Posted by Keli A. Tianga on October 6, 2015

National CAPACD’s convention, the theme of which was "Moving Forward, Rising Together: Uniting for Thriving Communities," 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 a voice at the local, state, and national levels.

A point of context, referred to more than once, was the I-Hotel. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the uprising and protests at this San Francisco hotel by poor, Asian (predominantly Filipino) were 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. The respect for this grassroots spirit was evident in the convention's acknowledgement of new and old members, and was reflected in its theme of "renewed focus on working in coalition with communities of color on issues of racial justice."

The difficulty in relationship building between communities of color is well-known (hence our need to highlight successful partnerships). A panel speaker noted that people who are struggling for survival are often told that their fight is with others who are struggling, when in reality they are each other's best allies. Kabzuag Vaj touched briefly on her grassroots organization, Freedom Inc. in Dane County, Wisconsin, which was founded by Black and Hmong women to give a voice to low-and no-income residents, as an example of such partneriship.

Native islanders, second and third generation Americans, and new immigrants experience many of the same injustices they always have--we 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.

Soya Jung of ChangeLab gave a stirring, contextual summary of the historical presence of Asian Americans in the Civil Rights movement, and then on to the AAPI community’s support of today's #BlackLivesMatter movement. As Americans of Asian descent continue to compose the largest-growing racial group in the country, poverty statistics present the myth of the "model minority" as having undermined, and continuing to do damage to the cause of racial justice in the AAPI community. Jung connected the thread that the African-American struggle for racial justice is shared by the AAPI community, and how both groups fare in the coming years will have great implications for how the country at-large will fare.

There was 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, Sarath Suong of psYSM (Providence Youth Student Movement), said that calling young people “leaders of tomorrow” (a phrase I think many of us rattle off, but with the best intentions) doesn’t recognize them for the work they do now.

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.

(Photo: courtesy of National CAPACD)

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

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