Archive for category AAPI communities

Social Justice Organizations Moving from Intention to Practice: the Journey of Minnesota’s Fellowship Organizations

Social Justice Organizations Moving from Intention to Practice: the Journey of Minnesota’s Fellowship Organizations

By Barbara Phillips, Social justice activist and former Ford Foundation Program Officer for Women’s Rights and Gender Equity

The Minnesota cohort of the Organization Fellowship Program convened on March 24- 25, 2011 in sunny, cold St. Paul, Minnesota.  We were ever so fortunate to be in the beautiful and huge conference room of the Northwest Area Foundation with sunshine streaming through its windows wrapping around two walls.  It is tremendously valuable to be in beautiful, comfortable spaces.

Those who are stuck in thinking all should go just as well or even BETTER if activists are more “authentically” stuck in some dank, dark, dreary space need to get over it.  Why do you think the Rockefeller Foundation keeps up that beautiful villa in Bellagio, Italy and uses it as a place of contemplation, reflection, and strategic thinking for scholars and activists it considers worthy of investment?

So, we were in a space conducive to challenging work, and the creative facilitation by Bo Thao-Urabe and Karen Perkins enabled high energy, extraordinarily focused collective thinking throughout the entire convening. The convening engaged the organizational leaders in sharing and reflecting collectively.

As the groups shared their work, I was first struck by what seemed to be a deepening of openness, honesty, self-reflection, and appreciation for the uniqueness of each organization and understanding of the work.  Each group shared a particular challenge now encountered in their work, and then there were thoughtful, respectful, creative responses from the collaborative

Some challenges lifted by these groups are:

• How to create, articulate, write and incorporate gender equity into policies and practices,
• How to approach concerns about “offending” the community,
• Defining who the organization is accountable to, and therefore, how do we pick with whom to collaborate,
• How to manage the risk-taking component in all of this, including approaching a potential partner/collaborator/ally,
• How to align the conversation of the board and leadership, who are focused on organizational level policies and practices, with the more personal conversations within the community,
• How to handle the practical side of transitioning from a “crises center” to an “organizing center,”
• Here’s a project we intend to launch; give us your feedback.

It became clear at this March convening that the OFP groups now owned its share of this space – no longer are they looking to AAPIP for answers; these OFP leaders are creating answers within themselves and among each other.

Then, extraordinary community organizers – Eun Sook Lee, Kori Chen, and Pakou Hang – challenged each member of the OFP to take the risks of launching itself into actual community organizing.  As each OFP member is changing internally, how will they move that change externally into programming, into base-building, into that community base, and ultimately into the larger community and public policy?

The most telling comment upon the transformation already experienced by the OFP members came when a member commented, “This is scary stuff.  I can hear it now, but I couldn’t hear it two years ago. I’ll face much opposition. It’s scary.  Are we willing to take that risk?” 

And the answer of the OFP groups is a resounding “YES!”

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OFP cohort member news: SAN’s 20th Anniversary on October 23rd, 2010

Congratulations to our friends at the South Asian Network on your 20th Anniversary!

SAN's 20th Anniversary

SAN's 20th Anniversary

The Journey to Justice Continues

Come celebrate with South Asian Network on October 23rd and continue the journey with us to justice!  Join us with invited speaker Kiran Ahuja, a performance by Shyamala Moorty, and special presentations journeying through SAN’s past years and the years to come.

Event info >

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Adoptee Perspective in the Social Justice Movement

Adoptee Perspective in the Social Justice Movement

(The Asian adoptee community was highlighted at our recent OFP convening – written by Margie Andreason, Program and Administrative Associate in Minnesota.)

OFP participants at our recent Minnesota convening

The Organizational Fellowship Program (OFP) organizations from both California and Minnesota were recently brought together to discuss how to strengthen social justice movement-building efforts. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota was the site for the convening. The “Twin Cities” have a unique Asian and immigrant population and a rich history of organizing communities of color.  Minnesota is also home to over 30,000 Asian adoptees and is the highest concentration of adoptees in the U.S.

