Mee Moua next up on’s AAPI interview series

Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua is the first Hmong elected official in the U.S.A couple of months ago, when Erin gave a training workshop for young Asian Americans at the Rise Conference in Denver, she asked the assembled youths their ethnic backgrounds. One woman stod up and said she was Hmong. She said all hger life, she’s had to explain her heritage when people ask “What’s a Hmong? There’s no country called Hmong!”

But now, she said, “I just tell people, H-M-O-N-G. Google it.”

That got a big laugh out of the crowd, most of whom were familiar with the history of the Hmong. But most people in the U.S. are woefully unaware of the Hmong.

Clint Eastwood’s mostly terrific movie from earlier this year, “Gran Torino,” exposed more people than ever before to the history of the mountain tribe of Southeast Asia, and how the CIA recruited them to fight a shadow front out of Laos during the Vietnam War. When the US pulled out of Vietnam, we left the Hmong hanging, and the Communist Pathet Lao government rained retribution on the Hmong.

Although we’ve relocated many Hmong refugees in various communities in America, thousands are still trapped in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand where they escaped from Laos. The communities are where the US government resettled the Hmong include Michigan, where “Gran Torino” takes place, California, Texas, Colorado (we have a thriving Hmong population in the Denver area) and Minnesota, where the first-ever Hmong American elected to office is a state senator.

So, Erin and I are thrilled to announce the next guest on’s AAPI Empowerment Series: Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua. The interview will be held Tuesday, July 7 at 6 pm PDT (9 pm EDT). Continue reading

Author-activist Phoebe Eng is next up on’s AAPI Empowerment series

Author and activist Phoebe EngErin Yoshimura and I started to interview Asian American Pacific Islander leaders and tell their stories to empower other AAPIs to follow in their footsteps. So far, it’s been an absolute blast.

The website launched with a conversation with former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta on May 21, and this week we spoke with Yul Kwon, the hunky winner of “Survivor: Cook Islands.” Both men told powerful stories about the challenges they faced as Asian Americans, and the stereotypes that had to battle.

The next guest on’s AAPI Empowerment Series is social activist and author Phoebe Eng. The interview will be held Tuesday, June 23 at 6 pm PDT (9 pm EDT).

I met Eng when that book came out, a decade ago, and she was in Denver for a book reading and signing. She was a great speaker, and as inspiring in person as she is in the prose of her book, which is in part an autobiography of her search for identity as an Asian American and as a woman, a double-whammy of identity-politics. Continue reading

“Survivor: Cook Islands” winner Yul Kwon is up next on

Yul Kwon is the first Asian American to win one of the seasons of "Survivor." He won the "Cook Islands" season in 2006.The second interview lined up for‘s AAPI Empowerment Series is with Korean American attorney-turned-TV celebrity Yul Kwon. The interview will be held Tuesday, June 9 at 6 pm PDT (9 pm EDT).

Erin and I were fortunate to see Yul speak during last year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, and more recently during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month at an event in Denver. He’s a great role model because of his accomplishments, and because he’s on a mission to dispel myths and stereotypes about Asian American Pacific Islanders, and to urge AAPIs to enter the political process.

Kwon has a diverse background in law, politics, technology, business, and media — except for his exceptional “Survivor” victory, he’s almost a model for the “model minority” myth!
Continue reading a new site that celebrates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Secretary Norman Mineta Erin and I are launching a new site this week,, that will celebrate the accomplishments of Asian American Pacific Islanders with live audio interviews conducted over a conference phone line that will also be streamed live on a webcast, and then will be playable online afterwards.

We’re pleased to announce the debut interview will be with Norman Mineta, the former Secretary of Transportation and a longtime public servant.

This interview is particularly perfect because we’re doing it on May 21, while it’s still Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Not only is Mineta the first Asian American to be appointed to a Cabinet position (Secretary of Commerce under Bill Clinton) and the longest-serving Secretary of Transportation in U.S. history (under George Bush), he was also a co-sponsor, along with Congressman Frank Horton (R-NY) of both the 1978 House Resolution establishing Pacific/Asian Heritage Week and the 1992 bill that expanded the week into “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”

His years in political office came in contrast to his childhood experience, imprisoned during World War II in a Japanese American internment camp.

Mineta was born in San Jose, California, to Japanese immigrant parents who were not allowed to become U.S. citizens at that time. During WWII the Mineta family was interned in the Heart Mountain internment camp near Cody, Wyoming, along with thousands of other Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans.

Here’s how the interviews will work: notable AAPIs will be interviewed via a conference call and streamed live online — it’s like the new evolution of talk radio — and the calls will be archived online. You can submit questions to the interviewee before and during the interview, through a form on the website. You’ll need to register for the calls to listen, submit questions or replay, and if you dial in, long distance charges may apply (the interview’s completely free on the webcast, of course).

We’re excited about these interviews, which we’re calling the Asian American Empowerment Series.’s goal is to feature free interviews with leading Asian American Pacific Islanders from politics, pop culture, business and more, as a way to inspire and empower other AAPIs to follow in their footsteps. The next interview’s already scheduled for June 2 with author and activist Phoebe Eng, and future interviews will include actor and activist Tamlyn Tomita, “Survivor: Cook Islands” winner Yul Kwon and journalist/activist Helen Zia.

We decided to start because we’re still largely invisible within the American mainstream. We’re doing much better in entertainment — we’re on a lot more TV shows, for instance, and though not the lead character, we’re playing more and more strong support characters. We’re visible in the news media to an extent, and now we’re much more visible in the highest levels of government. But there aren’t enough of us in politics, or in the media, to where decision-makers know about the AAPI community on a consistent basis. We have the highest percentage of college degrees of all minority groups, but represent only a tiny fraction of executive-level management in coprorate America.

What’s with that? We think that by promoting and celebrating those of us who accomplish great things in their lives, others of us will become inspired and empowered to follow in their footsteps. Erin often paraphrases a quote from Phoebe Eng from her terrific (and inspiring book, “Warrior Lessons:” “Growing up Asian in America is like looking in the mirror and not seeing any reflection.”

It’s time to shine a light on ourselves so we can finally see how great we are.

If you can think of other notable AAPIs, let us know, and we’ll try to track them down for future interviews!