AAPI Heritage Month: Modern Trailblazers

Eva Noblezada

Known for starring in hit Broadway musicals with her amazing vocals, give it up for Eva Noblezada. Eva Noblezada was born on March 18, 1996, and grew up in San Diego, California. She is the eldest child of a Filipino father and a Mexican American mother. She began her career at a young age, becoming the top performer at Charlotte, North Carolina’s, Northwest School of the Arts. Her talents wouldn’t be unnoticed, as, at the age of 17, she would be cast as the understudy for Miss Saigon’s heroine, Kim. She also starred in other musicals such as Les Miserables and her more recent role as Eurydice in the musical Hadestown, a modern retelling of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Schuyler Bailar

In comes a rising athlete in swimming, coming from the men’s swim team at Harvard University: Schuyler Bailar. Raised in McLean, Virginia, by his parents Gregor Bailar and Terry Hong, he is of Korean descent. Bailer was never quite satisfied with his life, and it wouldn’t be until after his freshman year of college would he fully embrace his true self. After a year of rest to get treatment for his eating disorder, Bailar finally came to terms with his gender identity. He became the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer. Now, he is an advocate for transgender rights and visibility. In an interview with the Washington Post, he states “I don’t want to always be known as ‘that kid’ or ‘the transgender swimmer’ but I do want to do what I can to help other young people struggling with this.” That said, he wouldn’t have such a successful career if not for his support family, friends, and coaches. Now, he and his parents advocate against transgender violence in America.

Alice Wong

Founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, media maker and consultant, Alice Wong is a modern trailblazer. Born in 1974 as the child of two immigrants from Hong Kong, Wong was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at an early age. She graduated with an English and Sociology degree at Indiana University and would work as the Staff Research Associate in San Francisco, California. Wong was honored with many awards for her research including the Disability Service Award by the University of California in 2011 and was recently given the Beacon Award by San Francisco Mayor’s Disability Council. Wong was even appointed by President Barack Obama, for membership of the National Council on Disability. She has also done personal works including her novel Resistance and Hope: Essays by Disabled People that was published in October 2018 and in September 2017, she launched her podcast Disability Visibility. She is now the editor of the Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, along with being an independent research consultant on the side.

Urvashi Vaid

All rise for the attorney and strategist for social justice movements, Urvashi Vaid. Born on October 8, 1958, in New Delhi, India, Vaid’s family soon came to the U.S. eight years after she was born. She attended and graduated from Vassar College in 1979 and attained her law degree from Boston’s Northeastern University in 1983. She would soon become active in politics as she joined the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project for about 3 years. Afterwards, Vaid joined the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as the director of public information. But she would then become the executive director of the NGLTF Policy Institute. She advocated for the group and helped increase its budget. The book that she co-edited with John D’Emilio and William B. Turner, entitled Creating Change: Public Policy, Civil Rights, and Sexuality, was published in 2000. Vaid has received many awards over the years including the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund Civil Rights Leadership Award, plus the Social Justice Action Award in 2014. Urvashi Vaid said, “I want a movement that is not just focused on identity but that is engaged in defining what kind of society we will have in the next century.”

— Maya Ross