Asian-American Groups Name Housing Project after Filipino Labor Leader


December 14, 2013; Asian Journal

Last Friday, two Asian American community organizations, the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation (LTSC) opened the Larry Itliong Village in Filipinotown, Los Angeles.

Named after the “forgotten” labor leader, the development includes 44 affordable housing units reserved for low-income families, homeless individuals, and transitional-age youth, defined as those between the ages of 16 and 24 and leaving foster care or state custody. The village also provides community spaces and social service programs including healthcare assistance, immigration case management, and employment workshops.

This is one of the few affordable housing projects that’s been able to be built in many years. And it’s really needed,” the Asian Journal quoted Aquilina Versoza, PWC’s executive director.

PWC was founded in 1997 and provides immediate services and resources to low- and moderate-income workers and their families. LTSC was established in 1979 and serves the needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities throughout Los Angeles County.

Larry Itliong, along with other Filipino laborers, started the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and were joined by Mexican farmworkers. The historic protest led to the unionization of farmworkers and formation of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

Originally posted in Nonprofit Quarterly.

Immigration: At the Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation

Last month, I had to stop working because immigration authorities told me so. This week, I am cutting my vacation short because they want to “capture” my biometrics. But it’s all good. After 23 years dealing with our immigration system, it looks like I finally have a clear path to citizenship. Granted, an additional six years at least, but an end is nonetheless in sight. Now that my marriage is recognized by the federal government, my American husband has sponsored me for a green card. My immigration status changed, so I had to resign from my job. Our application is apparently moving along, so the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to record my biometrics. The work permit, provisional green card, permanent green card, and finally, citizenship, should follow in good order within the next few years, barring any surprises.

I am one of the luckier ones. Many of “my people” – queer folks and Asians – are not as fortunate.

Most Americans think of immigration as a Latino issue. Many are beginning to learn, however, that it is also an Asian issue. About 9 percent of undocumented immigrants are from Asia. Family reunification stymied by backlogs is a major concern for Asian Americans.

Some Americans might think that immigration is no longer a gay issue since Americans and U.S. permanent residents can now sponsor their same-gender spouses. But immigration remains an LGBT issue. At least 267,000 undocumented LGBT adult immigrants live in the United States. A mere fraction are married to citizens or permanent residents. Individuals persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender identity flee their home countries to seek refuge in our country.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) recently released Uncovering Our Stories: The Voices of LGBT AAPI Immigrants, a campaign to help the public understand that immigration intersects ethnicity and sexual orientation. Linda Khoy, daughter of Cambodian refugees, relates how her family painfully learned the difference between being permanent residents and U.S. citizens when her sister was put into deportation proceedings. Urooj Arshad, a Pakistani immigrant, talks about the unique challenges faced by queer Muslims of color. Alex Ong, an Indonesian asylee, explains why he is unable to reunite with his parents who had been denied refuge in the U.S. I also tell my story and share why I care about immigration reform, even though I now have a way out of the deep immigration tunnel so many immigrants find themselves in.

Immigration is not one racial group’s issue. Neither is it a straight or queer issue. Immigration impacts all of us and it is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

Also on the Huffington Post.

Uncovering Our Stories: Erwin de Leon from Mia Nakano & Visibility Project on Vimeo.

Yes America, Poor Asians Do Exist!

med3_0Most folks think Asian Americans are wealthier than everybody else. This is understandable since the numbers show, in aggregate, that they have the highest income among racial groups in the United States. However, when you start digging into the numbers, you will discover that not all members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are affluent.

A recent study by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) brings to fore AAPI communities in need and challenges the model minority myth that all Asians are rich.

The Spotlight on Asian American and Pacific Islander Poverty study provides a demographic profile of poor Asians whose numbers have increased dramatically. From 2007 to 2011, the number of AAPIs living below the federal poverty level increased by more than half a million. This 38% increase can be broken down into a 37% increase for Asian Americans in poverty and a 60% increase for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders in poverty. In comparison, the general poverty population grew by 27% during the same time period.

The largest single group living below the poverty line is non-Taiwanese Chinese at almost 450,000, followed by Asian Indian at over 245,000 and Vietnamese at 230,000. The group with the highest poverty rate is Hmong at 27%, followed by Bangladeshi at 21%, and Tongans at 19%.

More than half of all AAPI poor live in 10 metropolitan areas: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu, Seattle, San Jose, Houston, Sacramento, and Philadelphia. No other racial/ethnic poverty population is as concentrated in as few places. Approximately 30% of all AAPI poor live in only 3 metro areas: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. An Urban Institute poverty mapping tool confirms National CAPACD’s findings and puts AAPI poverty in context.

So yes America, poor Asians do exist. And just like any other struggling group, they could use a leg up from the rest of us.

