Prodigal Son Actor Keiko Agena and restaurateur James Choi talk about growing up Asian in America
FOX
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"This is a very challenging time to be Asian-American in the United States," says actor Keiko Agena (Prodigal Son, FOX) to restauranteur James Choi (Café Dulce, Los Angeles) via video chat.

Keiko's words succinctly capture what many Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are likely feeling these days as a result of the widespread racism and escalating hate crimes in this country. While the recent mass shooting in Atlanta that disproportionately impacted the AAPI communities has put a spotlight on this systemic issue, it's sadly just one more horrifying statistic to add to the over 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents that have amassed over the past year.

The underlying xenophobia that connects all these incidents, regardless of their severity, is unconscionable. Even when Asians stand up for themselves or their community, they're often met with similar acts of aggression. Texas restaurateur Mike Nguyen, for example, had his restaurant graffitied with things like "Go back 2 China", and "Kung Flu" when he spoke out against Texas Governor Abbott lifting the mask mandate.

Similar incidents have been happening to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders as long as they've been a part of this country. As a result, many Asians in America, including Agena and Choi, have felt racial prejudice in some form or another — even as kids.

"I was very aware that I was Asian and I was surrounded by white people," says Choi, who now owns Cafe Dulce in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. "I was very aware that I ate very different food."

Illustration by Courtney Ahn

What Choi had in his lunch box made him feel separate from the other kids at school. That separation for simply having different traditions, beliefs and foods can make kids feel ashamed of their heritage and majorly impact how they grow up.

According to Choi, fellow restaurateurs, Roy Choi (owner of Kogi BBQ)and David Chang (owner of Momofuku), who also made their way in the food and beverage industry, helped "normalize Asian flavors," which in turn helped Choi throughout his journey. "That made me feel more comfortable in my skin."

Unfortunately, not all Asian-American people are as lucky.

Having grown up in Hawaii, where the majority of the population is Asian-American, Agena had a somewhat different childhood experience. She told Choi she had the luxury of not being as aware of her Asian-ness.

That, however, changed when she went to college. She'd auditioned for a play that only had three female leads all of which were written as white, English characters. When she looked at the list for callbacks and didn't see her name, she had a crushing realization.

Illustration by Courtney Ahn

"That was the first time I realized my ethnicity might be a factor."

The experience affected her to such a degree that she chose not to audition for another role for the rest of that year.

Like so many aspiring Asian actors, Agena grew up watching mainly white people on TV. When you lack representation in the medium you want to pursue, it can feel all the more challenging to make your way in it. But Agena is changing that for future Asian actors everywhere.

She landed the lead role of Lane on the beloved TV show Gilmore Girls over 20 years ago. Choi told her that, from his perspective, she "paved the way" and opened the door for more Asian leads on TV. Now, she's playing Edrisa Tanaka on FOX's Prodigal Son (Tuesdays at 9/8c on FOX), a police procedural in its second season. She says she feels "fortunate" to work on a show where the showrunners are open to hearing her perspective on her character — something that's not always or even often the case in the entertainment industry.

Agena as Edrisa Tanaka in FOX's Prodigal Son

While Agena has had an incredible career thus far, she's only just now feeling like opportunities are really opening up for other Asian-Americans in the industry — a shocking reality that just reaffirms how far we have to go to stop the racial injustices happening every day in this country.

To that end, Choi and Agena have a message: It's time for everyone to speak up and take actions to prevent AAPI racism, prejudice and hate crimes.

"When looking for solutions to hate crimes, it's really important to go to people who have experience," says Agena. "There are so many incredible organizations that are already on the ground that are fighting to protect communities of color against hate crimes."

If you're looking for more organizations that can help you support the AAPI community, check these out: Define American, Equal Justice Initiative, The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, National Asian Pacific Center on Aging NAPCA

But don't stop there. Talk to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in your community and see if there are ways you can support them. If you have kids, teach them how to recognize Asian discrimination and racism, and help them to be an ally to their Asian peers. And finally, if you see anti-Asian behavior, call it out and report it.

It's up to all of us to take action to stop Asian racism in every way that it materializes. That's the only way real change can happen.

via Jeffrey W / Flickr

A woman named Lisa posted a video on Facebook where she shared "the easiest way to make spaghetti for a crowd" as "you don't have to worry about dishes or a mess." I know there are a lot of people out there who love cooking a large Italian meal for family get-togethers, so it's incredible that Lisa discovered a way to do so without filling the dishwasher with a billion dishes.

It's also pretty amazing that she decided to share it with us.

In the video, Lisa explains that this is how "real Italians" cook for a large family gathering. What's really interesting is that she didn't have to cut corners with her recipe being that it's made for easy clean-up. It truly appears to be made with fresh, authentic Italian ingredients.

She even tops off the recipe with a salad made with Italian-style dressing. So you know it's authentic.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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