SACRAMENTO– The Asian American Liberation Network (AALN) is proud to launch the inaugural “Top 10 Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Game Changers” list for the Sacramento region. 

“AALN believes the movement for justice and liberation is a tapestry of hardworking people who often go unseen for their sacrifices and dedication. These game changers are folks who deeply care, want to see a better world, and whose efforts are not for show or accolades, but for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do for their community,” stated Lee Lo, Co-Executive Director at AALN. “But we know, too, that giving these folks their flowers, amplifying their efforts and accomplishments, and shouting from the rooftops how vital they are to our advancement is the key to building a network, sustaining a movement, and showing the world who the real champions for transformation are!”

An Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and  Pacific Islander (AANHPI) game changer is someone who identifies as AANHPI and brings in the “x factor” to the success of programs, events, movements and more. They are often the unsung hero whose role can be obscure, but whose contributions are critical to influencing the outcome whether it be as a steadfast youth volunteer or a decades-long tireless public servant. Without these game changers, it would be business as usual. They are what move their communities forward.

Game Changers list was designed and honorees selected by an anonymous committee of community leaders who have volunteered or worked as advocates and activists in the region for over two decades. These individuals are multi-sectoral leaders both associated and not associated with AALN. 

In addition to announcing those named to the top ten list, AALN has included testimonials from those who have worked with each of them closely to truly illustrate their impact. 

2023 AALN Game Changers

Asian American Liberation Network to honor ten Sacramento-area Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders as “Game Changers” at upcoming gala.

Larry Crisostomo, Owner of Sons of Guam Catering

Testimonial written by Chris Mateo, Filipino Community Member

I met Larry in 2017 when I was with the Philippine National Day Association (PNDA). That year, we were launching the first-ever fundraising event, Filipino Fork. The premise was to feature the culinary professionals behind the food and highlight them as role models for PNDA’s students. These professionals would donate their time and food to this event, and 100% of the proceeds would go towards PNDA’s scholarships and programs. Larry didn’t hesitate to be part of Filipino Fork. He continues to participate in many events that support students and our API community. This is why I always (ALWAYS) partner with Larry and Sons of Guam.

Sean Hidalgo, Community Photographer/Videographer

Testimonial written by Jason Jong, Founder of Sacramento Asian Pacific Cultural Village

Sean has been a rock for the livestream efforts of both Asian Pacific CultureFest and the Sacramento Asian Pacific Film Festival. A skilled and compassionate photographer and videographer, he takes care to work closely with clients and community to help tell their stories as authentically as possible. He’s not only an expert technician, but more importantly, cares passionately about the API community and understands the importance of leveraging his undeniable talent and commitment to telling powerful stories to better his community every chance he gets. I am proud to see him be recognized for his unsung impact here in Sacramento.

Dianne Khlok, Sacramento Resident

Testimonial written by Maki, Healing Justice Director at Hmong Innovating Politics (HIP)

I got to know Dianne through Hmong Innovating Politics’ young adult space and Summer Organizing Institute, where they flourished as an organizer. They consistently center community and care. They wage love by supporting and speaking on initiatives and policies that tackle racial inequities, and by volunteering and supporting in coordinating and outreaching for events. Dianne exudes fierce gentle love; you know they’ve got their community’s back while fighting the roots of injustice and maintaining their balance of mindfulness and groundedness in the humanity of others. I’m grateful to call Dianne a friend and a comrade – not just in the movement, but in my life.

Melanie V. Ramil, Founder and Principal of Authentic Consulting

Testimonial written by Catherina Nou, Director, Office of Community, Awareness, Response & Engagement (CARE) at the CA Department of Justice

There are few people as magnetic as Melanie. She drew me in instantly as I read a forwarded email from her requesting volunteers for an event she was organizing. Those exclamation points! The bold use of colors! The intrigue of a “binder stuffing party”! Yes, sign me up! It turned out that I signed up for more than just being a volunteer for that event, I would later become her first intern. She was the first person who gave me a chance after graduating college. My story is a familiar one to hundreds of other women who now hold leadership and even elected positions across this state, nation and world. Melanie has mentored, trained and supported us through career challenges and triumphs with an enduring amount of patience, empathy and understanding. In every single one of her roles whether it be as a leader on a US Senate campaign or as the Executive Director of a statewide organization training women to run for office, she finds a way to not only provide meaningful opportunities for other women, but to also uplift the voices of those who have been historically marginalized in political spaces such as Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. She has changed the game in more ways than many of us will ever know. Melanie is a gifted organizer who attracts so many of us through her sheer will and optimism that the good in us will always prevail. 

Ranier Sabeniano, Community Leader

Testimonial written by Rosie Dauz, President of the Philippine National Day Association

I had the pleasure of working with Ranier for the last couple years while he sat on the Board of directors of Philippine National Day of Association (PNDA). He definitely possessed the “X factor” when it came to supporting any of the programs, especially during COVID. He led our Filipino Fork fundraiser and was instrumental in bringing donors and collaborators together. Although the PNDA board is voluntary, Ranier worked endlessly to ensure that this particular event was successful. I truly appreciate his hard work and dedication as well as providing feedback and ideas – always trying to think out of the box!

