Helen Zia and the Origins of Modern Asian American Activism



  • Describe specific events in Helen Zia’s life that illustrate her activism; identify other figures who are important in the growth of APIA activism; expand their understanding of what it means to be an “American” activist.
  • Explore ways in which they might strive to improve the lives of others and the society around them.


This lesson focuses on activist Helen Zia who was involved in advocating for the Vincent Chin civil rights case in the 1980s. She is a successful journalist, serving as executive editor for Ms. magazine. She was a witness in the court case Perry v. Schwarzenegger which legalized same-sex marriage in California. She is also an author and public speaker.


  1. How does Helen Zia’s life exemplify the desire to bring about a better life for all in America?


  • Background Reading for Educator
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Academic Readings
  • Historical Sources
  • PowerPoint Slides
  • Video Links
  • Activities
  • Digital files for lesson

Lesson plan created in partnership with 1882 Foundation