This month, we are proud to lift up wellness champions in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities who advance health equity year-round for children and families.
See our special events and resources for families and educators!
Home is Hidden in the Kimchi
“The biggest compliment for me is just that the guests feel at home.”- Peter Cho
Chef Peter Cho made a name for himself working for more than a decade under the world-class mentorship of esteemed chef April Bloomfield at The Spotted Pig in New York City. In 2016, family brought him back to his hometown in Portland, Oregon where he opened the award-winning Korean restaurant Han Oak.
Today, Han Oak has become the best of two worlds for Peter – a home-work site where he has raised two children and cared for his mother while picking up two James Beard nominations and several best restaurant nods.
Underscoring Peter’s family’s commitment to the restaurant, the community, and one another, everyone chips in at Han Oak. As Peter’s main source of Korean tradition and inspiration, Peter’s mother makes all the kimchis and has significant influence over the rest of the menu. His son Elliot “works the room,” chatting up and charming everyone who visits. Critical to Han Oak’s success as a hybrid restaurant/home, however, is Peter’s wife Sun Park. “All credit goes to my wife, who found the space and had this vision of what it could be,” says Peter.
Dr. Sejal Hathi
Prescription for Resilience
“I envision a world where everyone has the agency and resources to fulfill their potential.”- Dr. Sejal Hathi
Physician and public health advocate Dr. Sejal Hathi started working toward children’s health equity at an early age. By 15, she had created her own nonprofit, Girls Helping Girls, to train and mentor thousands of young women worldwide to tackle global issues through entrepreneurship. Since then, Dr. Hathi’s career has included many high points, from addressing UNICEF’s International Day of the Girl Child conference to appearing in Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
Presently, Dr. Hathi serves as a primary care doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Clinical Fellow at Harvard Medical School. She also hosts the podcast CivicRx –a platform for conversations about the future of health justice and how it’s been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resilience is critical as Dr. Hathi engages in advocacy work to advance the rights and agency of women and young girls in vulnerable communities. To keep balance with her busy career, Dr. Hathi invests in her own mental health through meditation while prioritizing the fundamentals of physical health--a lesson learned from her South Asian Indian parents. Today, Dr. Hathi passes down her mother’s sound advice by reminding her patients to brush and floss at least twice daily and visit the dentist multiple times per year.
Centering Love at one of America’s Healthiest Schools
“As a Pacific Islander woman, I feel like I have had to earn inclusivity and equity, tooth and nail.”- Yolanda Ifflander
Growing up on the rural island of Olongapo in the Philippines, Yolanda remembers the joy of three generations of women sitting around a table laughing, chopping vegetables for family meals while children played nearby. These meals, prepared from local foods, nourished Yolanda’s health, cultural identity, and sense of belonging.
“I wouldn’t trade my upbringing, and I carry on this lifestyle in Alaska today,” Yolanda explains. “Simple things such as family and fresh food are core values for me to stay healthy and well.”
The opportunities and challenges facing the next generation--particularly young people of color--are top of mind for Yolanda. As a parent and a school nurse, Yolanda embodies the inclusivity and community care that defined her childhood in Olangapo.
In 2015, thanks to the dedication of Yolanda and her colleagues, Seward Middle School in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was named one of America’s Healthiest Schools by Healthier Generation. After three decades of service to her school community, she is nearing a well-earned retirement. Until then, she will continue working to improve policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of KPBSD students and staff.
Homeland Is Where the Heart Is
“No one can do it alone.”- Chanphone Kittivong
As soon as she arrived in the United States in 1980, Chanphone Kittivong dedicated her career to helping others new to the country lead healthy and happy lives.
Over four decades of guiding children from diverse backgrounds, such as Hmong, Thai, Lao, Samoan, Mexican, and Salvadorian American in Alaska, Chanphone has earned trust with multiple generations of families. A refugee from Laos, she was for many years the only interpreter for Lao- and Thai-speaking families in the city. “Being connected with my community brings me joy,” says Chanphone.
Chanphone builds bridges in the community and within her own family, passing along a love of celebrating her homeland and heritage, and the values of sacrifice and service to her daughter, Healthier Generation’s Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum. Soudary describes Chanphone as a role model: the major wage earner for most of her childhood, a parent who always believed in her, and most important, a mom who wanted Soudary to be happy, or mee kuam sook in the Lao language.
“I would like to dedicate this to my mom.”- Sandra Moy-Lai
School teacher Sandra Moy-Lai, a first-generation Chinese American, grew up in Chicago with a backyard garden that sustained the family dinner table while instilling a sense of cultural pride.
Today, she enjoys sharing organic vegetables like bok choy, cucumber, cabbage, bitter melon, Chinese broccoli, and green onions with those closest to her. She says her mother, who passed away in August 2020, would be proud to see Sandra and her grandchildren cooking one of her favorite vegetables, bok choy, each week.