Yours truly was asked to give context for the Asian adoptee community here in Minnesota. We rarely hear about the adoptee community in larger Asian American contexts so I appreciated the opportunity to share my perspective to a bus jam-packed with new and veteran social justice activists.  The challenge to the group was to expand our understanding of “Asian American” experiences and to place ourselves from the adoptee standpoint so we could look at social justice work from a new angle.

A theme that continues to bubble up in our dialogues on social justice movement-building is “power.” As one OFP participant put it, “Power analysis needs to be ongoing and collective to keep us nimble.”  Power dynamics play out in the services for adoptees as well. We have a number of nonprofits and social networks that are led by adoptees. There are also a variety of culture camps led mostly by adoptive parents.  Minnesota is home to some of the largest adoption agencies and these are led by professional social workers. I mention who’s leading the different services because it matters in how each work with the adoptee community. Many agencies for example work from the same common mentality of adoption that larger society has –the “save those poor children” view.  This mind-set is disempowering and patronizing, especially when we’re not children anymore.

To highlight this attitude in current issues, all you have to do is look at how the world reacted to the Haiti earthquake. Our solution to “saving the Haiti children” was by taking them away. Why not give the money that would have gone to adoption instead to the families or work on building the social welfare infrastructure? Why do we think we’re being good heroic people when we separate families?

The images on TV right after the Haiti earthquake calling for us to adopt, remind me of very similar images of children from Korea and Vietnam during the wars. It’s a reminder that when you look at international adoption history, including the ebbs and flows and where the children are being adopted from at different times in our history, it’s very much related to war and colonialism. Adoption history mirrors the history of white imperialism. It’s the same history of refugee Diaspora and is ultimately the history of all of us, as Americans.

The story of how we became American is something we can all share. I think the best way for me to talk about Asian adoptee issues is by sharing my own experience and analysis growing us as an adoptee, being a mentor to others and from working with adoptee orgs. It has shaped my identity as an Asian American and as a woman of color.

I was adopted when I was 2 ½ years old from Daegu, South Korea and grew up in a white suburb of North St. Paul.  My Norwegian and Italian parents tell me stories of how my sister (not birth-related) and I would sing “Twinkle-Twinkle” only I’d be singing it in Korean and my sister would be singing along in English. I was too young to remember this but I do have some vivid snippets whirling around in my head of other moments…

The racist incidences are well known in other communities of color but the challenges of being isolated and dealing with racism from even within your own family and close friends makes it harder for adoptees, especially when you grow up and identify as “white.”

Growing up I felt more comfortable in a room crammed of white people than in one of Asians. I couldn’t really relate to the refugee immigrant experience that some of my Vietnamese and Chinese friends talked about. I also recognized my privilege growing up in a middle-class white family. At the same time, I felt marginalized by those in the Asian community because of the stigma around being adopted. Addressing this stigma is the cultural change work that I believe the adoptee community needs to do within our families and friends, and within the Asian community, larger society and in our birth countries.

While there are many things wrong with adoption policy including the incredible lack of accountability, it’s not good enough to just work on ending all international adoption. It doesn’t stop the number of children who are given up due to social, economic, and political reasons. It doesn’t address how thousands of girls are denied the right to live because they happened to be born female. Just doing policy work won’t stop these cultural practices because all the issues, some as specific as adoption, are all influenced by the racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia imbedded in our culture and how it becomes normalized. This is why I think social justice work is about cultural change and that what we work on is to un-normalize peoples’ thinking and being in the world.

In sharing my story and perspective with the OFP groups, I wrapped up by asking these API social justice organizations to think about these two questions:

1) How do you define your communities? Do you know how many adoptees you work with and or organize and are you intentional in how you work with them?

2) How do we take into consideration the complexity of Asian American identity? If you organize with only a racial-lens, how is that inclusive to the lived experiences of adoptees, Hapa and other mixed racial identities? How do we ensure the bringing of our whole selves in doing the work?

