Beautiful rich Asians was the theme on an early December Friday night in a west Houston salon, and the cause: ending human trafficking. Stylist and TV personality Jeannie Mai—who had flown in from L.A. for the occasion after taping her daily talk show, The Real—rallied the community around the epidemic that continues to affect Houston—and the world—at the speed of light.

"Houston is one of the top cities where trafficking takes place, which is why I want to help bring more awareness here," Mai said. Indeed, Texas is second in the number of reported human trafficking cases by state—right behind California—an alarming ranking it's earned annually for the last seven years straight.

In her Houston appearance this month, Mai took to the stage to kick things off and deliver a compelling message: We need to act now to stop human trafficking. Guests saw an excerpt of Stopping Traffica film by Siddhayatan Tran that Mai executive-produced, meant to bring awareness to the problem and offer some solutions for combating it.

Between Vietnamese cuisine, several performances—including hilarious interactions between mother-daughter duo Mai and "Mama Mai"—and a fashion show by local designer Danny Nguyen Couture, the evening was an eye-opening, heart-warming affair. As the night wound down, crowds formed to take their last snaps with Mai, who would go on to host the Altus Foundation's Houston Gala with Wayne Brady the next night, securing a record $1.5 million in pledges toward the local charity's diversified assistance.

Before that, though, we sat down with Mai to talk about the passion behind the mission that hits close to home for Houston. 

What inspired you to begin fighting for this cause?

Ten years ago, on a trip to LAX, I was going through Customs and saw strange activity between two parents and their two kids. I told an attendant to check out that family since they seemed to be needing assistance. The attendant talked to both parents, who told them different ages of the kids. They detained both adults, and as it turns out the kids were being trafficked—sold—for the Super Bowl. One of the kids was carrying cocaine in his stomach, and I can’t imagine what would have happened to those kids if I had kept going through Customs without reporting it. We are all so immersed in our lives on a daily basis, although it’s very likely that if we pay closer attention, we will notice some form of human trafficking happening right in front of our very eyes.

What should parents know about this issue in the era of social media?

The reason why traffickers are able to prey on their victims (mainly women and children) is because either parents are not paying attention to their children at home, or because they are not instilling value and worth to their kids, so they can be lured into improved opportunities and promises of a better life by the traffickers. But if you really have self-worth and understand your value, you won’t easily take chances like that, because being at home with your family is your safe environment. Victims can get lured and tricked when the alternative sounds better than what they have at home: In other words, traffickers recognize victims’ vulnerabilities. Women get trafficked because they think they can be a model. Not everybody is what they seem online; if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Parents should have these conversations constantly with their kids so that they are aware. 

What advice would you give the community to help fight this epidemic?

If you know anybody involved in human trafficking—as a victim or a trafficker—do reach out to get help; it can save a life. You can reach us at stoppingtrafficfilm.com. You can also reach the Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 1-888-373-7888, by texting ‘HELP’ or ‘INFO’ to 233733, or contact the authorities.

What’s next for Jeannie Mai and Stopping Traffic?

We have been filming a new documentary that will allow people to get more involved in helping with the cause. You will hear more about it soon!

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