Islander community? And what do you think that is really important for them to know going forward? As we continue to have these discussions and hopefully make some change?
Amanda Nguyen 28:18
I'm going to use a space reference here in order to answer your question. So astronauts, many of them, when they go to space for the first time, they experience a psychological effect called the overview effect, where, for the first time, they see this pale blue dot, that is Earth, everything that has ever lived or died, is on this dot, and they get overwhelmed. It's an all inducing experience of terror, existential crisis, but also perspective shifting. And when they return to Earth, they're huge advocates, humanitarian advocates, activists, because they have seen this perspective. And so to answer your question about what people get wrong with the AAPI community and what people can do, there is a phrase to describe it. It's called the foreign, perpetual foreigner. This idea that API's have been consistently other alienated aliens. And I want people to understand that we are all in this together. We are all brothers and sisters, we all share this earth together. And if you and how perspective setting if you could stop asking API's, where are you from know really, where are you from, but instead, get to know them as humans, get to know them and their stories and see them as Americans, then we can start to heal together. And it really, it really does take something as small as reaching out and saying, Hey, you know, what can I do for you now?
Alison Hall 30:01
I love that. Well, I feel like I just went to space with this conversation because you're so incredible
Amanda Nguyen 30:09
space and I'm a nerd.
I love it.
Alison Hall 30:12
I'm a nerd who loves fashion that's me too. I love it. I Manda, thank you so much for taking the time. I just I got so much out of our conversation, and I'm so excited to share this with people and I just know that they will too. You are just creating so many huge waves and I'm just so honored that you were able to take the time to speak with me.
Amanda Nguyen 30:34
Of course Thank you so much. I'm so I'm so excited for this. Good luck
Alison Hall 30:41
getting to space
you're gonna do.
Alison Hall 30:47
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