How Not to Welcome a Brown Person

I was at a recent convening of middle-class, well-educated liberals. This being a Washington, DC area group, it was predominantly White, with a spattering of African Americans, a couple of Latinos, and one Asian. Me. Now this is a pretty welcoming organization and they do try hard to promote diversity. One woman, however, simply went overboard and ended up alienating the very people she set out to embrace.

During lunch, I found myself the only person of color at a table. The woman, who looked like she’s been fighting the system since Woodstock, took a chair close to me. Then, with the smug look of a child who was about to show off what she just perfected, addressed me in Spanish. Flabbergasted, all I could muster was “I’m not Latino, I’m Asian.” Without any sign of embarrassment or remorse, she pointed to my name tag. “But your last name is Spanish.”

So, let me get this straight. Just because I’m Brown, appear Latino to you, and have a Spanish last name, then I must be Hispanic? And English has got to be my second language?

Sensing that I was about to burst into an angry Asian man, I decided to join my African American friends at another table. They readily empathized and insisted that I finish my meal with them. One White person got enraged on my behalf and said I should I have called the woman out. The other White people at the table had interesting responses. Most changed the topic immediately and talked among themselves. The silver-haired man next to me, decked in head to toe Georgetown pastel prep, got paler and stiffer. He excused himself as soon as he could.

Over breakfast the next day, I recounted what happened to actual Latinos. One said, “yeah, I get that a lot,” in fluent English. The other said, “it’s just as bad as being asked ‘where are you from?‘” This led to an attempt at explaining to our White friends why all this bothered us. I’m not sure if any of  them really got what we were trying to say. Before long, they were back to their comfortable and polite conversations. The three people of color were left to commiserate among themselves in this very White and very liberal space.

But not to fret, the group is really trying hard to attract more of the minority du jour, Latinos. It’s official policy.

Reposted on the Huffington Post.

Asian American Academics Boycott Israeli Universities

The general membership of the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) resolved in a recent vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions, making it the first U.S. scholarly organization to do so. The secret ballot, which included 10 percent of the group’s membership, took place during its annual conference in Seattle this month.

The resolution explains that as an “organization dedicated to the preservation and support of academic freedom and of the right to education for students and scholars in the U.S. and globally,” AAAS stood in solidarity with Palestinian students and academics who have faced “restrictions on movement and travel that limit their ability to attend and work at universities, travel to conferences and to study abroad, and thereby obstruct their right to education.”

Moreover, the association claims that “Israeli institutions of higher education have not condemned or taken measures to oppose the occupation and racial discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, but have, rather, been directly and indirectly complicit in the systematic maintenance of the occupation and of policies and practices that discriminate against Palestinian students and scholars throughout Palestine and in Israel.” This complicity in “Israel’s violations of international law and human rights and in its denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians, in addition to their basic rights as guaranteed by international law” prompted AAAS members to endorse “the call of Palestinian civil society” for a boycott.

Rajini Srikanth, the group’s former president, drew parallels to boycotts against South African universities during apartheid and stressed that AAAS was protesting institutions, not individual academics.

“The reason that we’re very clear that this is a boycott of Israeli institutions and not Israeli scholars is that we are very aware that there are Israeli scholars who understand the difficulties that Palestinian academics and students have and speak up in support of Palestinian rights,” Srikanth told Inside Higher Ed. “So we would absolutely be working with them, and providing them whatever support they need to challenge their institutions.” Nonetheless, she stressed that AAAS discourages partnerships with Israeli academic institutions so as to avoid “becoming complicit with the discriminatory practices of Israeli institutions.”

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), a pro-Israel organization, condemned the AAAS action. “SPME deplores the AAAS resolution as it is counter to any acceptable academic discourse and is contrary to the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the group’s statement read. “Additionally, by focusing exclusively and obsessively on Israel, and not on many other countries in the world where actual human and civil rights abuses exist, the actions of those supporting academic boycotts, as well as calls for divestment, are, according to former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, ‘anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.’”

SPME added that “the world academic community frowns upon academic boycotts which it regards as antithetical to the fundamental principles of academic freedom. Whatever their feelings, academics cannot say they support academic freedom and exchange if they boycott, censor, or otherwise interrupt the exchange of ideas, research and information.”

Will other organizations follow suit, or will AAAS be a voice in the wilderness?

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

Harvard “Reject” to Establish Asian American University

DiversityThinglass /

March 31, 2013; Source: Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

Before long, Asian American students may have an alternative to Harvard and other top colleges. Hun Loo Gong, a self-made tech billionaire and Harvard reject, is reportedly establishing a university in California for students he calls “vengeful rejects” of elite institutions, “students who want to let Harvard and Berkeley and Stanford know the schools made a great, big mistake.”