“Personal health and well-being influences people close to you, which attracts positive behavior and with that you can find fulfillment in life,” Sandra shares. Budlong Elementary School is an example of Sandra’s philosophy in action, where she has worked alongside colleagues and families to earn a spot on Healthier Generation’s list of America’s Healthiest Schools twice, most recently in 2020.
Sandra sees collaboration as the key to creating an inclusive and equitable future. “We are moving in the right direction and everything is looking brighter across the horizon. I can see it at the end of the rainbow.”
The Transformative Power of Teen Advocacy
“For me, an inclusive and equitable future is where all people are accepted, heard, and not discriminated against based on the many traits that make us unique.”- Brandon Nguyen
The Vietnamese healing practice of cao gio calls for a large coin soaked in eucalyptus oil to be rubbed against the back of a sick person. For Brandon Nguyen, cao gio is a family tradition that signifies the importance of personal connection to support physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Brandon wasn’t always comfortable speaking openly about his own well-being, and he credits trusting relationships with his parents and peers with helping him find his voice. Today, Brandon serves as a national speaker and advocate for leading youth organizations like Healthier Generation, Think Together, and Peer Health Exchange.
When he graduates this year from Vaughn International Studies Academy in Pacoima, California, Brandon’s commitment to health equity will carry on in the school’s Student Court, which Brandon founded to bring positive, restorative discipline practices to his peers and future students.
American Heart Association
Growing Up Global
“Humanity is the primary identity of all people.”- Sang-Mi Oh
Sang-Mi Oh's experiences living all over the world inspire her commitment to inclusivity and health equity.
Born in South Korea, Sang-Mi grew up in West Africa (what is now Benin) and later East Africa (Kenya), and immigrated to the U.S. for college. Witnessing global disparities in health care access firsthand gave Sang-Mi a unique perspective, and helping her mother prepare healthy and delicious meals using local ingredients taught her that simple solutions to improving health are available.
Learning at a young age to embrace diversity and create new connections across cultures is a grounding force in Sang-Mi’s life, and a hallmark of her work leading community-based cardiovascular health initiatives that promote equitable, sustainable care for all.
Our Differences Are Our Superpowers
“Every child is a gift filled with unique talents, treasures, and abilities.”- Jane Park
Educator and advocate Jane Park attributes her passion for supporting children’s causes to the example set by her parents—first-generation Korean immigrants.
“Their future in this country must have felt so uncertain and daunting, yet they were filled with a hope and desire to create a good life for our family,” explains Jane. “Friends, neighbors, even strangers helped them navigate a new country and made them feel like they belonged here. I’m grateful to have grown up seeing my mother pass along that kindness to others.”
Jane’s mother was a nurse’s aide who worked countless hours to create a home environment that prioritized play and imagination. As Jane spends time with her own children today, she remembers how her mother encouraged her and her sister, Sun, to go on outdoor adventures, bring friends home from school, and experience the full joys of childhood. This unconditional love and support fostered Jane’s self-confidence and appreciation of what makes her—and every child—unique and powerful.
Today, Jane works with national advocacy groups and community networks to develop research-based programs for young children and families—particularly those living in under-resourced communities—to have equitable opportunities to learn and thrive.
She Can Be Anyone She Wants to Be
“I wasn’t scared to make the leap because of her.”- Joy Secuban
Joy Secuban credits her mother with teaching her to take a big risk in pursuit of a dream.
Joy’s mother immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the early 1970s, temporarily leaving behind her young family to train as a nurse. Joining her mom ten months later, Joy’s family made a home in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Growing up, Joy remembers her mother working 16-hour shifts. Joy’s father worked a nine-to-five job, cooked dinner, took care of laundry, and did the girls’ hair. Without traditional gender roles dictating her future, Joy internalized her mother’s example of a strong woman following her passion with the support of her partner.
“My Mommy made the leap to America without knowing anyone, not knowing the culture, not knowing the nuances of the English language,” Joy recalls. When she grew up, Joy pursued her own dream career, and now serves as a national champion for children’s health in New York City.
A Taste of Laos in the Lone Star State
“Understanding that to have wealth is about your health, we can live life longer to spend time with our loved ones.”- Donny Sirisavath
Food, family, and community are inseparable for Donny, who was raised in a Laotian refugee family that settled in Texas in the late 1970s.
Before earning national honors from Bon Appétit and Food & Wine magazines, Donny learned to cook traditional Laotian specialties from his mother. In many ways, food was a means of survival. His family used old techniques like catching their own wild protein, foraging and preserving vegetables, and using homegrown herbs for cooking and wellness remedies.
Today, Donny honors his mom by being a source of Laotian culture and pride in his community. In addition to his award-winning restaurant Khao Noodle Shop, Donny dedicates his time and talent to Dallas-area refugee youth organizations.
Who is making a difference in your community?
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Special Events & Resources
Celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities through food, wellness, and family time.
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