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Breaking Barriers: Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

May 25, 2021

This AAPI Heritage Month Cox is celebrating members of the AAPI community who are breaking barriers. In the last year there have been many barriers the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have endured. As COVID-19 spread across the world, xenophobia and racism also grew. Stories about violence against Asian elders, unprovoked racist remarks being hurled at AAPI people, and most recently, the horrific shootings in Atlanta that killed 6 Asian women and in Indianapolis that killed four Sikhs are all too triggering. The AAPI community and allies are breaking barriers by sharing experiences, uplifting AAPI voices, and fighting racism together.


Cox is proud to spotlight four AAPI faces you should know from your TV screen to the tennis courts. Read more about their amazing, barrier-breaking stories.


Tan France


Tan is a British-Pakistani-American fashion designer, television personality, and author and is one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first Muslim gay men on western television1. He is most known for being the fashion expert on the Netflix series, Queer Eye, although he also hosts two other shows around fashion. Born in England to Pakistani parents, Tan currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his husband, Rob France, a pediatric nurse and artist.


Tan's interest in fashion design started at 9, when he learned to sew, while helping out in his grandfather's denim factory. After attending school for fashion design at Doncaster College, he's worked for Zara, Selfridges & Co, Bershka, Chanel, Shade and founded his own swimwear line, Kingdom and State. Tan began working in the United States in 2008 and  immigrated to the US in 2015. Tan eventually sold his fashion lines and had planned on retiring to start a family with his husband, but he was then called by Netflix in February 2018 to star in Queer Eye. Tan recently announced that he and his husband Rob, are expecting their first child. Arguably the sweetest member of the “Queer Eye” Fab Five, Tan France is known to be compassionate, thoughtful, and patient.


On top of his very busy schedule, Tan also hosts a weekly show on You Tube that features a variety of videos on fashion, and of course, featuring Tan! He can also be found on Instagram.


Growing up in a traditional Muslim household, Tan wrote a memoir, Naturally Tan, where he talks about his experience of being gay and one of the few people of color in Doncaster, England. In his memoir, he talks about how he had to navigate multiple social issues, from pressure from his parents to go into medicine or law, to the occasional violent racism through physical assaults in the neighborhood he grew up in, and also hiding his homosexuality from his parents until he was 34.


Tan has spoken out on social issues such as colorism, racism and Islamophobia – something he had to endure throughout his life.



Kalpana Chawla


Born on March 17, 1962 in India, Kalpana Chawla (pronounced CULL-puh-na CHAV-la) was an astronaut and engineer. She often went by the nickname, K.C. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India (1982), Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from University of Texas (1984) and PhD in aerospace engineering from University of Colorado (1988). Chawla, a naturalized US citizen, began to work at NASA’s Ames Research Center on powered-life computation fluid dynamics and in 1993, she joined Overset Methods Inc as VP and Research Scientist specializing in the simulation of moving multiple body problems. 


By the end of 1994, NASA selected her as an astronaut candidate and began her training at the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches testing space shuttle software.


In 1997, Chawla became part of the seven-astronaut crew on STS-87, Space Shuttle Columbia. She became the first Indian woman and second Indian to enter space making 252 orbits of the Earth within two weeks. This space flight focused on experiments designed to study weightlessness and on observations of the Sun’s outer layer.


In 2003, Chawla served as a mission specialist on STS-107, Columbia, which was a dedicated science and research mission. After a 16-day flight, the Columbia exploded upon re-entry over East Texas due to damage on the shuttle’s wing. All seven crew members were killed.


Chawla was recognized for her work in the development and implementation of efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization. Today, her work is still credited and documented in technical papers and journals. Her legacy lives beyond her experience with NASA and the dozens of memorials dedicated in her name. She cared passionately that children shouldn’t be deprived of an education, according to her father. During her time at NASA, Chawla was part of the program’s newly started tradition of selecting two students from India each year to visit her at NASA. In 2004, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004.



Steven Yeun


Steven Yeun is an American actor who was born in Korea and grew up in Michigan. When he was younger, he claimed to have two personalities. At school, he was subdued, but at home, or the Korean church his family attended, he was more assertive. Seeking a kindred spirit for this sense of duality, he recalls that he would never miss an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. “I was really drawn to Will Smith,” Yeun remembers. “When you think about the Fresh Prince, it was kind of that concept.” “He’s caught between places, just trying to be himself.” These days, Yeun sees this polarity differently, asserting that it has been a “source of my own truth and power,” which the 37-year-old actor has channeled into a thrilling career, full of inspired performances across many genres.


Yeun first came to prominence through his role as Glenn Rhee on the popular television series, “The Walking Dead.” He was an original cast member of the production and his popularity grew until he departed after several seasons. In recent years, Yeun has ramped up his movie career, earning numerous accolades to include The Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Burning.” His other credits include “Okja,” “Sorry to Bother You,” and his upcoming Netflix comedy, “Beef.”  


This year, Yeun made history as the first Asian-American to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, for his role as Jacob Yi, a South Korean immigrant who relocates to rural Arkansas in the nineteen-eighties, in the film “Minari.” 


He was recently quoted as saying, “We’re at a moment where life and society move because of things like [award nominations],” “So, I’m happy to be part of a process, but the last thing I want to be is defined by one portion of who I am.”


Fresh off an Oscar nomination, Yeun is currently being eyed to star in acclaimed director Jordan Peele’s next film.



Naomi Osaka


Osaka is a Japanese global sports icon, professional tennis superstar, team owner, and activist. She is the first Asian player, male or female, to hold the No.1 rank by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title when she defeated Serena Williams in 2018 at the U.S. Open. Osaka began playing tennis at the tender age of 3. Osaka and her older sister Mari were taught and coached by their father, Leonard Francois. He drew inspiration from the Williams sisters' performances at the 1999 French Open and their father, Richard Williams Jr's, teaching and coaching tactics.


Unique to Osaka is her family dynamic and upbringing. Born in Osaka, Japan, she is the proud daughter of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother (Tamaki Osaka). Their family moved to Long Island, NY, from Japan, and when living in Long Island, Osaka lived with her paternal grandparents, who only spoke Creole. Under the same roof, Osaka's mother conversed in Japanese and brought over customs and traditions into their new lives in the U.S. growing up in a family surrounded by uniquely different cultures intertwined amongst each other represents the melting pot that is the United States.


The summer of 2020 hit the boiling point for civil unrest, and Osaka felt it was the right time to act. Following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Osaka joined athletes from the NBA and other organizations in protest by deciding she would not play in her semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open. Osaka's presence, or lack thereof, and influence, led the WTA to suspend play for a day. WTA's Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said of Osaka that "her activism has shone a light on how we as individuals and sports leagues can collectively make an impact. Not only is she a phenomenal tennis player, but she also demonstrates how athletes have an opportunity to use their platform for something bigger than the game or themselves. Her actions are nothing short of inspiring and she is so very deserving of this recognition."





Photo Credits:

Steven Yeun - Reuters/Pool - stock.adobe.com

Kalpana Chawla - Reuters/Joe Skipper - stock.adobe.com

Naomi Osaka - Reuters/Kelly Defina - stock.adobe.com

Tan France - Everett Collection/Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection - stock.adobe.com


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