How Peloton's Emma Lovewell Found Her Voice to Celebrate Her Asian Heritage and Stand Against Hate

The instructor tells PEOPLE what AAPI Heritage Month means to her and how she embraces her culture, even in the face of ignorance

How Peloton’s Emma Lovewell Found Her Voice to Celebrate Her Asian Heritage and Stand Against Hate
Photo: courtesy Emma Lovewell

When Emma Lovewell was a little girl, she looked up to Connie Chung. The pioneering journalist was the first person of Asian descent to anchor an American network news show — and she looked like the future Peloton instructor's mom.

"Connie Chung was the first Asian woman of authority I ever saw besides my mom," Lovewell — the daughter of a Taiwanese mother and a white father, who grew up on Martha's Vineyard in the 1990s — tells PEOPLE. "And this woman, to me, had even more power than my mom. She's on national television and she's controlling conversations and delivering the news to all these people.

Continues Lovewell, "I knew that I didn't look like her, but I think it was important for me to see somebody who looked like my mom, who is in power."

Fast forward to 2022: Whenever the 30-something talks about her heritage while teaching a Peloton class, the feedback she gets from other Asian Americans or biracial people reminds her of why representation was so important to her when she was a child.

"Anytime I would share something personal about my culture, about my family, teaching my first Lunar New Year ride or APIHM [Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month] ride, getting such positive feedback from people was amazing," Lovewell says. "I had never heard from so many Asian people, that they loved hearing about my Asian side. Or mixed people loved hearing about my stories of being mixed.

Adds Lovewell, "I felt so seen and I felt so encouraged to keep going when somebody would say, 'My daughter is mixed, and she watched your ride and it's important that she has a role model like you on the screen.' "

How Peloton’s Emma Lovewell Found Her Voice to Celebrate Her Asian Heritage and Stand Against Hate
Emma Lovewell uses her Peloton platform to share about her life and her culture. courtesy peloton

Growing up on the very white Martha's Vineyard within an interracial, cross-cultural family did make Lovewell feel different. "There were moments of feeling embarrassed that my mom didn't speak English as her first language, or that we ate funny food when my friends came over for dinner, or [about having] a different lunch than the other kids [at school]," Lovewell says of growing up with her older brother Alan and their mom. (Her parents Teresa Yuan and Mark Lovewell divorced when she was 12.)

"It was sort of this rollercoaster ride of figuring out how to be proud of being different and how to celebrate it, because I had no other option."

How Peloton’s Emma Lovewell Found Her Voice to Celebrate Her Asian Heritage and Stand Against Hate
Emma as a baby with her mom Teresa Yuan and her brother Alan Lovewell. courtesy Emma Lovewell

At college, Lovewell realized that — due to her light skin and European features — she didn't stand out as a minority. She could pass for white, but at the same time, she was exposed to overt racism that horrified her.

"There were so many instances where people would say racist things about Asian people in front of me thinking that I was a white person and that I wouldn't be offended, and that I would think their jokes are funny," Lovewell says about her time at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she studied Chinese and mass communication. "It felt like I was secretly Asian, and I was like an undercover detective."

In her freshman year, Lovewell ran out of a party in tears after some students she was speaking to mocked Asian food and mimicked speaking Mandarin. This was after she revealed her race when they joked that she lived in a dorm "next to all those weird Chinese kids."

"I could not believe [it]," she recounts, adding, "I was not prepared for that at all." And she "eventually just got tired of" speaking up all the time. "So, then I would just be quiet."

How Peloton’s Emma Lovewell Found Her Voice to Celebrate Her Asian Heritage and Stand Against Hate
Emma at college where she faced explicit anti-Asian racism. courtesy Emma Lovewell

In 2021, however, Lovewell didn't stay quiet. She used her voice to lobby on Capitol Hill in support of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which aims to address the rise in anti-Asian violence by facilitating the reporting of these attacks. It was partly sparked by her personal concern for the safety and well-being of her family, especially her mom.

Lovewell has watched as her adopted home of New York City has gone from a cosmopolitan community where Asian culture can be celebrated to a place where she fears for her mother's safety. During one visit, she was reluctant to let her mom go the Hudson Yards Mall in Manhattan while she taught a Peloton class. Just 10 blocks away an elderly Asian woman had been attacked shortly before her mother's visit.

"I was like, 'This is so messed up.' New York, a place where I had felt so able to be myself and able to use my voice and so at ease, was now not a safe place to be," Lovewell says.

Today the little girl who was embarrassed about taking Asian lunches to school has found the courage to share her story. Whether it's on Capitol Hill or on her Peloton bike, she's celebrating her heritage, and our differences, while fighting against hate.

"It has been a journey for me to find my voice. Absolutely," Lovewell says. "But the last couple of years especially has been illuminating for me and a great opportunity to find my voice."

If you've been attacked or have witnessed an attack, please contact your local authorities. You can also report your incident here. To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Stop the AAPI Hate, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, and Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council.

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