In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, TIME hosted its first-ever Uplifting AAPI Voices Summit on May 27, 2021. The virtual event, hosted by journalist Lisa Ling, featured conversations with leaders, activists, and artists that highlighted perspectives on identity, creativity, equity, and impact.
“I know that our community has been beset by challenges this year, but I’m moved by how our community has come together in a way that I have never experienced before,” Ling said in her opening remarks.
During the summit, actress and producer Constance Wu and author Jenny Han spoke with TIME senior editor Lucy Feldman about the power of storytelling and the importance of representation. Han noted that she hoped that going forward, there would be a wider of expanse of stories told and a “bigger palette” to draw from, with more films and books featuring South Asian and queer characters. “And I hope more people will have the opportunity to tell those stories,” she said.
TIME executive editor Naina Bajekal interviewed Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) about her legislative efforts—including her work on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was signed into law this month—and the steps she sees as essential to reducing inequality in the U.S.
“It is important that people of color and minorities are also sitting at the table at all levels where decisions are made, at the corporate level in the media, and clearly in the political arena. The more diversity there is, the better and fuller our discussions are. And one hopes that our decisions become more informed, therefore, and fairer,” Hirono said.
TIME staff writer Cady Lang moderated a conversation between fashion designer Prabal Gurung and Sonal Shah, the president of the Asian American Foundation, on using their respective platforms to push for change. Gurung, who helped organize a Black and Asian solidarity protest in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings, talked about the necessity of confronting divisions in the movement and building interracial solidarity.
“Historically, what we’ve seen is all the struggles have been kind of isolated; every minority group goes through these struggles and are fighting for themselves,” Gurung told TIME. “This particular moment has completely opened our eyes… we have to understand that any kind of progress of any minority group [is] very much dependent on the success of other minority groups also.”
Later, three leading advocates, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice president John C. Yang, South Asian Americans Leading Together executive director Lakshmi Sridaran and Empowering Pacific Islander Communities executive director Tavae Samuelu, joined Lang to talk about how the current wave of activism can be turned into long-lasting impact. Yang argued that local communities were key to stopping bigotry.
“A lot of this can’t be done on a policy level. It really has to be done on a community level through hard conversations within all of our communities to really develop the infrastructure, really develop the muscles to address that racism,” Yang said.
The event also featured special performances from musician Japanese Breakfast, who sang “Be Sweet,” and Tony Award-winning actress Lea Salonga, who performed “Dream Again,” and a video profile of New York City-based nonprofit Heart of Dinner. Founded at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic by Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai, the organization’s relief efforts provide hot meals to more than 1,500 Asian Americans in New York City.
“Food is an instrument. It really is a medium, a tool to express how we are trying to take care of our people,” said Chang. “It’s through our food that we show up and say, ‘We are always thinking of you every single week.’ It’s just a way to say, ‘We love you; we see you; you belong.'”