Posted by Keli A. Tianga on October 6, 2015

The goodwill and energy at National CAPACD’s convention was infectious. It opened with a look back by several founding members, including Gordon Chin, founding executive director of the Chinatown CDC and author of the new book, Building Community, Chinatown Style, Bob Santos, leader, activist, and former director of InterimCDA (and co-author of the book Gang of Four) and Sue Taoka, executive V.P. of the CDFI Craft 3 (and former co-president of the National Coalition of Asian Pacific American Community), who said that the founding of National CAPACD gave each of their groups avoice at the local, state, and national levels.

The uprising and protests at San Francisco’s I-Hotel in the late ’60s and early ’70s were cited by several people who spoke throughout the convention as catalyzing events that not only opened the city’s eyes to the devastating effect Urban Renewal was having on poor and disenfranchised communities, but hinted at the potential power organizing could have for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Although 1999—just 15 years ago—doesn’t seem that long ago, the Asian American Pacific Islander collection of voices has become stronger and more diverse as native islanders, second and third generation Americans, and new immigrants experience many of the same injustices they always have. Attendees were reminded of American (and Canadian) Japanese interment camps after WWII, and how that tainted legacy seemed to do nothing to inform the behavior of police and investigative authorities after 9/11 in their treatment of many Southeast Asian Americans.

There was a wide range of representation from groups such as prYSM, 1Love, and Freedom Inc., who are making sure the realities of gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic and cultural diversity within AAPI community development work have representation at the table. At a workshop on multi-generational approaches in building community, I was struck by the words of Sarath Suong of psYSM (Providence Youth Student Movement), who said that calling young people “leaders of tomorrow” doesn’t recognize them for the work they do now. It’s a phrase I think many of us rattle off with the best intentions, but I’m reconsidering now. I wonder if the phrase, coupled with a dismissive attitude, may be something that turns young people—and their idealistic enthusiasm—away from organizing and development.

In an announcement that couldn’t have been timed better, on Tuesday, the Department of the Interior announced its proposal of a path for reestablishing a government-to-government relationship with the native Hawaiian community. If such a relationship is reestablished, it can provide the native Hawaiian community greater ability to preserve its culture, as well as special status under federal law that would enable the community to exercise self-governance. This victory did not come without decades of work, and included a year-long public meeting and comment period that elicited over 5,000 written responses. The joy of this moment, especially for staff of member organizations like Hawaiian Community Assets, Hawaii Alliance for Community Based Economic Development, and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was held up for all in attendance to see how strategic, relentless policy advocacy work does indeed pay off.

Americans of Asian descent compose the largest-growing racial group in the country, and this trend will continue to the century’s mid-point. Soya Jung of ChangeLab gave a stirring summary of the historical presence of Asian Americans in the Civil Rights movement and on to the AAPI community’s support of today's #BlackLivesMatter movement. A speaker from the floor noted that often people who are struggling for survival will battle each other, but they are always the best allies. Kabzuag Vaj, co-founder of Freedom Inc., talked about the grassroots organization, located in Dane County, Wisc., which was founded by Black and Hmong women to give a voice to low-and no-income residents. Speakers and audience made clear that the African-American struggle for racial justice is shared by the AAPI community, and that how both groups fare in the coming years will have great implications for how the country at-large will fare.

(Photo: courtesy of National CAPACD)

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Keli Tianga is associate editor of Shelterforce magazine. Email Keli at

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