In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) convened our 5th Community Development Conference on May 17, 2012 in New York to examine the socio-economic contributions of New York’s growing Asian Pacific American community. This day-long summit brought together over 300 leaders from housing and community organizations, corporations, foundations, government agencies, academic institutions, as well as local, state, and national elected offices.
Keynote speakers included: City Council member Margaret Chin, State Assembly person Grace Meng, U.S. Dept. of Labor Official Patricia Shiu, HUD official Francey Lim Youngberg and Hyeok Kim, representing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
In opening remarks, AAFE Board President Wendy Takahisa discussed the significance of the conference:
I am very excited about this year’s conference theme – Mobilizing Our Community from the Margins to the Center. As we think about this year’s theme, it is important for us to ask ‘Who are we?’ Well…we are growing. According to the 2010 census, nationally the Asian population grew faster than any other race: 43% for Asian alone; 60% for Asian plus another racial group; and also the fastest growing in New York City– 30%. Let’s not forget that many of us continue to experience inequality, poverty and civil rights violations. We will spend today thinking about our roles and responsibilities to each other – and to other communities – our civic commitment.
Patricia Shiu, representing the United States Department of Labor, said events like the AAFE conference play a critical role in dispelling misconceptions about Asian Americans:
For many years, Asian Americans have been viewed as a “model minority” because of data that shows comparatively high rates of educational attainment, employment, wealth and other indices of success. You get enough doctors, lawyers, college grads, IT specialists and violin-playing-spelling-bee-winning child prodigies surrounded by hovering “Tiger moms” and, well, folks start to develop certain impressions about our communities. On its face, “model minority” almost seems like a compliment, right? Wrong. When the “model minority” tag is used as an excuse for governments and other institutions to ignore our very real needs, it’s not a compliment. It’s a disservice that marginalizes us. When “model minority” is used as code for enforcing stereotypes that make us seem foreign or “other,” it’s not a compliment. It’s bigotry that endangers us. And when it’s used to foster division between our communities and other racial, ethnic or immigrant groups, it’s most certainly not a compliment. It’s simply un-American and it lessens us all.
But data, Shiu said, is how the myth of the “model minority” is broken down and how a more productive message is delivered. She gave the following examples:
- Collecting real-time, accurate data shows, for example, that Asian Americans who are unemployed face longer period of joblessness than any other ethnic group – about half of all unemployed Asian Americans have been out of work for 26 weeks or more. That makes the Obama administration’s efforts to extend unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed vital to the survival and well-being of our communities.
- Publishing vital statistics on our communities also lets us know that we are more susceptible to certain diseases – like Hepatitis B – and allows us to get the education and resources to prevent it.
- And “disaggregating” data by national origin and ethnicity allows us to identify and begin tackling the very real disparities our communities face in housing, education, employment and immigration. Last year, under the leadership of Secretary Solis, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics published – for the first time ever – disaggregated data that breaks down the impact of the recession and now the recovery for specific AAPI populations.
Shiu summed up her remarks by saying, “Data is the key to good public policy. And at the Department of Labor, we are committed to improving the way we collect, analyze and share our data so that we can meet the Secretary’s vision of good jobs for everyone.”
At the end of the evening, we honored individuals and groups with the Pioneer Spirit Award given to those who challenge public perceptions about APAs and immigrants, as well as push for policy changes that improve our everyday lives: Grace Lyu-Volckhausen, a pioneering philanthropist and community leader; Vito Mustaciuolo and the Housing Litigation Team at NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development; and special recognition to Jaqueline Huey, long-time community activist and AAFE Board Member.
- New York Community Bank (lead sponsor)
- Edison properties LLC (workshop sponsor)
- Cathay Bank (reception sponsor)
- BNY Mellon (reception sponsor)
- Bank of America)