Celebrating the Achievements of Asian American and Pacific Islander Women

Asian American and Pacific Islander Women to Know

May is AAPI/Asian Heritage Month celebrating the contributions and influence of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians in the United States. The annual celebration recognizes people from the 51 countries on the Asian continent (including China, India, Japan, Pakistan, The Philippines, and others), as well as the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).”  

Read on to learn more about some achievements of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. 

1. Melissa Borjais a professor at the University of Michigan and a core faculty member for the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program. While Borja is a professor at the University of Michigan, she resides right here in Indianapolis. Because of her work addressing anti-racism during COVID-19, she was named USA Today’s Woman of the Year in 2022. Learn more. 

2. Rima Shahid is the executive director of Women4Change, and leads the organization to educate, equip and mobilize positive change for women in Indiana. Shahid is an Indiana native, and she previously served as executive director at the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. She is a renowned speaker and political commentator, with appearances on IN Focus, INside Indiana Business and Indy Politics. Learn more. 

3. Kamala Harris (October 24, 1964) is the 49th Vice President of the United States of America. Harris is the first woman and first Asian American Vice President. Before her time in the White House, Harris was the District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General and U.S. Senator. Learn more. 

4. Josefa Llanes Escodes – (September 20, 1898 – January 6, 1945) was a civil rights leader, social worker and advocate for women’s rights. She is well known for her campaigns for women’s suffrage and as the founder of Girl Scouts of the Philippines. She is memorialized on the Philippines 1,000-peso banknote. Learn more. 

5. Patsy Mink – (December 6, 1927 September 28, 2002) in 1964 Mink was the first woman of color and Asian American elected to the House of Representatives. She fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education and supported Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender for school districts, universities, museums and educational institutions that receive federal funds. Mink served in Congress until she died in 2002. Learn more. 

6. Chien-Shiung Wu(May 31, 1912 – February 16, 1997) was a brilliant physicist who made significant contributions to nuclear and particle science. During her career, she spent time as a researcher and professor. Wu was best known for conducting the Wu experiment, which proved that parity is not conserved. This experiment, however, was ignored by the Nobel Prize committee in 1957 due to Wu’s gender and race. Learn more. 

7. Shahana Hanif is a community organizer, the first Muslim woman elected to New York City Council and the first woman to represent Brooklyn’s 39th district. As a former city council employee, Hanif has been working for a long time to improve her community by supporting housing, funding for the arts, criminal justice reform and preserving public space. As an individual living with Lupus, she also advocates for disability rights. Learn more.  

8. Cecilia Chung is a civil rights leader and advocate for the transgender community and those living with HIV/AIDS. Chung is a transgender woman, and she began her transition at the age of 22. Despite discrimination, hatred and violence, she did groundbreaking work advocating for the transgender and LGBTQ+ community. In 2013, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/Aids. Learn more. 

9. Yuri Kochiyama(May 19, 1921 – June 1, 2004) was a fierce defender of human rights after her family was one of the many Japanese American families who were placed in internment camps. Kochiyama was an outspoken advocate for Black empowerment, Puerto Rican independence and reparations for Japanese Americans. Learn more. 

10. Deepa Iyer – is a lawyer, social activist, author, facilitator and racial justice advocate. Iyer spent 15 years in policy advocacy and coalition building, and she currently leads projects at Building Movement Project, a national not-for-profit organization that catalyzes social change. Her book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, received a 2016 American Book Award. Learn more.  

11. Bo Thao-Urabeis an entrepreneur and founder, and former executive director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL). Under the Obama administration, she was a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Thao-Urabe also founded a consulting company, and she serves on the board of the Minneapolis Foundation. Learn more. 

12. Junko Tabei(September 22, 1939 October 20, 2016) was a mountaineer, author and teacher. Tabei was the first woman to climb and reach the peak of Mount Everest in 1975. She was also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peak of every continent. In addition to mountain climbing, she was also a passionate environmentalist. She often participated in clean-up climbs in Japan and the Himalayas with her family. Learn more. 

Indiana Resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander Women 

There are multiple resources available for AAPI women in Indiana. In addition, there are resources for individuals who would like to learn more and support AAPI individuals.  

About Women’s Fund  

At Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, we are dedicated to mobilizing people, ideas and investments, so every woman and girl in our community has an equitable opportunity to reach her full potential – no matter her place, race or identity. We invest in organizations that help women in our focus areas, caregiving, intimate violence, economic empowerment and girls’ programs. Learn more about Women’s Fund. 

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