Over the past few years, the rise in anti-Asian hate and xenophobia, combined with a global pandemic have made normal, everyday life difficult for the AAPI community. By sharing stories and insights from those in the Chinese American community, Committee of 100 hopes to shed more light on the issue and help celebrate the amazing accomplishments from within the Chinese American and AAPI community to the world at large.
The staff of Committee of 100 sat down with one of our Next Generation Leaders and asked them about their careers, what the past few years has been like and their hopes for the future. Committee of 100’s Next Generation Leaders program focuses on young leaders who are passionate about the organization’s mission to promote the full inclusion of Chinese Americans across society and advance the betterment of U.S.-China relations. The program was first established in 2017.
This month, we spoke with Yvonne So, AAPI activist, writer, and podcaster.
Yvonne seamlessly transitions between the private and public sector, leveraging her early Wall Street discipline in market timing and trading to her advocacy, writing, and podcasting to effectively engage the public in thoughtful discussion on current events and social justice. Currently, Yvonne is a full-time mom, raising the next generation of AAPI leaders. Her family recently relocated to the Washington metropolitan area, where Yvonne hopes to stay locally active, while also participating in Federal advocacy. Yvonne is co-chair of OCA National’s K-12 AANHPI Advocacy and Outreach Committee. Prior to her move to Maryland, she was an active community member in Tucson, Arizona, where she served as a member of The Arizona Republic’s Opinions Contribution Board, and the Asian American Programming Director for the Phoenix Film Festival.
You can connect with Yvonne on LinkedIn here.
Committee of 100: As a Chinese American, what are some of the challenges you have encountered to become a leader in your respective field?
Yvonne: A persistent challenge is invisibility. Whether self-imposed, or external, we are continually overlooked, or labeled as “foreign.” I am deeply passionate about amplifying the voices of the AAPI community, and I believe educating our fellow citizens about our American experiences, through community engagement, media, and education is the key to creating a more nuanced understanding and appreciation for our community. We have to own and control our narrative. We define who we are and what we stand for. For example, every Lunar New Year, I am suddenly the most popular mom on the PTA. Every class wants a Chinese New Year extravaganza–the food, the lion dancing, the exotic arts and craft. While I am happy to share the cultural heritage of my ancestors, I now make it a point to also tie-in our American experience. This means last year, the students received an Anna May Wong quarter in their 红包 with a class discussion on the significance of her achievements and the importance of recognizing her on US currency. Many are not aware that Chinese immigration to Arizona precedes our statehood; the earliest Chinese settlers came to Arizona just after it had become a Territory in 1863. So in addition to learning about CNY, students spent time on a lesson plan about the Chinese Water Boys who contributed to the building of the Southern Pacific Railroads. This gives students and educators a richer understanding of our history in the global, national, and local context, hopefully enriching their understanding of our community and anchoring it to the American experience.
Committee of 100: What do you believe needs to be done so that more Chinese Americans feel empowered to follow their dreams and push forward to create the programs/businesses/position they want?
Yvonne: I like to focus on the actions we can control. Community engagement, especially at the local level is an effective way to build a sea of change. Get involved in community events: share your expertise at a local library event, volunteer in your kids’ classrooms, work at your local polling station, run for local office. Half the battle is for our neighbors to see our faces on a daily basis and normalize us as vested community members.
We also need to feel vested in each others’ success, supporting and uplifting each other in whatever fields we’re in. It’s a principle that extends from my upbringing. If we treat each other like family and extend our love and support for family to our larger community, we are unstoppable. Unconditional love fuels greatness. This is the power of our NGL 2023 class. We are such a diverse group of individuals, spanning various time zones and fields of work, who would not otherwise cross paths on a daily basis, yet we are tied by this shared mission of C100. It really has been heartwarming to see the ways in which we all support each other and I look forward to cheering on everyone along our journey.
Also, zoom out just a bit. You point out that we are part of a 6 million Chinese-American population in the US, but we are also part of the largest ethnic population in the world! So imagine leveraging the support of this broader Chinese community.
Committee of 100: What moment or learning experience inspired you to work in your professional field?
Yvonne: I have not worked full time for the last 11 years as I dedicate 100% of my time to my boys–a very privileged choice, I know. In 2020, the rise in anti-Asian hate was a rude awakening that despite how much I felt like I “made it” professionally, financially and socially, America saw me differently. As a mom, my instinct to create a different outcome for my sons fueled me to action and to be more vocal about advocating on behalf of the AAPI community. I started publishing opinion pieces for the two largest Arizona newspapers, The Arizona Republic and The Arizona Daily Star, bringing a voice to our overlooked population which reignited my passion for storytelling. I have also branched out to audio scripting and producing, creating a limited series about the trillions dollar economy of unpaid mom labor, “Cashing our Trillions” for iHeartPodcasts, and self publishing a podcast on global musicians, “Dacapo Presents.”
Committee of 100: For those Chinese Americans and AAPIs who just recently graduated college, what advice would you give to them?
Yvonne: Be generous, open minded and stay curious. And remember, apply these principles to yourself! I am a true believer in embracing all opportunities. Life is not binary and paths are not straight. I have been blessed to explore several career paths and I have used all my skills from all my past lives to carve a fuller, more meaningful present.
Committee of 100: What do you most want to be remembered for in terms of making your mark on this world?
Yvonne: This chapter of my life is still being written! I believe in the power of a transformative story, and am passionate about igniting curiosity. You could say this drive to build connections to strengthen the fabric of our community and society stems from the Chinese name my parents bestowed upon me, 宇安, or “Universal Peace.” It would be an honor to be remembered for being a peaceful presence in our world, but again, we shall see!