For Mina Fedor, there was no other option but to speak up. The preteen had witnessed a harrowing rise in anti-Asian violence since the start of the pandemic, including a troubling incident that happened to her mother, who is Korean, near their home in Oakland, Calif. She started small, calling out xenophobia during a virtual school assembly in March 2020. But after seeing the organizing around Black Lives Matter during a national reckoning with systemic racism and a shooting in Atlanta that killed eight, six of them Asian women, nearly a year later, Fedor wanted to do more to stand up to racist hate.
In March 2021, she organized a rally to bring attention to stopping racist violence towards Asian Americans, hoping that at least 70 people would attend; the rally drew a crowd of 1200. “I really just wanted to speak out for my community,” Fedor says.
Following the success of the rally, Fedor launched AAPI Youth Rising, a collective of middle school activists who are devoted to uplifting their community and stopping racist hate. In the fall of 2021, they joined other student-led coalitions in demonstrations of support for AB 101, an education bill that would require every public high school student in California to take an ethnic studies course.
“Asian American history is American history, and everyone’s history deserves to be taught and represented,” Fedor says. “Histories that negatively reflect America tend to not be taught as much and that’s very wrong, because we don’t learn about our previous errors.” She thinks that if more people were aware of the long history of anti-Asian violence in America, there might not have been the current surge in racist incidents towards the AAPI community—a rise that was exacerbated by xenophobic comments by former President Donald Trump.
The bill was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October, and Fedor feels it will be key to stopping racial discrimination and violence. Now, AAPI Youth Rising has turned its sights to making sure that ethnic studies education is available to students in all states.
While Fedor says she believes “real change is in legislative action,” she is adamant that social change also happens with small actions daily, from calling out racist comments or bullying when you witness them to committing to vote or helping others register to vote. (AAPI voters are one of the lowest registered voter groups.)
“If there is one thing that anyone can do for their community, it’s to treat everyone with respect and kindness,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to stand up to people who are harming you. Don’t be afraid to speak out about things you feel are unjust and don’t be afraid to have opinions. You’re never too young for anything.”
Age has never stopped Fedor from taking action. She was first inspired by activism at the age of eight, when she traveled to Los Angeles for the 2017 Women’s March and was in awe of the power of rising up together in numbers.
She also credits her family with instilling the value of justice and standing up for what you believe in. Her maternal great-grandfather, a political activist in Korea during the Japanese occupation, is her personal hero. Fedor also looks up to intersectional feminist, activist, and journalist Helen Zia; the activist, poet and organizer Grace Lee Boggs; and Vice President Kamala Harris; as well as her parents, both immigrants to the U.S., and her friends who fight for justice alongside her in AAPI Youth Rising.
Now 13, Fedor knows her journey for racial justice will be life-long. She’s made it her personal mission to learn as much about AAPI history as she can, in addition to working to ensure that it’s taught in her schools. What excites her most about the future, however, is all that her generation is doing now for a brighter world.
“Youth can make a difference,” she says. “We are the future.”
Watch the Kid of the Year broadcast special, hosted by Trevor Noah, on Nickelodeon on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 7:30pm/6:30pm CT to find out which finalist will be named TIME Kid of the Year
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