After more than a year of the stress and strain of a pandemic, everyone needs something happy in their timelines — and if you can learn something from it, so much the better! So, if you want to learn
and cheer on some incredible Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) activists working to change the United States on issues like labor rights, the arts, and anti-racism, you can go ahead and follow these accounts on Instagram.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2019, an estimated 5.9% of the United States
identifies as Asian American, while 0.2% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. While that doesn’t sound huge, it works out to more than 19 million Asian American people in the United States and more than 600,000 Pacific Islanders. Of course, broad census labels don’t do justice to the diversity of the Asian American experience — the term includes people with heritage from dozens of cultures and traditions, across a broad swath of the globe. All of whom are bringing their own unique perspectives to social change, as well as your Instagram feed.
It’s all the more important to celebrate AAPI voices following a rise in anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Many of these activists and influencers are using their platforms to speak out against hate and elevate their communities as well as work on social issues that have affected the United States for years.
So, here are some of the best, most inspirational Asian American and Pacific Islander activists, speakers, educators, and artists who you can follow on Instagram. Because they’re worth celebrating.
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As a labor activist and grassroots community organizer, Ai-jen Poo has been dedicated to elevating the voices of domestic workers, essential workers, and underserved and underrepresented populations for years. She’s the director of the
National Domestic Workers Alliance, the co-director of Caring Across Generations, and the 2014 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Award. She’s also active in feminist circles: In 2019, along with Cecile Richards and Alicia Garza, she co-founded the women’s movement Supermajority, which works to build women’s political and social power.
You can keep up with
her latest updates on Instagram, where she shares updates about her latest activism efforts, her Sunstorm podcast, and her adorable dog named Ben.
scientist and COVID-19 researcher by day and musician and performer by night, artist and activist Ruby Ibarra contains multitudes. Born in the Philippines, Ibarra made her journey to the United States when her family immigrated to California, where she was introduced to a wide variety of cultures, experiences, and musical influences. Now, with sharp lyricism and flowing rhythms in three distinct dialects (English, Tagalog, and Waray), Ibarra raps about her cultural heritage and experiences as a first-generation immigrant with her band, The Balikbayans.
Through her social media platforms, Ibarra regularly advocates for underrepresented communities of color, and has given several
talks dedicated to intersectional activism. You can stay updated with her activist efforts, as well as her music, through her Instagram here.
By placing young women of color at the center of her organizing efforts,
Malavika Kannan ensures the voices of even the most marginalized communities are elevated. In 2018, when she was still in high school, Kannan founded Homegirl Project, a youth-centered online initiative dedicated to training young girls and women of color in political organizing. Her activist efforts include working alongside several notable grassroots organizations, including the Women’s March, March for Our Lives, and more. Oh — and she’s also a published author, debuting her YA fantasy novel, when she was just 17 years old. You can The Bookweaver’s Daughter, keep up with her on Instagram here. 04
As a multi-disciplinary neuroscientist-turned-artist,
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya uses her work as an outlet to combat racist and discriminatory Asian stereotypes in the United States. In addition to being known for including complex scientific ideas in her art, Phingbodhipakkiya incorporates themes highlighting the strength, resilience, and beauty of Asian communities in America. In her 2020 series, " I Still Believe in Our City," a body of work that centers Asian American voices in New York City, Phingbodhipakkiya incorporates phrases like "I am not your scapegoat" and "this is our home too" atop colorful images of Asian American women. Her work is both gorgeous and inspirational, and you can follow her artistic journey on Instagram here. 06
Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio
As a Kanaka Maoli wahine poet, activist, and educator,
Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio uses her platform to continually combat Western colonialism and exploitation, and work toward justice for Hawaii’s native population. She’s been performing spoken word poetry since 2007, and in 2018, she earned her Ph.D. in Hawaiian literature from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She’s also become a three-time national poetry champion, a poetry mentor, and a published author. Throughout her years as an activist, she’s fought for the rights of native Hawaiians over land and resources, and has participated in several protests against corporate exploitation — such as the construction of a Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop the sacred Mauna Kea volcano.
Now, in 2021, she works as an assistant professor of Indigenous and Native Hawaiian politics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. You can
follow along with the latest updates on her activism through her Instagram.
An attorney, activist, and writer from California,
Sarumathi “Saru” Jayaraman is dedicated to advocating for underrepresented restaurant and tipped workers across the nation — especially immigrants to the United States. In 2007, she co-founded Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, where she helped establish workplace justice campaigns, advocated for living wages, and fought to protect workers’ rights by helping pass Washington’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act. She’s also the president of the One Fair Wage campaign, which fights for a living hourly wage for tipped workers like restaurant employees, nail salon workers, and airport attendants, who make as little as $2.13 an hour.
She’s continued her activism throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting for the United States’ most vulnerable working populations.
You can keep up with her activism on Instagram here.
At just 26 years old, Mei Lum took over her family’s
historic New York City porcelain shop, Wing on Wo & Co., to combat cultural erasure and carry on her family’s legacy in the city’s Chinatown. As a woman of color and third-generation Chinese American, she’s working to reclaim her neighborhood’s narrative through the W.O.W. project, which she founded in 2016 when she inherited her family’s shop. Her initiative is dedicated to sustaining “ownership over Chinatown’s future by growing, protecting, and preserving Chinatown’s creative culture through arts, culture and activism,” per her site. She uses her platform to spread awareness about her culture’s history and growth in the United States, and continually elevates the voices of Asian American educators and leaders. To follow her journey, you can keep up with her on Instagram here.