The online college will be named Vincent Chin University, after the Chinese American who was killed in a racially motivated attack in1982, and headquartered in San Francisco. It will target Asian American immigrants and others locked out of top universities. Gong said that enrollment and tuition will be minimal, and that the school will count on future alumni to “pay [the school] when they make it big.” “We’ll give them what they need to succeed,” Gong says. “We don’t have to give them Shakespeare. We’re very focused.”

Last December, the New York Times had various experts weigh in on a discussion about the place of Asian Americans in elite schools, asking, “Are top colleges deliberately limiting the number of Asian-Americans they admit?” Ron Unz, publisher of the American Conservative, wrote, “[J]ust as their predecessors of the 1920s always denied the existence of ‘Jewish quotas,’ top officials at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the other Ivy League schools today strongly deny the existence of ‘Asian quotas.’ But there exists powerful statistical evidence to the contrary.”

S.B. Woo, founding president of the 80-20 National Asian American Educational Foundation, wrote, “Top colleges are clearly limiting the number of Asians they admit, and what’s at stake for America is of more importance than just the number of Asians going to Harvard.” Woo, the former lieutenant governor of Delaware, cited the work of Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who wrote in his book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, that “to receive equal consideration by elite colleges, Asian Americans must outperform Whites by 140 points, Hispanics by 280 points, Blacks by 450 points in SAT (Total 1600).”

It will be interesting to see how Gong’s alternative university fares. Will Vincent Chin University attract Asian American students who dream of an Ivy League education but are turned away?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofit Newswire.

The Value of Family Visas

In the 1960s, my uncle settled down in Neshoba County, Mississippi, a very distant and vastly different place from our native Philippines, where he became the physician of Blacks, Choctaws, and the few Whites who came to trust the “Chinaman.” As soon as he was able, he applied for visas for his siblings and parents. In the mid-seventies, my grandparents, titas (aunts), and tito (uncle) came to the U.S. They provided much comfort to their eldest brother who was finally able to speak in Ilonggo again and enjoy dishes he had not tasted in years. My titas and tito eventually found their own way to Chicago and California where they thrived in their professions and started their own families. My lola (grandmother) became the trusted caregiver of my cousins, traveling whenever and wherever she was needed.

If some lawmakers have their way however, immigrants, under immigration reform, would no longer be able to sponsor their siblings, just their spouses and children. Under our current immigration system, a good majority of legal immigrants arrive with family visas and only a fraction come with employment visas. Republicans want it the other way around, arguing that replacing family visas with employment visas for high-skilled workers would strengthen our economy.

These politicians need to realize however that pamilya is very important to Filipinos and other Asian Americans, our fastest growing racial/ethnic group, just as it is to Latino Americans, our largest community of color. Do Democrats want to lose the strong support of these communities? Do Republicans want to continue alienating them? And, if the idea is to attract the world’s best and brightest, do lawmakers really believe that these desirable immigrants will come knowing that they will not be able to send for their sisters and brothers?

We also need to remember that immigrants who arrive with family visas eventually contribute to our economy as producers, consumers, and taxpayers. They not only produce as wage earners and entrepreneurs, but as unpaid labor as well. An Urban Institute report I wrote outlines how unpaid work, especially caregiving and household production, adds to our overall productivity. Take my lola for example. By babysitting her grandchildren and tending house, she saved my titas and titos a considerable sum and freed them to go out and work. Multiply that by the number of other grandparents, aunties, and uncles who help out when they get here and you have a strong economic argument for family visas.

Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, told the Washington Post that extended family members are the “people you need to build a support network. We’re talking about a U.S. citizen where the sister has a small business and wants to sponsor her brother who has the technical skills to help run that business. The fallacy is that folks think of immediate relatives not contributing to the economy. That’s not true.”

Moreover, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus argue that “eliminating these categories would produce only a small reduction in visas while creating greater hardship for thousands of U.S. citizens and their loved ones.”

Perhaps politicians who want to cut the number of family visas should take pause and think about the implications, not just for immigrants, but for our shared prosperity and progress.

18 Million Hearts: Asian Americans Flex Muscle on Immigration

February 28, 2013; Source: Asian Week

Many people see and hear Latino faces and voices whenever immigration is discussed, but the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is mobilizing to make sure their countenances and voices are added to the discourse. Last week, the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, a consortium of legal and civil rights groups, and 18 Million Rising, a civic engagement organization, launched the “18 Million Hearts: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Immigration Reform” campaign. There are approximately 18 million Americans of Asian descent, or close to six percent of the total U.S. population. The campaign urges AAPIs to push members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“The time has come for us to mobilize and let other Americans know how the broken immigration system is separating and hurting Asian American and Pacific Islander families and communities,” said Betty Hung, policy director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “Any reform of the immigration laws must fully incorporate our shared American values of family unity, fairness, and equality.”

