Awkwafina Tells ‘Angsty Teenagers’ to Watch Indie Movies to Help ‘Figure Themselves Out’

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At the 2023 Asia Society Southern California Gala, Awkwafina shared a personal anecdote about her time with the organization while accepting the Culture Visionary honor.

“I first went to the Asia Society when I was in high school. My dad was an avid supporter and we’d always go to shows and talks there together,” Awkwafina said on Sunday night at the Skirball Cultural Center. “It was a resource for us Ramones-, Joan Didion- and Jay-Z-loving Asian Americans growing up to learn more about our own cultural identities. And I think that it’s that kind of self-motivation to curate and cultivate our identities as Asian people, is where cultural vision is born.”

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The “Awkwafina is Nora From Queens” co-creator and star also advised young Asian Americans to “achieve things more exorbitant than we are shown by being themselves, asking the world questions and demanding answers from the world.”

“And I wanna encourage all of you today — in the case that you are the parents of angsty teenagers trying to figure themselves out,” she continued. “I want you to encourage them to love things, to watch indie movies, to seek out their favorite authors and to exist in the world in uniquely their own space.”

The Asia Society Southern California’s annual gala recognizes leading figures in business, culture, entertainment and sports from the Southern California region, the U.S. and Asia.

Along with Awkwafina, the night’s honorees included Palo Alto Networks chairman and CEO Nikesh Arora, Bespoke Beauty Brands CEO and founder Toni Ko, Rosewood Hotel Group CEO Sonia Cheng and Capital Group equity portfolio manager Noriko Honda Chen. The evening’s sports tribute spotlighted Ali Riley, Jun Endo, Rui Hachimura, Lang Ping, Shohei Ohtani, Taylor Rapp, Alyssa Thompson and Michelle Wie West.

“I think just being able to be celebrated for my Asian heritage, it took me a really long time to appreciate it,” Riley told Variety. “I felt really different when I was growing up and I didn’t talk about being Asian. Now to be celebrated not only as an Asian, but as an Asian woman in sports — there aren’t that many of us, but I think we’re breaking a lot of barriers.”

“I started my first business in 1999 and seeing an Asian female entrepreneur was very rare,” Ko said. “Now fast forward about 22 years and you see there’s Glamnetic, INH, Youthforia, Tower 28 — there’s all these beautiful brands that’s developed by Asian Americans, and I’m so proud of that.”

On stage, Awkwafina suggested that she and her fellow honorees should exchange numbers following her acceptance speech.

“Let’s collab because I have this invention where you could nap anywhere,” Awkwafina said with a laugh. “I don’t know where it goes past that, but I feel like we should do it.”

The gala featured performances by the Taiko Center of Los Angeles and Joya Kazi Entertainment, a company that specializes in Bollywood dance.

The evening’s guest list included Lisa Ling, Alex and Maia Shibutani, Vincent Rodriguez III, Kelly Mi Li, Guy Tang, Leah Qin, Chen Tang, Michele Selene Ang, Nayah Damsen, Yeo Yann Yann, Laya Deleon Haye, Mardy Ma, Bloom Li, Jazzy Cho, Lydia Bai, Chamath Palihapitiya, Brian Lee and Kara Wang.

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