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Asian Girls Ignite teaches young women to embrace their identities

For Asian youth, the leading cause of death in the United States is suicide. A Colorado nonprofit hopes to change that by helping girls build community and self-confidence.
Asian Girls Ignite
Posted at 5:45 PM, May 17, 2024

DENVER — Feeling isolated and powerless as a teenager is increasingly common as the United States’ youth mental health crisis grows. Asian girls are among those struggling the most. But a Colorado nonprofit hopes to change that.

Mehgan Yen and Joanne Liu started Asian Girls Ignite to offer young people an experience they didn’t have.

“I grew up in a space where I didn't feel that strong sense of connection,” Yen said. "It was really difficult to navigate.”

She faced racism and microaggressions that left her feeling alone.

“Unfortunately, suicide is the leading cause of death amongst [Asian American] youth. And it's true for no other racial group but ours,” Yen said. "I was almost part of that statistic. So I know firsthand how important this community is to our students."


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Asian Girls Ignite started small in 2020. It was early in the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Asian hate incidents were on the rise.

"We created that safe space. It was online, on Zoom for nine students at the time,” Yen said.

Since then, the group has spread across Colorado, expanding to more than 200 students. Asian Girls Ignite offers programs for middle and high school Asian girls. They receive mentorship, go on field trips in nature, learn about cultural dances and foods, visit historical sites and tell their stories to embrace their identities.

“That's the beauty of what we do. We make sure that all of our students recognize that what makes them unique and what their stories are, are what gives them power,” Yen said.

Saige Ju and Janelle Amor Asian Girls Ignite
High school students Saige Ju and Janelle Amor say Asian Girls Ignite helped them build their confidence.

Janelle Amor, a rising high school senior whose family is originally from India, said before she joined the group, she had “never really been in an all-Asian space before.”

“It was the first time I was in a space where I was with girls who I could relate to and who had the same experiences,” Amor said.

At first, she was drawn in by the fun activities, including annual events like a Night Market and Lunar New Year festivities. But through mentorship, Amor said she gained self-confidence that helped her get outside of her comfort zone and try new things at school.

AGI Elevasian Night Market
Asian Girls Ignite hosts community events like their annual ElevAsian Night Market.

Saige Ju, who is graduating from high school after spending four years with Asian Girls Ignite, shared a similar experience. Ju is half Korean, half white.

“Growing up biracial, I never felt like I belonged to, kind of, either community,” Ju said. "The Asian community is so diverse, and there are so many perspectives within the community that are not necessarily heard every day."

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Through Asian Girls Ignite, Ju said she's met women from “all different backgrounds, ethnicities, races, sexualities, all together, celebrating the Asian culture.”

After four years of getting to know other Asian women, Ju was teary-eyed reflecting on how meaningful the community space has been for her.

"I am like, so proud to be Asian. And I never thought I would say that before Asian Girls Ignite,” she said.

Mehgan Yen Asian Girls Ignite
Mehgan Yen helped create Asian Girls Ignite to offer opportunities she didn't have growing up.

Yen, who co-founded the group, said she plans to continue expanding their programs beyond Colorado. Her dream is for Asian Girls Ignite to become a household name, with community programs available to girls nationwide.

“Our students' wellbeing is at the forefront of our minds 24/7,” Yen said. “We can ignite not only ourselves but all our community around us.”

For Yen, seeing Asian youth embrace themselves is helping her and other adults in the community heal, too.

"Every single student I meet and that I get the privilege of getting to know, it feels like that's a way of me reaching out to my younger self and saying, 'You can do this. You're not alone, and we can do it together,’” Yen said. “It's all about igniting our power."

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