Unauthorized immigration and family reunification are key immigration issues for the AAPI community. About 11 percent of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are from Asia, according to a 2012 Department of Homeland Security report. These are often parents, children, and/or neighbors of native-born, naturalized, and legal resident Asian Americans. Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign born, but immigration backlogs can keep families apart for years or even decades. According to a Department of State Citizenship and Immigration Services report, four our of the top five countries with the longest wait times for relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are in   Asia: the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and China.

The leaders of the 18 Million Hearts initiative are empowered by their community’s growing number and clout. AAPIs are the fastest growing community of color in the U.S. and were reportedly key to President Barack Obama’s re-election. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are growing in strength, in number and in political power and with this campaign, we plan to flex our political muscles,” said C. M. Samala, director of “The 18 Million Hearts campaign will highlight our stories as   immigrants and as descendants of immigrants to build America’s future together,” added Chris Punongbayan, deputy director of the Asian Law Caucus. “Asian American   immigrants are an integral part of America – we are workers, neighbors, and small business owners who revitalize communities and contribute to the economy.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

Where Do Asian Americans Stand on Immigration Reform?

Seventy-seven percent of Asian Americans polled voted for President Obama. (Photo: Flickr/keithpr)

Last Tuesday, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) along with five other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with White House officials who assured the contingent that the Obama administration is moving forward with immigration reform.

“We talked about what the president wants and what his vision is,” Gutierrez told BuzzFeed. “And I gotta tell you, we’re in a good place.”

It’s interesting that no one from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus was invited to this meeting. Then again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Most people see immigration as a “Latino issue” and there are more Latino votes to be had than Asian votes. Nonetheless, 2012 witnessed the rise of a small but no less important electorate which helped re-elect President Obama and many other officials.

Yesterday, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released detailed findings from its exit poll of Asian American voters in the November 2012 election. Unlike most exit polls, the AALDEF survey was conducted in various Asian languages, capturing responses that would have been missed by English-only polls.

Contrary to pre-2012 thinking, Asian Americans are not that conservative. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said they were Democrats and only 14 percent identified as Republicans. Seventy-seven percent voted for President Obama and only 21 percent supported Governor Romney.

But where do they stand on immigration? When the 9,000 plus Asian American voters were asked if they supported comprehensive reform which includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, 65 percent said ‘yes.’ Only 14 percent said they opposed such a measure. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and fifty-three percent of Republicans said they support a path to citizenship.

Just like Latinos, Asian Americans have family members, friends and neighbors who are without papers. It is estimated that 11 percent of all unauthorized people in the United States are Asian. A majority of Asians are first generation immigrants who are greatly affected by the inadequacies of our immigration system. Asian immigrants are among those who wait the longest – up to two decades – to be reunited with their loved ones because of immigration backlogs. Highly educated and skilled Asian immigrants can wait up to six years before earning a green card.

While the president has vowed to push for comprehensive immigration reform this year and Republicans are starting to line up behind Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) copycat immigration reform plan, there are those who vehemently oppose any measures beyond unnecessary and inordinate enforcement. Pro-immigration forces need to rally to ensure that legislation which includes a path to citizenship is passed once and for all. This includes Asian Americans who have proven themselves indispensable to any political victory.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.

Asian American Philanthropists and Asian American Needs


Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

January 8, 2013; Source: New York Times

The Pew Research Center heralded, six months ago, the rise of Asian Americans, noting that they are “the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.”

This perpetuation of the model minority myth – as not all Asian Americans are wealthy, healthy and wise – continues in a recent New York Times article which announces the arrival of the Asian American philanthropic class: affluent immigrants and their children who have joined other one or two percenters in bailing others out via their noblesse oblige. The article describes “elegant galas” where wealthy Koreans “dined on beef tenderloin with truffle butter, bid on ski and golf vacations in a charity auction, and gave more than $1 million to a nonprofit group.” The article goes on to note that wealthy Asian Americans are also looking beyond their communities and generously donating to “prestigious universities, museums, concert halls and hospitals — like Yale University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” It isn’t difficult to imagine the impetus. They have indeed arrived and want to see their names on donor lists and placards along with other fabulously rich Americans.

We live in a free country and people are free to choose how to spend their money. However, charitable deductions are lost government revenue which could be used on programs and services that benefit struggling Americans. Institutions like Yale are more than adequately endowed. Smaller nonprofits, including less pedigreed colleges, are in more dire need of donations. Community-based nonprofits that pull up those Asian Americans who are not so fortunate could use more dollars from those Asian Americans who have “made it.” Perhaps these new members of the elite donor club would consider focusing their largesse on organizations that might not be as glamorous but that address the ongoing issues and unmet needs of the Asian American community.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Newswire, January 14, 2013.