Modern Asian: Q/A with Michelle MiJung Kim

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we’re major fans of Michelle MiJung Kim’s work. She’s an award-winning author, speaker, and activist whose book The Wake Up certifiably challenged the mainstream diversity and inclusion conversation to include real change—not just performative demonstrations of allyship. 

Ahead, Kim shares her story: what inspires her, what keeps her going, and what we can all do to create change, right now.  


What does being a Modern Asian mean to you?

To me, it means fully embracing our multidimensional selves without succumbing to the reductive narratives about what it means to be "Asian." 

 How has your Asian heritage shaped you?

I believe our social identities are the lenses through which we see and experience the world. 

I grew up in South Korea and then immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. I spent most of my teenage years trying to assimilate to the white society by shedding parts of myself that the society deemed "less than." I believed that's how I survive in this world and be able to provide for my low-income family. 

I realize now how much I lost during that time—language, connection, and identity—and it's taken many years of intentional reclaiming and healing to fully honor and nourish my identity as an Asian American immigrant woman.

What’s the greatest piece of wisdom ever shared with you by your grandparents?

My grandfather was a philosopher and a civil rights activist. He believed no human is above or below another. He taught me to keep my head held high in unwelcoming spaces and to treat every human with dignity and respect. In many ways, my life's work has been about upholding this truth and fighting systems of oppression that say otherwise.

You’ve been such an impactful voice over the years: what keeps you going?

Some days are harder than others! But knowing I'm not alone on this journey helps me to keep going. At every site of violence and trauma are also people who are doing the work of transforming the world. Being in a community with values-aligned people who understand the importance of our collective liberation movement and the simultaneous urgency of creating conditions for joy and healing has been integral to my journey.

 What’s next for you?

The paperback edition of my book is launching on March 28 with a full discussion guide. I'm so excited to be in conversation with so many people and organizations about how we create change within ourselves and in our spheres of influence. I'm also looking forward to being more engaged in youth leadership development, which has always been a passion of mine.

 What are 3 actionable steps we can take to contribute and create change?

  1. Take the work of self-reflection seriously: this includes understanding your why, your privileges, and what I call "hidden stories," and values.
  2. Practice taking proactive accountability when you veer off your values or when you make mistakes that cause harm.
  3. Support local grassroots organizations that are tirelessly fighting against different systems of oppression--donate, volunteer, amplify!

When do you feel most beautiful?

When my vulnerability is received with resonance and care.


To learn more about Michelle and her work, follow her on Instagram, @michellekimkim.