Rohit Aggarwala

Rohit T Aggarwala – New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Rohit T. “Rit” Aggarwala is commissioner of environmental protection and chief climate officer for the City of New York. Previously, he was a founding executive at Sidewalk Labs; started Bloomberg Philanthropies’ environmental grantmaking program; led the C40 cities climate leadership group; and led the development and implementation of PlaNYC, NYC’s sustainability plan. Aggarwala holds a doctorate, MBA, and bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a master’s from Queen’s University in Ontario.

Ashwin Vasan

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is a primary care physician, epidemiologist, and public health expert with nearly 20 years of experience working to improve physical and mental health, social welfare and public policy for marginalized populations in New York City, nationally, and globally. Dr. Vasan began his career in global health, working at Partners in Health and the WHO, and most recently served as the president and CEO of Fountain House. He serves as public health and clinical faculty at Columbia University.

John Albert

John Albert is a partner at Bolton St. Johns. His advocacy portfolio has included leading New York City nonprofits, cultural organizations and business corporations. He has advocated in support of internationally recognized corporations and advised their business operations to help them strategically plan for the changing legal and regulatory environment of New York City. Throughout his career John has secured millions in City and State funding for youth, after-school programs, at-risk populations, parks and cultural institutions. John was raised and currently resides in Queens with his wife and two children where he is deeply connected to the fabric of the community through his participation in political and civic organizations.

Ashok Varadhan

Ashok Varadhan is co-head of global banking and markets and serves as a member of the management committee and firm-wide risk council at Goldman Sachs. Varadhan has been with Goldman since 1998. He became managing director in 2000, partner in 2002 and global head of macro trading in 2012. Varadhan earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics from Duke University.

Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai

New York born and raised actor and storyteller Yin Chang is most recognized for her role in beloved teen drama, Gossip Girl, opening up a long overdue conversation about Asian-American representation in Hollywood. As a short film producer and director, her work has gathered over 13 million views. Moonlynn Tsai is a Taiwanese-American restaurateur and entrepreneur who grew up in Carlsbad, California, spending time at her parents’ Chinese-American restaurants leading front-of-house operations, back-end admin work, and marketing. Founded in NYC at the onset of COVID-19, Heart of Dinner‘s mission works to directly address food insecurity and isolation experienced by Asian American seniors – two long-standing community issues. The two have taken different paths in their respective lives and careers to reach the same goal: joyfully centering and uplifting people and communities.

Jing Qian

Jing Qian co-founded the Center for China Analysis (CCA) at the Asia Society Policy Institute alongside the Hon. Dr. Kevin Rudd. He serves as the managing director of CCA, leading the center’s strategy, research, and policy work on China. His own research focuses on China’s elite politics and its impact on China’s domestic and foreign policy, particularly regarding U.S.-China relations. He co-leads the Decoding Chinese Politics project and is a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

Vijay Dandapani

Vijay Dandapani is a hotel industry veteran who co-founded Apple Core Hotels. He was appointed president and CEO of the Hotel Association in January 2017. He is an active participant in the hospitality industry and has spoken on hospitality issues at many forums sponsored by organizations such as the Lodging Conference in Phoenix, and the ALIS conference. As part of New York’s response to the COVID crisis, Mr. Dandapani was also appointed by Governor Cuomo to the New York Forward Advisory Board, which was tasked with guiding the state’s reopening strategy.

Faiza Saeed

Faiza J. Saeed is Cravath’s presiding partner. She advises public companies, boards of directors and special committees in connection with mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and crisis management, including takeover defense and proxy contests. Ms. Saeed serves as a trustee of The Paley Center, New York‑Presbyterian and the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, and on the boards of directors of the Partnership for New York City and The Paley Foundation. She is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations and The Economic Club of New York. Ms. Saeed has extensive deal experience across many industry sectors, including significant depth in media/tech and biotech.

Sanjay Mody

Sanjay Mody’s law practice spans the areas of government, infrastructure and finance. At Windels Marx he advises public and private sector clients on a range of strategic, corporate and governance matters. He co-founded and leads Windels Marx’s infrastructure development and finance group. Mody previously served as senior advisor to the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, advising the chairman and the board of commissioners on policy, legal, and financial issues relating to the agency’s infrastructure and economic development projects.

Lester Chang

Lester Chang – NY State Assembly

Lester Chang was elected to the New York State Assembly on November 8, 2022. He was born in America to Chinese immigrant parents who came in pursuit of the American dream and grew up on Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Assembly Member Chang is the proud product of the New York public education system and attended public school through his master’s degree.He served in the Navy Reserve and New York Naval Militia. In March of 2020, Assembly Member Chang volunteered to return to active duty in support of COVID operations, where he helped convert the Jacob Javits Convention Center into a field hospital that treated more than 1,000 COVID patients.

Jenifer Rajkumar

Jenifer Rajkumar – NY State Assembly

Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar is a lawyer, professor, and government leader who made history as the first South Asian-American woman ever to be elected to a state office in New York. She passed a milestone legislative package that gives domestic workers the full protections of New York State Human Rights Law. She passed a landmark bill establishing New York State’s first-ever Asian American and Pacific Island (AAPI) Commission. As a strong advocate for public safety, Jenifer passed a bill to expand compensation for victims of crime, which the Governor signed into law.

