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AANHPI Stories

Embracing Who I’ve Always Been and Who I Want To Be

My name is Erica Yamauchi and I live in Kaimukī, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, on the island of O‘ahu. I am a State Co-Lead of the Moms Demand Action Hawai‘i chapter.

One of my best friends was taken by gun violence in high school, and it really changed me. It was the Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012—when I had a family of my own—that truly woke me up to the fact that we didn’t have to live like this. It broke my heart to think about what my community went through when I was in high school, knowing that the Sandy Hook community was feeling similar pain years later.

The shooting at Sandy Hook took place the same year my oldest daughter was born. I didn’t want to have to tell her one day that I sat idly by and let shooting after shooting happen. I heard about Shannon Watts’ Facebook group and joined on the spot. It’s been amazing to see the change a decade can make. Knowing that deep trauma and pain linger in so many communities due to gun violence, but that we have the power to stop it, is what keeps me going. Incremental change can be hard, but it’s worth it.

Things in the Moms Demand Action Hawai‘i chapter are busy right now; we have so many new projects happening! As a State Co-Lead, after doing my personal morning routine with my family, I try to spend time reading the news and my social media feeds. Doing this helps me get updates on national, state, and local issues related to gun violence, policy, and our movement. The chapter usually has a lot of ongoing communication about chapter happenings, especially now that we are on three islands. Depending on the day, I may have a lot of emails and texts to respond to, and I may also have a leads meeting or legislative hearing to attend.

The most memorable interactions for me have been with local survivors of gun violence and their families: That is what keeps me going. I also love the community of volunteers we have built here in Hawai‘i. It’s wonderful to connect with others nationally in similar roles or states at events like Gun Sense University to see just how big our movement has become. 

Here in Hawai‘i, we celebrate our Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) cultures year-round. We acknowledge our heritage and history a lot—it’s definitely one of our strengths as a state! Representation matters, and here, we can sometimes take that for granted. 

We see such a diverse mix of AANHPI excellence in terms of people and accomplishments here. We are also so lucky to have several wonderful cultural holidays in May—when AANHPI Heritage Month is celebrated—that are celebrated statewide too, like May/Lei Day (Hawai‘i) and Boys’ Day (Japan). Graduation is also such fun in Hawai‘i: so many lei!

I appreciate how organically our community partnerships have grown in our chapter. We go where people are already gathering to educate people about how the issues they care about all intersect with gun violence and AANHPI communities. We’ve attended Pride celebrations, suicide prevention awareness walks, and even our state domestic violence conference (which was a first for us this year).

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of crimes carried out against AANHPI community members, including crimes involving firearms. These hate-motivated acts are heart-wrenching, and it gives me pause when I see comments from people who think that arming themselves is the only answer. We must have this conversation on a larger scale—it is so important. There is so much more we can do to keep our communities safe.

My work with Moms Demand Action plays a role in protecting our communities. I am so proud that we now have local groups on both Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island, which is huge! We’re manifesting one for Maui this year, too. I am beyond grateful for our Kaua’i local group. Its leads, Faith, Heather, and Judith, have especially worked so hard on secure firearm storage in the community. What they are doing with the Department of Education there, including a resolution and co-branded Be SMART materials sharing information with guardians about how to keep their guns stored securely so children can’t access them, will be a model for us to replicate on other islands.

I love the theme “Not a Monolith, Not Silent” which Everytown is marking AANHPI Heritage Month with. It means just what it says: We have so much in common, but we are not all the same. We aren’t a monolith, and we’re going to be outspoken about that! We’re letting the fear go and are speaking up for ourselves—and we can do this firmly, but with kindness. 

I wish people knew just how rich our cultures are, and how many of them have innate wisdom that can help heal the world. We have become so Western-dominant in our thinking due to internalized racism and historical trauma. Only later in life are many of us beginning to shed these patterns of thought and rediscover the wisdom inherent in our own cultures. So many of us have been made to feel ashamed of our identities for far too long. 

This month is about joy and the celebration of our collective and individual heritage stories as AANHPI people. For AANHPI community members who are (re)embracing their identities, this can look like taking a heritage trip (like I did to the Philippines last year with my family), celebrating one of your cultural holidays, or starting language lessons online. And someone who does not have an AANHPI identity can hold space for us and our struggles with identity—and all that comes with it—without judgment. It comes down to genuine connection and curiosity about people and our cultures. It includes what makes each of these cultures special and unique in our strengths, but also in our struggles, including gun violence and suicide.

I’m still on a journey toward fully answering the question “What does your AANHPI identity mean to you?” For me right now, it means embracing who I’ve always been and who I want to be. It means knowing where I come from and being connected to my ancestors, land, people, culture, and language—in whatever form is realistic—because that connection is both a birthright and a blessing. And it means passing down this knowledge and confidence to my daughters so they don’t have to spend as much time seeking it out as I did.

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