While May marks the official celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month and all of the incredible facets of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures, any day of the year is a fantastic day to celebrate the characteristics of and contributions made by AAPI people — and that’s just what these celebrities are doing with their kids.
Some celebrities like Jason Momoa have grown up feeling nothing but complete reverence for their AAPI roots. Others like Joanna Gaines have struggled with their heritage due to the racism, stereotyping, and tokenizing that takes place all too often in America and around the world. A common throughline for those who felt ashamed of their background in childhood is a metamorphosis in adulthood that caused a shift in perspective, allowing them to embrace all of the unique and beautiful traits and traditions of their AAPI heritage — and pass on that deep appreciation to their children.
From Mindy Kaling and her Indian roots to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his Polynesian heritage, each of the following celebrity parents make a conscious effort to steep their kids in their AAPI cultures, in May and throughout the year. To learn more about how they teach their culture’s history, embrace representation, and take part in traditional practices with their children, read on.
For Mindy Kaling, it was important to honor her Southeast Asian heritage when naming her two kids. She chose to give them both Indian middle names: Swati (after her mother who passed away in 2012) for her daughter Katherine and Avu for her son Spencer.
The entertainment multihyphenate also revealed her decision to have a Mundan for her daughter in her Amazon essay collection, Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes). The ceremony is a Hindu tradition in which a baby’s hair is shaved to shed any negativity lingering from a past life.
Kaling’s choice followed an internal battle about her “Hindu-ness” after becoming a mom. She explains in her essay “Masala Mindy,” “I had to grapple with questions I could ignore when it was just me, like: How Indian do I want my daughter to be? Should I start being more Indian really quick, like right now, so I can trick her into believing this has always been my deal?”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has always been outspoken about how proud he is of his Samoan culture, and he’s instilling that same sense of reverence in his daughters.
In March 2022, The Jungle Cruise actor documented his family’s experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, sharing a video of some of the cultural dances, activities, and rituals performed by indigenous peoples of the many tropical islands in the Pacific.
Johnson captioned the powerful video, “A beautiful, unforgettable, soul enriching and mana fueled visit to the @polynesianculturalctr here in Hawaii. I’ve reached a point in crazy life where I only want to do things that enhance my children’s lives and enhance my family & friend’s lives. That makes my HEART FULL. Things that speak to my passions.”
He continued, “It was such an honor & privilege for my family and I, to bring our entire team to experience our proud Polynesian culture. … And in a proud dad moment – the best part of the visit was seeing my two little girls stand tall and proud all day ~ even though sometimes the ENERGY of our Polynesian culture can be very scary to little kids 😊”
The Moana star added, “My little ones just knew in their hearts, that this is who they are. Who they were born to be. And these are our people.”
Jeannie Mai Jenkins
Jeannie Mai Jenkins opened up about teaching her daughter “to own who she is” during a May 2023 appearance on The Jennifer Hudson Show. “She’s a beautiful blend of being Black and Vietnamese and I want her to really understand what that means as a powerful woman today,” the former The Real host shared.
“We try to have her spend time with her Southern grandparents in Atlanta, in Georgia, and then she goes down to the Bay and she spends time with my Vietnamese grandparents all the time, Jenkins continued. “So she understands both sides and I only speak Vietnamese to her. And then dad only speaks the South to her,” she joked.
Joanna Gaines opened up about feeling ashamed of her Korean heritage as a kid and how she came to understand its “beauty and uniqueness” as an adult in her 2022 book, The Stories We Tell.
Hailing from a Korean mother and an American father, she recalled herself and her sisters being the only Asian people at their Kansas school and being made fun of for things like eating rice at lunch. Gaines shared that it wasn’t until an internship during college that she felt able to embrace her Korean roots — and now she’s helping her kids do the same.
In April 2023, the Fixer Upper star shared a video on her Instagram of moments captured during a trip to South Korea with her kids, her husband Chip Gaines, and members of her extended family. She’s seen wearing traditional clothing, visiting cultural monuments, participating in Korean dining rituals, and more with her children.
“For years, my mother has talked about taking her three daughters to Seoul, Korea when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom,” Gaines began the caption. “And for years, that’s all it was — a dream we’d talk about in that ‘maybe, someday’ way we all do when something feels just a little out of reach.”
She continued, “But this year, we decided to finally book it, and we convinced 24 members of our family to come with us to visit the place where my mom grew up. We met family we’ve only ever seen pictures of. We saw the cherry blossoms in full bloom. We walked the same streets my mother did as a young girl, and then again as a young woman with my dad’s hand in hers.”
Gaines shared, “In a lot of ways, this trip felt like coming home. Somehow, connecting with my mom’s past made my own story feel more complete. Feeling grateful for every moment this trip gave us ❤️🇰🇷”
Like Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa is also a descendant of the Polynesian people, and like his fellow actor, the Aquaman star takes great pride in involving his kids in Pacific Islander culture.
In 2018, Momoa shared a powerful video on his YouTube channel of himself and a group of men performing the haka, which is a ceremonial Māori war dance. Moved to tears, he prefaces the performance by saying, “This is one of the greatest moments of my life. I’m so honored to play this role because it represents all of us — all of Polynesia.”
The Dune actor leads the dance, which both his daughter and son eventually join — it’s an incredibly moving moment.
Since welcoming her son with John Mulaney, Olivia Munn has incorporated several elements of Asian culture into the little boy’s life. Even his name, Malcolm Hiệp, is an ode to his heritage. His middle moniker is Vietnamese for “to unite,” according to NameBerry.
In January 2023, the actress shared a video of Malcolm’s first trip to an Asian market, and in October 2022, she revealed his first words: “His first word was Daddy/Dada 😍, his second word was chó (Vietnamese for dog), and his third word is car 🚘,” she captioned an Instagram video.
Similar to Joanna Gaines, Chrissy Teigen has opened up about feeling self-conscious about her Thai heritage while growing up in America. Not wanting her own kids to grow up feeling the same about their diverse backgrounds, the former model takes steps to normalize her kids’ Asian and Black roots.
One way Teigen incorporates representation into her household is with brown-skinned dolls, which she calls “Coco Babies.” The mom of three explained to StyleCaster, “Having something that represents them or looks a little like them, it changes everything. I never thought that way before. I always thought, ‘Why can’t she just play with a regular blond Barbie?’”
The Cravings author added, “There is something to be said about having something that has your skin color, your hair color, your eye color, your eye shape.”
Teigen also embraced a Thai tradition in 2021 when she and her husband John Legend moved to a new house with their kids. To keep the memory of their late son Jack alive, the couple had a “tree of life” planted inside the house.
She explained to People, “It’s important for us tradition-wise — in Thai tradition — that we always embrace the ones that we’ve lost and you know, they’re never ever gone; they’re constantly around us.” Teigen continued, “The whole reason why I wanted [the tree inside the home] was so Jack’s ashes could be in that soil and he could be with us all the time and grow through the beautiful leaves in this tree and always be a part of us.”
Like Chrissy Teigen, dolls have been an important tool for celebrating representation and diversity for Shay Mitchell and her children.
The Pretty Little Liars alum, who is half Filipino, explained to Women’s Health in 2021, “[My partner] Matte is half white — his dad is from Trinidad. And [our daughter] Atlas is a mix of all of us. But she’s very fair-skinned and has light eyes and hair, so she doesn’t look like either of us.”
Mitchell continued, “We’re learning how to have those appropriate conversations. It starts with her dolls, with the toys she plays with, and the books we read to her, that have all different colors and ethnicities.”
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