Incredible Women

A Letter To My Future Self: Civil Rights Activist And Aspiring Astronaut Amanda Nguyen

Following a fight for justice of her own, AMANDA NGUYEN founded Rise, a non-profit organization that works to protect the civil rights of sexual-assault and rape survivors. The vital, law-binding progress she has made in the past decade saw her nominated for 2019’s Nobel Peace Prize and recognized as one of Time’s Women of the Year in 2022. Here, Nguyen addresses herself in the future, and writes about paving her own path of activism, her mission to become an astronaut, and why her work will never be done

Dear Amanda,

Joy is the most radical form of rebellion and I have found my joy in outer space. When astronauts go into space for the first time, many of them experience what is called the ‘overview effect’. It is essentially an existential crisis. Everything that has ever lived or died exists on this pale-blue dot. There is a feeling of awe that overcomes them. Many of these astronauts return to Earth as humanitarians, profoundly moved to change the world around them. It is one of the many reasons I decided to train to be an astronaut, though I have long been determined to work towards change.

More and more, I think about how humanity is hurtling through the vastness of space together. When I look up to the sky, I find myself astonished that we are but a blink of an eye in the universe, yet we are able to have joy, to be cognizant, to love. This, paradoxically, makes me feel humbled and so special at the same time. After all, we are, scientifically, stardust.

Future Amanda, if you could reach back in time through this page to answer one thing, I would hope to know that you are proud of who we are. I live knowing that there are two people I need to make proud: my eight-year-old self and my 80-year-old self. Growing up, Mom would tell me the story of how “she went into death to seek life”. How, after sleepless nights of planning their escape from Vietnam, our family left by boat, escaping the Vietcong’s gunfire, staying afloat through a tidal-wave storm, only to find refuge in the darkness, clinging to the line of an American rescue boat.

It takes incredible bravery to wake up and face a world that shows you in a million ways that it isn’t for you

I knew all those years ago that, if she could endure in pursuit of freedom, then I could take on the United States Congress, driven by the very same goal. If my first law, the federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights, could speak, it would scream a blood-curdling scream of the pain, betrayal and sacrifice it came from. But, with time, with each passing law that pushes progress for survivors, I like to imagine the bills now chant a chorus of justice. In doing this work, I think back to the suffragists, to Harriet Tubman, to Fred Korematsu: those heroes who are now lauded were branded and stigmatized during their time. This, at least, gives me solace that history will be on our side.

I write knowing that, as you read this, our activism will not be done. Activists need to be ahead of their time, pushing the moral arc of the universe forward. We have always found a way to bend time, to break the countdown clock that dictates our justice. My rape kit was destroyed after six months because there was no standardized process to keep the evidence, and my justice was lost; so I changed the law. I was told that the UN would never pass my resolution, because that was not how the system worked; so I fought for six years and passed it, unanimously codifying survivors’ justice for the first time in the General Assembly. While I dream that the future holds a smoother path to justice, I know that we will always work to pave our own.

As an Asian American woman, our mere existence poses a threat to the status quo. Therefore, we exist. To exist is to be strong. It takes incredible bravery to wake up and face a world that shows you in a million ways that it isn’t for you. In moments of stress, close your eyes. If I listen hard, the wind carries a song for us. Do you hear it? It is the steady beat of the thousands of footsteps for centuries of change to come – a path, a new reality, made possible because we existed.




A letter to my future self:

a letter to my grandma and the women who paved our way