My words are not meant to make you feel sorry for me but to think about the perspective of adoptees in the social justice movement and give adoption a political lens to see it through. I want us to think about you and I as change agents and be able to hear the truth of experiences of those in our communities. For continuing to question our assumptions and challenge power systems is the ongoing work that is needed for us to organize better collectively and for the social justice movement to thrive.

*Thanks for reading and feel free to comment here or email me your thoughts (

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President Obama Celebrates Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Earlier this year, NGEC’s 12 OFP cohort organizations convened in New Orleans and met community leaders from VAYLA-NO,  Father Vien from Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, and S. Leo Chiang (the director of A Village Called Versailles).

Check out the great post below via about Monday’s AAPI Heritage Month celebration at the White House which featured Father Vien.

This past Monday, President Obama hosted a reception at the White House celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Amongst the honored guests was Father Vien of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans, who was profiled in an excellent documentary which I saw earlier this year at a film festival called A Village Called Versailles. The film, which is part of PBS’s Independent Lens series, will be airing this Tuesday, May 25th on PBS and follows the Vietnamese American community awakening politically in the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina. Now, Father Vien and others are fighting another crisis in New Orleans. The BP oil spill has hugely impacted the Southeast Asian/Vietnamese American fishermen who make up 35-45% of the fishing industry along the Gulf Coast.

Read more about our OFP Convening in New Orleans.

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Call to Action: California API groups mobilize for Arizona May 28-29

compiled by Dana Kawaoka-Chen, Capacity Building Manager

The passage of Arizona S.B. 1070–a bill that gives authorization to police officers to stop any person they think is undocumented—last month has prompted national outcry.  Many of the organizations in the National Gender & Equity Campaign’s Organization Fellowship Program are actively involved in efforts to repeal SB 1070 and stand in solidarity with targeted communities in Arizona.

This weekend–May 29, 2010, people of conscience from throughout the United States and Phoenix will march in the tens of thousands to the State Capitol to demand justice in the face of legalized discrimination and hate. They will demand that President Obama stand on the right side of history and take immediate and concrete action to stop SB1070.

At least two API delegations are being organized from California—from the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and there are a number of local actions being planned.  Below, please find more information about how you can get involved:

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2010 Advancing Justice Conference (AAPIs United In Strength) June 23-25 Alexandria, VA

2010 Advancing Justice Conference

Coming up next month!

June 23 – June 25, 2010

“The Advancing Justice Conference is a national civil rights and social justice conference that aims to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders in one place to address a broad range of issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. It serves as a unique forum where researchers, advocates, direct service providers and other leaders can meet face-to-face, talk about their common challenges and find ways to work collaboratively.

The Advancing Justice Conference is a joint project by the Asian American Institute (Chicago), Asian American Justice Center (Washington, D.C.), Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (Los Angeles).”

AJC Workshop Tracks include:

Register online by June 2nd for their early bird discount

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How would organizational effectiveness be different from a social justice movement frame?

Reflections from the 2010 GEO conference from Bo Thao-Urabe, BRIDGE Director about organizational effectiveness using NGEC’s framework.

Social Justice Movement Building diagram

How would organizational effectiveness be different from a social justice movement frame? – By Bo Thao-Urabe, Director, BRIDGE (Building Responsive Infrastructure to Develop Global Equity)

Recently I participated in the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ (GEO) national conference.  The participants were mostly people from foundations, but there were some representatives from consulting firms, affinity groups and community nonprofits.  Being a newbie, I chatted with a few participants about why they came.  For most, “organizational effectiveness” of nonprofit groups being funded seemed top of mind.

On a very basic level, organizational effectiveness is a seemingly apolitical term used in the nonprofit sector to demonstrate how successful an organization is in achieving its stated goals.  This has translated into tools and methods that help groups develop measurement units of their work — like demographically naming the population being served, counting the number of people served, and showing the level of satisfaction of those served. But these are very contained, focused, logical, short-term, and absent a worldview.

For me, just using the “organizational effective” paradigm alone misses a more dynamic beginning and evolution of organizations that helps us understand and answer the question of, “So What?”  or “Organizational effectiveness for what?”

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