Susan Saechao, Executive Director, Iu Mien Community Services

Testimonial written by Ashlee Saelee, Board President, Iu Mien Community Services

Susan Saechao, at the helm of Iu Mien Community Services (IMCS) as Executive Director, has championed Sacramento’s Iu Mien Community alongside the city’s most vibrant community partners by building and fostering compassion and essential resources to help its underserved citizens. Susan began her trailblazing role as an employee of IMCS, and has since persevered through new territory taking on the challenge filling the seat for the organization as its very first female Executive Director– a pivotal and proud accolade embraced by her community and her peers. She has established a seat at every table that welcomes her presence, and continues to offer a valuable voice to represent the largest Iu Mien community in California. She tackles head on the social, economic, health and human service issues impacting one of the most delicate and underserved neighborhoods and communities in the region. Her commitment and dedication extends beyond her daily work, with long hours as a volunteer, leader, advocate, mother, and daily role model. IMCS’ Board of Directors is beyond proud of her ability to challenge herself, her neighbors and her peers, and to be involved in good, meaningful change. There is no doubt her selflessness and ability to work alongside the Board, sister organizations, stakeholders, and the people of the greater Sacramento area is deserving of the recognition of Top 10 AANHPI Game Changers. Congratulations, Susan, on this accomplishment. We are extremely proud of you, and may all in this community have the opportunity to feel your heart and the greatness you continuously offer.

Koy Saeteurn, Vice President of Sage Strategies

Testimonial written by Kelly Fong Rivas, Senior Advisor to Mayor Darrell Steinberg

The most effective people in government are the ones who excel in interpersonal skills, work hard, and can adapt to complex demands and environments. Koy shines in all of this and does so with a level of kindness and grace that can be rare in political environments. It was an honor to work together as Chiefs of Staffs in city government as we learned and grew personally and professionally through some unprecedented times, helping to support one another and community through all of it. I am grateful for her leadership and friendship; she truly brings the x factor, and our community is lucky to have her working on behalf of so many!

Maikhou Thao, Community Champion

Testimonial written by Dr. Elaine Abelaye Mateo, Founder of Everyday Impact Consulting

Maikhou is one of those people who makes other people better just by being in her presence.  She is joy. She is light. And she exudes a level of altruism that is infectious among those with whom she interacts. Maikhou is also power. One community leader described Maikhou’s ability as “telling ‘em like it is, telling ‘em what do, not taking no for answer, and doing it all with a friendly smile and a kind tone.  And getting things done!”  Maikhou models that that kind leadership is strong leadership, and it is powerful leadership. She has led a multitude of statewide initiatives grounded and guided by a set of core values weaved in everything she does – from strategic design to facilitation to relationship-building. She leads with her values which are rooted in her identity as a Hmong woman. And in everything she does, she is the first to say yes, the last person to leave, and the person you can always rely on to take time to check-in and to caretake those around her.  She is rare and she raises the bar for all of us to be kinder and more optimistic about what is possible. Over the course of Maikhou’s young career, she has made the kind of impact that some achieve over the course of a lifetime. Without a doubt, her star will shine bright, and her best is yet to come! We are a better and stronger community because of Maikhou’s tremendous contributions.

Jonathan Tran, Senior Program Manager, The California Endowment

Testimonial written by Mai Vang, Mayor Pro Tem, Sacramento City Council

Jonathan Tran is a true game changer, and his impact extends far beyond the local level. You will find him most often behind the scenes hustling to ensure our communities’ voices and narratives are front and center. Over the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of witnessing his unwavering commitment to fighting for racial justice and equity. Jonathan has been at the forefront of supporting progressive grassroots organizations, redirecting philanthropic resources to our underserved communities, and helping progressive candidates win in crucial elections. At the heart of his work is a commitment to interrogating systems while actively working to transform them to build power and capacity for our communities. As I’ve always shared, it’s the team that makes the candidate and the people who make up the movement — you’ll find Jonathan right there, centering and amplifying the authentic voices and lived experiences of our communities. His relentless pursuit of justice and equity has left an indelible mark on so many, and for future generations. It’s true – game recognizes game, and I see you Jonathan. Congratulations on receiving this award!

Joyce Vitug, Owner of JSV Events

Testimonial written by Megan Sapigao, Co-founder of the Asian American Liberation Network

Joyce is one of the most reliable, passionate, community-driven individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. As an event planner who credits her history of growing up in the Filipino community and planning and promoting events in the Bay Area, she never hesitates to show up and lend her talents to planning community dinners and supporting events, workshops, and fundraisers. She wholeheartedly believes in the impact of staying rooted in her heritage, and investing in community. Her unwavering commitment and contributions have been an unsung force of hope in joy here in Sacramento. She is so deserving of recognition and this community’s gratitude. We love you, Joyce.