Metro Philadelphia honors Attic Executive Director

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Metro Philadelphia published its inaugural AAPI Power Players List, highlighting leaders shaping the future of Philadelphia.

AAPI Power Players 2024 – Metro Philadelphia

Jasper Liem

Executive Director, Attic Youth Center

Jasper Liem has been a champion of LGBTQ youth since starting the Gay Straight Alliance at his high school when most adults believed that LGBTQ youth did not exist. Jasper joined Attic Youth Center’s board in 2013 and stepped in as executive director in 2022. They take immense pride in collaborating with a passionate team focused on expanding access to opportunities, ensuring that LGBTQ+ youth can flourish into resilient, independent, and healthy adults.

If you could give your younger-self advice, what would it be?
You don’t have to see every step of the journey to know you’re going in the right direction. This, along with doing the best I can with what I have, has kept me grounded throughout the path that eventually led me here. It’s easy to look at someone’s trajectory and think they always knew where they’d land, but this is rarely the case.

Do you have any event/movie/music suggestions for our readers to check out in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month?
Know your history and your family’s history. When anti-Asian hate showed up in early COVID, I chose to learn more about how my family came to the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion Act, about the demise of Chinatown in Tacoma, and the roots of how tension between Black and Asian communities were intentionally planted. Erika Lee and Ibram X. Kendi are my go-to authors on the subject.

How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
I grew up surrounded by people who didn’t look like me. My parents are Chinese, but only my mother spoke Cantonese. The people who did look like me had been immersed in their cultural heritage in ways I did not. I often felt (and was sometimes told) that I wasn’t “really Chinese.” That mindset kept me from embracing my full self and I’m grateful for the work and therapy that keeps healing that loss.

What can Philadelphia policymakers do to support the AAPI-community in the short-term? In the long-term?
Listen to our communities and help us preserve Philly’s Chinatown, one of the oldest in our country where roughly 50 Chinatowns remain. Check inwards on what you’ve been taught about AAPI people and actively work to unlearn that bias. Examine the “model minority” concept and ask who created that model and who does that model serve.