the sbw’s of Asian americans advancing justice |chicago
Shannon here. I have the great honor of working with some of the most amazing humans I’ve ever met and I really wanted to showcase their collective badassery together so that everyone can see just how powerful this organization is as a result of the work of these amazing people. I am ever more enamored with them after these interviews and I am certain you will be too. Also, you should give us your money so we can keep doing the work of racial equity. DONATE HERE. (I would be a terrible Director of Development if I didn’t use this as a fundraising moment too…Am I Right?! #GiveUsMoney)
And, as always, a HUGE thank you to: Jamie Kelter Davis Photography for the stunning photos.
Meet Prabhneek (niki) heer
Until she figures out how to fulfill the superlative awarded to her of “Most Likely to Quietly Take over the World”, you can find Niki working at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago as their Grant Writer. Other projects include contributing to and developing ethnic studies curricula for K-12 public school students through Advancing Justice | Los Angeles and, more recently, volunteering with the Chicago Community Bond Fund.
What makes you laugh? Almost anything my siblings say and do. We all get each other so well that we know exactly what kinds of things to do and say to make each other laugh, whether it’s in person or over our sibling group message. My siblings are my favorite people in this entire world and among the handful of people who have ever made me laugh so hard that I cried.
What gets you through a rough day? Usually after a rough day, I'll make myself some chai (shout out to my mom for sending me masala from home because I don’t know how to make it myself), tidy up my room/surroundings, and go for a walk. Spending time outside, just hanging out by myself and listening to music (especially when it's either warm outside or when the moon is visible) always helps me unwind, clear my mind, and get ready for the next day.
What don't people know about you? I might truly be my own biggest fan, second only to my siblings. I think I could do just about anything I set my mind to if I’m committed enough to the idea/project. I’m generally pretty quiet so I feel like people who don’t know me well tend to think I’m a lot meeker than I actually am.
Pet peeves? People who walk really slowly and down the middle of the sidewalk…that really kills me. Also, folks who like to play “devil’s advocate”. No one needs that and you certainly don’t have to announce it when you’re doing it.
What do you wish you had more time for? Learning and practicing new skills. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to photograph my community and people doing every day, mundane things—my dad tying his turban in the mornings; the kitchen chaos at the gurdwara as the service is wrapping up and lunchtime approaches; the elder couples in my hometown on their daily walks on warm summer nights; the women’s restroom during any family party as aunties and cousins help each other fix up their jewelry, makeup, and saris or chunnis. But I have to go through the process of learning and practicing photographing people first and sometimes there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do everything I’d like to (partially because I love sleeping).
A little known fact about yourself? Growing up, one of my favorite games for the Super Nintendo was Tetris 2. I used to play it so much that I would sometimes dream-think of the different levels as I was falling asleep. Even now, I can play Tetris for hours without even realizing how much time has passed.
Want more? Follow Niki on Facebook
Meet Mansi Kathuria
Mansi is a community organizer at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, and a member of the Senn High School Local School Council. She’s South Asian, queer, an ENFP, and looking for more ways to fight global fascism. Outside of work, she can be found writing, cooking, dancing, napping, tweeting, or cuddling with her cat, Chalupa.
What expression or saying do you love? “Anger is a symptom of hope.” I don’t think this is a common expression, but it should be.
What do you geek out about? So many things! But especially science and data. I really like learning about bacteria, food science, and databases. Plus, I’m continuously amazed by the massive amounts of data and information available to us right now.
Favorite word? I’m going to cheat and choose two, both in Hindi. Duniya, which means world. I’ve always loved how the word sounds, and it reminds me that my concept of the world is deeply shaped by growing up bilingual and taking trips to India as a kid. The other is besharam, which means shameless. When my sister and I were scolded as kids, besharam came up all the time. As adults, we’ve both reclaimed it and decided we get to be bold and make our own choices in life without feeling shame about them.
What’s the smartest thing you have ever said? After high school graduation, I hung out with a group of my closest friends and we stayed up all night talking about everything. At some point, lying on the couch in my sleepless delirium, I screamed out “people change!” in response to something I can’t remember. Everyone laughed about it and made fun of me all summer for this somewhat obvious declaration, but I stand by it. I’m certainly a different person then I was in high school, even if 17-year-old me didn’t see it coming.
What are you most grateful for? The people in my life. For their love, support, company, conversation, and laughter. And also for their tireless work towards a world that is more accepting and equitable. I’m consistently inspired by their deep belief that we could live in a better world, and commitment to making it real.
Meet Grace Pai
Grace is a radical progressive and organizer who currently serves as the Senior Community Organizer for the Midwest Region with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. Previously, she's led climate and racial justice campaigns and helped pass landmark clean energy legislation in 2016 that created the first-ever low-income solar program in Illinois. Grace is an avid potter and ceramics enthusiast, and she can often be found photographing her pottery or eating kimchi. She launched her side hustle, Pottery By Pai, earlier this year.
