AAPIP Voices

Conversation with 25 Leaders in Action: Joy Messinger


To commemorate AAPIP’s 25 years of building a more democratic philanthropic sector, we asked you to help us identify 25 leaders who are making a difference in your local community and/or nationally. The 25 Leaders in Action honorees represent a diverse group spanning a wide range of organizations, years of experiences, roles and sectors.  We invite you to learn about these outstanding leaders, their inspiring work and what keeps them going in our blog post series.


1. Why are you passionate about advocating for AAPI communities?

I came into my own Asian American political identity in my late-20’s, after growing up in an almost-all-white family and living in predominantly white areas without much access to progressive, adoptee- and LGBTQ-inclusive AAPI spaces. I grew up knowing what it meant to occupy an Asian body, especially one labeled female at birth – having experienced sexualization and sexual violence from a young age – but didn’t know much about Asian American history or movement building. After moving to Chicago five years ago, I was able to find intersectional Asian American communities that let me show up with my whole self; I learned a lot about Asian American history, feminism, immigration, and issues impacting my local communities. I remain passionate about advocating for and with AAPI communities to dismantle the notion that there is only one narrative to be told about AAPI communities and to give voice and visibility to people under the “AAPI” umbrella whose stories are often left out: women, LGBTQ people, adoptees, young people, disabled folks, immigrant and refugees, working class folks, and more.

2. What do you believe are the most critical issues facing AAPI communities today?

One issue impacting AAPI communities is related to shame and stigma about our bodies, our sexualities, our sexual and reproductive health needs & decisions, mental health & mental illness, sexual & intimate partner violence… the list can go on. I’ve worked with youth who feel like there’s no one they can talk to about sex or LGBTQ issues or abortion or depression or rape, and this leaves them feeling isolated and without community or support. I’ve spent a lot of the last decade doing LGBTQ, sexual health, and reproductive justice work and rarely do these conversations focus or highlight the needs of AAPI people, families, and communities.

I think another critical issue is the ongoing discussion about where and how AAPI people can support racial justice movements and build strong partnerships and connections to fight criminalization and police violence, xenophobic attacks on immigrants and immigrant families, and cuts to essential services in public education, health care, and elder support. Nationally, organizations like Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) and Freedom, Inc. and grassroots movements like #APIs4BlackLives have been making these connections and demonstrating action against policing, surveillance, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression. I think it’s important to keep supporting groups doing this work to push a racial justice conversation forward.

Other issues that remain constantly on my mind include AAPI adult adoptees being heard & listened to when it comes to adoption policy and adoption experiences (rather than adoptive parents only), supporting education justice and ethnic studies movements for Asian American Studies programs in the K-12 and university levels, and having compassionate immigration policies that don’t leave LGBTQ people, survivors of domestic violence, and undocumented people behind.

3. In what ways do you strive to address the unmet needs for AAPI communities?

Living in a city like Chicago, I’ve had so many opportunities to get involved with and connected to groups and organizations working with and for AAPI communities. I also acknowledge the privilege I have in being a naturalized citizen and university graduate and the access that has given me to many necessary resources. After doing nonprofit work for the past decade, I’m working now as a consultant and freelancer but spend the majority of my time doing reproductive justice, AAPI LGBTQ, and community philanthropy organizing. As part of the Core of Invisible to Invincible (i2i), I help create safer spaces in Chicago for LGBTQ Asian American folks, educate LGBTQ & Asian American organizations on how they can better serve people at the intersections of those identities, and participate in coalition work to support LGBTQ AAPI people and partner groups.

I’m also passionate about collective giving and gaining power over the ways that our communities’ work gets funded. I’ve been a supporter of Chicago’s Asian Giving Circle (sponsored by AAPIP) and I’m the Co-Chair of the LBTQ Giving Council at Chicago Foundation for Women to help activate and mobilize people as philanthropists. This past year, I also spent time volunteering with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago through phone-banking and poll monitoring during Chicago’s THREE 2014-2015 election cycles (we go big or go home, even in politics). I’ve also been a member of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum’s (NAPAWF) Chicago chapter since 2011 and recently had the opportunity to work with their reproductive justice youth development and digital storytelling program. I think that organizations like NAPAWF, Forward Together, and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective are crucial to AAPI community and feminist community alike by centering the experiences of women and LGBTQ people and I’m fortunate to have had many opportunities to educate about reproductive justice and draw connections between sexual & reproductive health and other social justice & human rights issues.

4. What keeps you inspired?

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work with young people over the past 13 years and I think that the magic of intergenerational space keeps me inspired. There is a lot of ageism and adultism that keeps youth voice and experience marginalized, but I’ve found that young people often have the sharpest critique, analysis, and ideas drawn directly from their own experiences. I’m also inspired by storytelling spaces where people can feel heard and seen and powerful. Whether it’s storytelling about immigration stories or experiences with abortion or the process of coming out, I love hearing about people’s experiences and how knowing and sharing all of these stories makes our work so much richer.

Joy Messinger is honored to have been nominated as an AAPIP Leader in Action. She is a skilled facilitator, sought-after speaker and educator, and independent nonprofit consultant with graduate degrees in social work and public health and a background in sexuality education, youth development, reproductive justice, adoptee issues, and LGBTQ and Asian American community building. She also stays busy as a Core Member of Invisible to Invincible (i2i): Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago and Co-Chair of Chicago Foundation for Women’s LBTQ Giving Council. When she’s not working, Joy likes to bake and cook, bike, read, cheer for her favorite basketball teams, and enjoy Chicago’s short but beautiful summers. Joy identifies as a disabled/chronically-ill bisexual and queer cisgender femme of color, 1.5-generation immigrant, and transnational adoptee. You can connect with Joy on Twitter at @joydelivery or at www.joymeetsworld.net