Pacific Islanders make up 1.4 million and Asian Americans make up 22.9 million of the U.S. population. The AAPI population has doubled from 2000 to 2019 and is projected to surpass 46 million by 2060 according to the Pew Research Center. Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
“One of the biggest issues facing the community right now is how the Asian American community is viewed as a monolithic group, leading to issues facing a diversity of populations being overlooked, particularly highlighted over the past year are barriers to accessing services,” said Ricky Leung, co-founder and senior director of programs for North Carolina Asian Americans Together, or NCAAT.
Language needs and socioeconomic levels vary drastically for different Asian American populations which leads to decision making that would gloss over the very real needs of already underserved communities, Leung said.
The NCAAT is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on bringing together the Asian American community in North Carolina through civic engagement and political participation. For more information on the NCAAT mission or volunteer opportunities, visit https://ncaatogether.org/
“Between the 2008 and 2012 elections, the Asian American eligible electorate in North Carolina grew by 27.8%, compared to overall statewide growth of 6.1%,” Leung said. “However, Asian American eligible voters are still behind in turnout and have the lowest voter participation rate of any racial minority in the state.” One reason behind this issue was that according to a 2016 study, over 70% of Asian Americans had never been contacted by a political party or candidate, he said.
“Even when they were contacted, the outreach was unlikely to have been culturally competent or to have taken into account the language needs of this diverse population,” Leung said
Founded in 2016, NCAAT’s goal was to fill this gap by focusing specifically on increasing civic engagement and political participation in the Asian American community. NCAAT was the state’s first and only pan-Asian social justice organization.
Since 1978, May is observed as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month in the U.S.
Master Sergeant Cathy Fisher of the U.S. Air Force is stationed at Fort Bragg and celebrates her Asian American Heritage year-round but is excited about the opportunity to introduce others to her heritage during the nationally recognized month of May. She identifies her heritage as Thai, and a mix of Thai, Laotian and Chinese ethnicities.
“Food is a big part of Thai culture, as well as Asian cultures in general,” she said. It was always fun for me to introduce my non-Asian friends to food they had never seen, smelled or tasted and I brought in spring rolls for my coworkers a few weeks ago in celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.”
One of her favorite things about Thai culture is the Loi Krathong, a water festival. “The first year I attended, my mom explained to me that the tradition of Loi Krathong was to light the candle that was put inside of a lotus flower-shaped candle holder, make a wish and then send your lotus flower out on the water for your wish to be released and come true,” Fisher said. “It was such a beautiful sight.”
Fisher said she enjoys the diversity in the Department of Defense and has met many in the service with her cultural backgrounds and part of the AAPI community which has been great.
Many DoD installations celebrate AAPI Heritage Month by inviting speakers and veterans to share their experiences in overcoming challenges that face the AAPI community, and or celebrate the culture by hosting events where people can sample authentic cuisine as well as experience cultural elements like dance or music, she mentioned.
“As an Asian American woman, I was raised to be quiet and accommodating, the stereotype of being quiet, timid and subservient is a common one that is applied to Asian women,” Fisher said. “The Air Force taught me to speak up, it helped me find my voice to share new ideas, teach others what I had learned and to advocate for those who needed my help.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the country saw a rise in hate-crimes against Asian Americans. According to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by 149 percent between 2019 and 2020, in spite of overall hate crimes in the country declining.
The Anti-Asian sentiment has been deeply disheartening for her and has made her worry about her 70-year-old elderly mother, Fisher said.
“A lot of feelings of helplessness came up as I saw more violence towards the AAPI community,” she mentioned. “I try to choose compassion when I don’t understand a situation and I couldn’t understand why anyone would attack an elderly Asian woman or shoot people for going to an Asian massage parlor.”
Leung said some ways to spread awareness about issues affecting the AAPI community is to read more diverse authors and learn about the diversity of experiences of various communities.
“Be intentional in outreach, think about who all is directly impacted and what are the best ways to make services more accessible to those who need them the most,” he said. “Thinking through language, culture, technology, means various parts of accessibility.