By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Asian American and Pacific Islander youth in Colorado say they worry about the safety of their loved ones with the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes nationally, but remain hopeful they can create the change needed to improve the lives of their families and the next generation. Some started organizing events to raise awareness for this issue during May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“For my family, I definitely fear for them,” said Aiden Reidy, 18, a high school senior who graduated this week. “That fear is very real, and I fear for my grandparents because they’re in their 80s, and they’re still active in their communities, and I don’t want them to like stay inside because of it.”

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Reidy and Kai Vong both spoke and organized a rally on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol for AAPI Heritage Month, but felt the need to focus on anti-Asian hate. Their greatest concern is for elders in the community. Even with most crimes in cities outside of the state, they can relate to those cases thousands of miles away.

“I definitely think that fear is very real for a lot of us,” Vong, 17, told CBS4 on Wednesday. “You see your closest family, your friends, and even yourself in a lot of these victims.”

The challenges they face now resemble what others have tackled in the past, a lack of visibility and battling the model minority myth. These teens are inspired to change that dynamic by speaking out and challenging the stereotypes against Asians not just in the classroom, but also in their careers.

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“I don’t think we’ve really felt seen or like heard in our past like 18 years,” Reidy told CBS4 on Wednesday. “So I think as we enter adulthood, a lot of us, we have kind of a built-up anger, but also like confidence with activism.”

She is also focused on deconstructing the misconception about AAPI communities appearing as a monolith. She says most people think of East Asian families, like Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, when they picture anyone from the group.

“At this moment, I think a lot of concern is just trying to uplift the voices in our communities and our allies,” Vong said, who also graduated from high school this week. “And trying to be allies for other communities as well.”

Their cause isn’t just raising awareness and fighting for change in their community, an equally important component of their work is showing solidarity with other marginalized groups as well as highlight the importance of intersectionality.

“I think a part of the AAPI identity is just kind of being either forgotten or just not really having the spotlight to talk about like our identity,” Reidy said.

Preparing for their first year of college, they’re taking a critical look back at the education they just completed and questioning how it can be reformed. They criticize history lessons they perceive were taught through a white lens and want to see a perspective from people of color. It’s a concern especially for AAPI youth who make up only five percent of the student population, Vong explained. It’s one reason these two teens helped to create AAPI alliances in their high schools and plan to continue that work on their next campus.

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“Even if it is a struggle to go against what your family wants for you, especially the family that has given you the life I have, which I’m so grateful for,” said Reidy. “You need to do what’s best for you and I think that’s a hard step to take but I think a lot of youth are getting there.”

The pressure for AAPI students to pursue careers in fields like engineering, math, and medicine remain according to these two teenagers. But there is some progress from grandparents to their own parents in supporting nontraditional paths in college and beyond. The steep journey ahead to achieve their goals does not deter them as they remain excited for the future.

“It’s super empowering and very just amazing to experience and see,” she said.

Shawn Chitnis