As an Asian American woman— specifically as a Filipino American— I know how anti-Black racism runs rampant in Asian communities.

Interview with Celeste Chung

Introduce yourself!

Hey there! My name is Celeste Chung, and I’m a 16-year-old youth activist from Malaysia. Currently, I am wrapping up my high school years in Sabah, Malaysia. Fun fact, Malaysia is a small Southeast Asian country known for its diverse cultures, food, races, and amazing sunsets. During my free time, I love volunteering with my family in the local orphanages and elderly homes alongside talking in webinars and hosting workshops. I have now talked in over 50+ talks, crazy how I started off as a quiet, shy girl. I love connecting with changemakers, activists, and inspiring girls from all over the globe. Also, a secret hobby of mine is cooking! 

Who are your greatest inspirations in activism and everything?

My greatest inspiration would have to be my mum and grandmother. They’ve taught me so much, from learning how to speak up and defend your rights to making my first ever Chinese dish. Both my mum and grandmother are the strongest, inspiring, most empowered women I know, and they constantly push me to be the best version of myself. Additionally, another activist that inspires me since day one would have to be Melati Wijsen, a youth changemaker from Indonesia striving to eradicate plastic usage in her home country. Since I was young, she has always been my role model, and it’s so amazing to see what young youths from around the world are doing. 

How did you come up with the ideas for your projects? What inspired you to found these organizations and pursue activism?

How my organisation first came about is actually a pretty interesting question. When I was 13, I was doing my journalism internship, and one of the male colleagues had asked me what I wanted to do in the future. Speaking truthfully, my ambitious 13-year-old self said that I wanted to be the Prime Minister of Malaysia. To my surprise, he started laughing, and he gave me this look. To today, I vividly remember his face as it definitely lit a fire in me. He then proceeded to say that maybe I should reconsider my options and that I was “too soft.” From that day onwards, I realised that I wanted to empower the girls in my community, but in order to do so, I needed to balance the gender gap in education. And so, with my legs crossed in my living room, I drew a plan with markers and crayons. The name “Youth For The Future” came from the idea that though 25 percent of our population is made of youths, we are 100 percent of the future. 

With both Youth for the Future and GirlUp For Change, what do you hope for your audience to take away from those pages? What long-term goals do you have for them?

Our main objectives are to mobilise youth with resources, empower and inspire them to take action alongside advocating on why our voice is so powerful. A lot of us are advocating; however, not enough people are doing so. If more of us are fighting for the cause, then we will be heard more. Currently, Youth For The Future is supporting 200+ kids to school, and we aim to increase this number drastically throughout the years. 

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

“Dream big, stay positive, work hard, and enjoy the journey” was something my parents used to tell me often. It definitely was a challenging and long road to get to where I am now. Just recently, I was a finalist and winner for Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Malaysia Award for the age category of 13-17. It was definitely a big surprise, and never in a million years would I have thought I would be able to even be nominated. Additionally, I was also awarded the Global Citizenship Award for my school and was also the youngest recipient to achieve the award so far.

Do you have any advice for Asian women who are also looking to make a change/start caring more about activism?

Just go for it. When I first started my activism journey, I was so scared! In my country, it was very difficult to speak up, and at first, my voice was irrelevant, ignored, childish, and not even considered. Though, I’ve never given up on this long fight and have been through all the thick and thin. One important thing is to know your why, know why you’re doing it, find something you’re passionate about, and never stop advocating for it. I cannot highlight how important your “why” is. When you’re burnt out or tired, your “why” will push you and motivate you to further strive for continuous impacts. Also, don’t forget to take breaks! 

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges facing Asian women today?

Lots of Asian countries are still hooked on the traditional mindset, and that definitely plays a big impact on our lives. In Malaysia, our freedom of speech and expression is very limited. When COVID first hit Malaysia, we had to go under lockdown; a few weeks later, our Ministry of Women declared that all women should wear make-up and dress up at home to please your husband/significant other, which was definitely very sexist! And all this came down to the fact that we only had 13.9 percent of female representatives in the government. There are many issues that I can go on and on about, but I think the biggest is the lack of female voice in the office. 

What’s next for you? Any exciting projects?

Yes! This upcoming December, me and my team, are hosting a big virtual summit with international speakers from over 10+ countries, workshops, and breakout sessions for various topics such as women empowerment, climate change, women in STEM, and many more! Additionally, we are also distributing food to the stateless community, as many were badly affected by covid. We are hoping to feed at least 100+ families. 

Celeste Chung is a youth activist from Malaysia striving for gender equality and education for all. She is the executive director and founder of Youth For The Future, a non-profit charity organisation which is currently supporting 200+ kids. Celeste is also a UN SDG Youth Representative for Malaysia and was also awarded the Global Citizenship Award, Young Changemaker Award, and Asia’s top leaders. She has now spoken in over 50+ talks. Currently, she is working with local politicians, NGOs, and activists to pass the sexual harassment bill in Malaysia.

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Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

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