Student activist attends Lunar New Year celebration at White House


Photo courtesy of Jaslene Lai

Charlee Trenkle, Jaslene Lai and Anna Hill of AAPI Youth Rising stand in the White House to celebrate Washington’s Lunar New Year Celebration.

Amanda Nolan, Social Media Coordinator

When Jaslene Lai and two other Asian Americans walked the Washington D.C. streets on Thursday, Jan. 26, a man yelled at them.

“Ching Chong,” he said. “Ni Hao,” he mocked. 

Lai, who was in Washington to represent the advocacy group Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Youth Rising at the White House’s Lunar New Year celebration, was mortified but also reminded of her purpose on the trip — to fight for equality in the Asian American community and empower others to make the world a safer place. 

Mina Fedor, a freshman at The College Preparatory School in Oakland, created AAPI Youth Rising in March of 2021 after she noticed rising hate toward Asians in her community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lai quickly got involved, becoming a founding board member and website manager for the organization. As an Asian American, Lai wanted to make it clear that Asians, too, are a minority and face daily microaggressions. 

“I wanted to speak out and show that we, Asian American youth, have voices and we’re not afraid to use them,” Lai said. “I want people to know that people are here to listen to them and that their voices count and that there are people fighting for them.” 

President Joe Biden invited AAPI Youth Rising to the White House in celebration of Lunar New Year on Wednesday, Jan. 26. Lai and two other board members, Charlee Trenkle and Anna Hill, listened to speeches by Elaine Tso, Dr. Biden and President Biden regarding the importance of a community and leading with empathy, especially following recent mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. 

At the White House, Lai said she found support, a sense of pride and comfort being surrounded by a proud Asian American community. She spoke with Erika L. Moritsugu, the president’s Deputy Assistant, as well as Jill Why, the co-founder of Act to Change, and Nathan Chen, a three-time Olympic medalist. After sharing her personal experiences with racism and the importance of celebrating Asian heritage, Lai felt even prouder to be a part of the AAPI community, she said. 

Lai and the founding board of Youth Rising believe the best way to reach the next generation is to teach them young. According to Lai, shaping a more equitable future requires small changes across the country — on the streets, in the workplace and especially in classrooms. That’s why she is encouraging teachers to value the curriculum in Ethnic Studies and spend more time teaching Asian studies. 

“[Ideally] this would be a world in which people would do little things to promote anti-racism and where people would simply understand other cultures and each other,” Lai said.

Lai is encouraging the San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) to join her mission of implementing a “One Day of AAPI History.” On this day, students would learn aspects of Asian American history that aren’t covered in textbooks. 

To promote the initiative, the nonprofit posted educational videos on its website for teachers to share. Students would learn the importance of studying other ethnic groups, the danger of stereotypes and celebrate heroes in the community. To support this effort, teachers and administrators are able to sign a Google Form. And, although the proposal hasn’t reached SMUHSD yet, the lesson plan has spread across the nation and throughout California. 

“We’re just asking for one day. So by signing that pledge, you support it,” Lai said. “You should acknowledge other people’s cultures and understand [them].”