Ji Hyun Denise Hellenbrand (She/Her)
Ji Hyun is a mother, a wife, and a business owner. She came to the US in 1983 and was raised in Philadelphia where she attended public schools from fifth grade to college. She quickly learned that living in the US was not what she dreamed of in South Korea. She worked hard to assimilate to erase any trace of being an immigrant. She learned English, lost her accent, and started calling herself “Denise.” She adopted a new identity and was rewarded with a happy marriage, successful business, PTA leadership, and two Track & Field kids.
When covid came to Denise's community, all her efforts could not shield her family from slurs, innuendo, and intimidation. It hit even harder because she believed she had done everything she could to fit in. Her children and the rest of her family felt ashamed and afraid for being Asians.
Denise questioned her personal identity. How long does one have to live in the US to become accepted? Will her bi-racial children ever be told to leave this county because they look like Mom and not so much like dad? Will their children have to experience what she did growing up “different” not being black or white, but the other, a small immigrant group that is invisible?
She could not watch her children suffer through disappointment and distress, and promised that she would act so they will not have to. Denise co-founded AAPI Montgomery County and Make Us Visible PA., and joined her school district DEI committee.
While educating herself about the contributions of Asian American & Pacific Islanders in the United States, Ji Hyun Denise is finding her new identity as a Korean American and is now advocating for a thoughtful representation and depiction of US history that reflects her, her children, and her community.
Acting so our children will not have to!
Kenneth Hong (He/Him)
Kenneth is a fourth-generation Chinese American, family historian, and genealogist. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ken now lives in Chester County with his wife and three teenage boys. His parents have roots in the US going back to the late 1800’s, and traced their family trees back 150 generations in China to 2,698 BCE.
His grandfather was detained on Angel Island for five months when he was 15 years-old, worked his way through high school and college as a house boy, and eventually spoke perfect English and earned an advanced Electrical Engineering degree from Stanford University.
Kenneth stepped up his involvement with the AAPI community in 2021 when two Asian Americans ran against each other for his district's school board. He helped organize a widely-attended panel discussion on Asian American Perspectives on Race and Equity featuring the two candidates and several other Asian American parents from the community. It served to showcase not only the political diversity of the candidates but also the diverse stories of members of the Persian, Korean, Chinese, and West Indian diasporas in his community.
Kenneth hopes to promote the too often untold and unknown history of Asian America to communities across the commonwealth, like the stories of Wong Kim Ark, Yick Lee, and Fred Korematsu, who fought for the rights of all Americans before the Supreme Court, of Mabel Lee who led marches for women’s suffrage, and of people like his grandfather.
A avid traveler, Kenneth worked in Asia for five years after college. He has worked as a business consultant for companies around the world, and as an executive at a number of tech start-ups. Kenneth is a volunteer with Make Us Visible PA and a member of his school district's diversity committee.
You can read more about his family's story on his blog.
Five Generations and counting from the beginning of the Exclusion Era
Ken's Great-Grandfather leaving San Francisco for China in 1899
Ken's Great-Grandfather's INS-issued Certificate of Identity
Stanford Chinese Students Association, c. 1930
Back row 1st on the left
San Francisco, 1962
From Surviving to Thriving!
Serena Ngọc Hạnh Nguyễn (She/Her)
Serena was born in Philadelphia to a family of Vietnamese immigrants in 1996. After leaving Vietnam because of the war, her family had to start from the very bottom. She grew up going between Philadelphia and Montgomery County, and watched her family make their way from surviving to thriving through hard work, education, and perseverance in the face of poverty, prejudice, and other traumas.
When an anti-Asian American hate incident shook her hometown school district in early 2021, she began to realize how deeply normalized prejudice affected marginalized community members, especially young students whom she saw herself in. She also began to realize how strong a community could be when it comes together to lift everyone up.
Serena is the Founder of Pop The Bubble, a grassroots community organization founded with the intent to combat racism and prejudice in suburban communities in Montgomery County. She works closely with members of the Lower Moreland Township School District, including current students, other alum, administrators, educators, and parents to help bring the community together.
Serena is also a Co-Founder of AAPI Montgomery County and Make Us Visible PA.
Above: A picture, circa 1965, of Tom's ethnically Uygar grandmother, with his mother (right) and three of her siblings.
A. Tom Hasani (He/Him)
Tom was born and raised in New York City. Tom comes from at least 3 generations of refugees of religious and ethnic persecution, where his family traveled from country to country in Asia, before finally arriving in the United States. When in High School, right after 9/11, Tom, among other Central and South Asians at his school experienced an exponential increase in hate which was widely accepted, and dismissed as normal behavior. Throughout his K-12 experience, he felt there were many pieces of AAPI education missing that may have helped destigmatize Asian Americans.
His experiences made him hungry to learn more about the Asian diasporic experience. He studied Asian Studies and Religion at Rutgers University, where he was very involved in campus AAPI organizations. He studied International Peace & Conflict Resolution at Arcadia University where he is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Historical Studies Department.
Tom works with numerous organizations as a member or board director to promote inclusion and equity for marginalized communities, particularly AAPI. During the recent spike of Anti-Asian Hate, Tom successfully ran for School Board Director, becoming the first Asian American elected official in Upper Moreland Township, PA.
Tom is also a Co-Founder of AAPI Montgomery County.