If we came over for dinner what would you prepare for us? I’d make some Korean noodles (japchae) but then I’d put you to work making dumplings. To be fair, I’d make the filling in advance so that we can focus on the fun part. And then we’d feast!
What new thing have you learned lately? I’ve learned that I both love change and am afraid of it. Transitions can be hard and the past year has brought a lot of big changes in my life. I’m learning how to create routines and take better care of myself so that I can approach new circumstances with my best self.
What do you suck at? Lying. This is objectively a good thing, but I really do suck at lying or even not telling the whole truth. I start involuntarily smiling/squirming halfway through saying something that’s not true.
Tell us about your creative process? I’m a potter in my spare time (@PotteryByPai) and to be honest I’m probably more focused when I’m at the wheel than when I’m working in my day job. I often don’t know what I’m going to throw or what shape it will be until I start, and I just follow whatever my hands feel like doing.
What expression or saying do you love? (or which one do you hate?) I dislike the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I think the focus is too individualistic. Sure, I can go out and change some things in my lifestyle, but it won’t change the deeper systemic problems that will keep affecting me and everyone else. Change is created through building power, taking collective action, and creating community.
What scares you? Capitalism and climate change.
Meet Desi Bote
Desi is a queer, Filipinx-American who currently works as a Development Associate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. As Development Associate, Desi works to support the organization’s major gift and individual donor initiatives, implement and track fundraising activities & special event opportunities, and coordinate executive & board relations. Her work with Advancing Justice | Chicago started in 2014, previously serving as an AmeriCorps Development VISTA with the Asian American Empowerment Project, part-time staff, and as a dedicated volunteer within the pan-Asian American community. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Rhetoric & Composition in Creative Writing. Her dedication to racial & social justice, and Asian American community issues stemmed from her involvement with the following organizations and departments while immersing herself in university organizing: Office of Diversity and Social Justice Education, Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, YMCA UIUC, UIUC Asian American Cultural Center, Asian Pacific American Coalition, and Philippine Student Association.
What scares you? Apathy. It is truly the antithesis of my being.
What don't people know about you? I won my junior high spelling bees consecutively over two years. The first with “zinc” and the second with “junction”. The first time, I got featured on the front page of my local newspaper at the time, the Morton Grove Champion. After the 2nd win I competed for a 3rd consecutive year, but I lost to my only younger brother, as we were the last two finalists.
What do you think about when you are alone? I think about growing older than 80-years-old, and what’s to come – the splendor, the struggle, and most of all the fruition of my dreams. It’s probably the one thing that motivates me to accomplish all that I can now, so I can look back on my journey and be proud of what I’ve done.
If you could fire anyone in the world, who would you fire? All the cisheteropatriarcal value-upholding people in positions of power. I would force them all do transformative healing & live on a remote island with each other. That would be amazing! Then, the rest of the world would start becoming the utopia it’s supposed to be.
Favorite quote? “No history, no self. Know history, know self.”
Meet Phyllis liu
Phyllis (they/them) is a Taiwanese American creator and mover exploring gender, culture, and generational heritage in the queer and/or Taiwanese diaspora. Along with Advancing Justice | Chicago work, they also organize with Invisible 2 Invincible: API Pride of Chicago (i2i). Phyllis enjoys biking, longboarding, swimming, drawing, sewing, and learning languages!
What is your favorite place to travel to? Taiwan, obvi. And national parks – “I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains!” while also recognizing and honoring the native land of these national parks.
Who do you admire? Folks who are so unabashedly, authentically, and passionately themselves in every way/day. This includes fashion inspirations (Alok Vaid-Menon) and my beautiful, talented friends and family.
Favorite quote? “Every day has the potential to be the best day of your life.” Lin-Manuel Miranda – he said this in the PBS documentary of In the Heights from 2008. It’s been ten years now, but that musical is still my favorite, along with West Side Story.
Who helped get you here? This Chicago community that has welcomed me with such love, energy, knowledge, acceptance, and a nurturing heart. I have to shout out specifically the queer/trans API community I found through i2i because they really provided the space for me to explore what I did and did not know (and have yet to learn) about myself.
Tell us about a time you surprised yourself. Every time I sew/tailor something and it turns out not half bad! There was a button-up dress I made into a button-up romper, and when it worked, I was in a state of such pleasant surprise.
Meet Viveka Ray-Mazumder
Vi (they/them) is an Asian American aries abolitionist who organizes and advocates alongside immigrant and refugee youth for racial justice and youth power. Vi is the Manager of Youth Organizing at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago and a collective member at Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR).
What is your hidden talent? I can play the glockenspiel!
Favorite quote? "Part of being a revolutionary is creating a vision that is more humane. That is more fun, too. That is more loving. It's really working to create something beautiful." - Assata Shakur
What new thing have you learned lately? That sharks are older than trees.
What do you wish you had more time for? I wish I had more time to read. It's hard for me to put a book down when I pick it up - I want to block off an entire day. I wish I had endless cozy full days to read.
What do you hate? Even numbers, the sound of water pouring into a glass, and walking on the right side of people.