Mon Yuck Yu

Mon Yuck Yu – Office of the Brooklyn Borough President

Mon Yuck Yu is director of policy at the office of the Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, leading initiatives to combat Brooklyn’s maternal mortality crisis and affecting policy change in mental health, safety, and education. Mon Yuck also co-founded RaisingHealth Partners, where she spearheaded free health, mental health, literacy, public safety and food security programs for immigrant communities. She serves on several boards and advisory councils at Women’s Empowerment Coalition, NYC Health Public Health Corps, and City Limits.

If you could give your younger-self advice, what would it be?
Never let anyone else define what is possible. Because something has never been done before does not mean that it cannot be done. Surround yourself with people who lift you higher, instead of those who try to silence your gifts. You control your choices. Free yourself from what doesn’t give you joy. There is no wrong decision — every decision is an opportunity to grow; every good decision is an opportunity to flourish.

Do you have any event/movie/music suggestions for our readers to check out in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month?
I recommend the film “The Farewell,” which explores tensions between Chinese and Chinese-American identities, depicting a family’s reconciliation with discussing death and illness, a struggle many families, including mine, can relate to. “Free Chol Soo Lee” is also a compelling documentary that highlights a Korean immigrant’s wrongful murder conviction, sparking a pan-Asian justice movement questioning the relationship between race and the carceral state, exposing flaws in our criminal justice system, and inspiring Asian-American activism today.

How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
Growing up with Chinese immigrant parents instilled in me core values of humility, resilience, and respect. They emphasized leading with humility by continuously learning and supporting others’ growth. In facing life’s obstacles, we nurture a mindset of hope and resilience, drawing from our family’s history of escaping war and enduring loss. We respect our elders for their wisdom and sacrifices, reciprocating their love and caring for them as we would wish to be treated.

What can New York policymakers do to support the AAPI-community in the short-term? In the long-term?
The AAPI community, NY’s fastest-growing ethnic diaspora, faces high poverty rates, safety issues, and language barriers. Policymakers must combat the harmful model minority myth and fill funding gaps for AAPI-serving organizations. Data disaggregation is crucial for equitable resource allocation. We need to invest in education and support for immigrant-run small businesses. Affordable, linguistically-accessible mental health services are also vital amidst rising anti-Asian hate, necessitating funding for community-based groups, workforce scholarships, and expanded loan forgiveness programs. 

Trip Yang

Trip Yang – Trip Yang Strategies

Trip Yang is a Democratic political strategist and founder of Trip Yang Strategies, a top political strategy and paid media consulting firm which has elected dozens of Democratic candidates to office. Earlier this year, Trip’s firm led an AAPI independent expenditure that successfully targeted and communicated to tens of thousands of AAPI voters in support of Tom Suozzi’s congressional win. Before he started his own firm, Trip spearheaded NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ landslide win as the campaign manager in an unprecedented 17 candidate field for NYC’s second highest office. Trip started his career in electoral politics as a field organizer for President Obama’s campaign in Iowa and has since organized and led campaigns in over a half-dozen states, and is a veteran of three presidential campaigns. 

If you could give your younger-self advice, what would it be?
I would remind my younger self that it’s okay to have strong differences of professional opinion with someone and still work well with them. We can advocate hard for an idea or position we fully believe in and be gentle with people at the same time. This is critically important in the ultra competitive world of partisan politics.

Do you have any event/movie/music suggestions for our readers to check out in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month?
There are so many to choose from! “Parasite” is a classic movie about income equality that I wish everyone could have the opportunity to watch. “Invincible” is one of my favorite shows, and two of the main voice actors are Asian American. For events – our New York civic and cultural organizations do a fantastic job each year organizing festive celebrations for AAPI Heritage Month, Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and South Asian and Muslim holidays.

How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
As the top AAPI political strategist and consulting firm owner in New York, my identity plays a pivotal role in my professional life. Our team has served as the lead strategist for many winning AAPI electeds in office, and we have successfully advocated for more Democratic Party investment in AAPI voters. Our identity provides the foundation and authenticity for this success.

What can New York policymakers do to support the AAPI-community in the short-term? In the long-term?
It is vital for decision makers to make real investments in AAPI communities. We are the fastest growing demographic in NY and in the country, and we have no patience for being minimized. One successful example is the AAPI independent expenditure our firm spearheaded. We targeted tens of thousands of voters, which helped Democrat Tom Suozzi win a crucial congressional race. This type of substantive investment in AAPI communities should be the norm going forward.

Lila Benayoun

Lila Benayoun – MetroPlusHealth

Lila Benayoun was appointed chief operating officer (COO) of MetroPlusHealth in September 2022, where she leads transformation initiatives designed to foster growth, innovation, and operational excellence. As COO, Lila is also responsible for plan operations, member retention, provider relations, project management office, organizational process improvement, and the launch of OneX, MetroPlusHealth’s new management service organization. Lila holds more than 20 years of industry leadership experience in leading new managed care markets, new product launches, advancing operational excellence, and outstanding service experiences. Lila holds a bachelor’s degree in health information management from Temple University and has completed post-graduate studies at Columbia University, focusing on strategic growth.