by Christen Lee
In May, AAPIP members and allies from around the country gathered to connect, share, and learn about how and why funders, donors, and community groups are leveraging philanthropic resources for and by Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. I found the program sessions and conversations to be rich in content, resonant in their purposes, and often personally meaningful. By the end of the closing plenary, I felt happy, connected, and grateful. I looked forward to exploring further the lessons, opportunities, and ideas surfaced over the two days.
Our convening hotel was the Doubletree in the heart of Little Tokyo, one of the last remaining Japantowns in the entire United States. After the convening ended, I sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for my ride to the airport and catching up on emails, when the elevator doors opened. A large group of men and women, all of who were white and in their early to mid 20’s, poured out. They were in a festive mood, having just left a party on the hotel’s garden terrace. They were laughing, talking, chatting about Little Tokyo (their first time in the area), which bar to visit, and whether to call Uber, Lyft, or some other car service. One young man in the group, with an expression of self-satisfaction and overestimation of his own wit, snorted, “Let’s just call a rickshaw. I bet we can find lots of those around here.”
Having grown up in predominately white neighborhoods in Southern California, I was familiar enough with this kind of young man and his brand of stale racist humor. So I was neither surprised nor much offended. However, I felt irritated because his loudness and casual racism felt like a literal and figurative intrusion into the good energy of the convening that had just ended an hour ago. At the same time, the intrusion reminded me of the continuing relevance of the various research, education, advocacy, and other social change strategies that had just been explored at the convening. For example, research and education by scholars like JP deGuzman, who shared at the opening plenary how local Asian and Pacific Islander communities “catalyzed moments of resistance and movements for change.” Or the advocacy and organizing of activists like former California state legislator Warren T. Furutani, who exhorted us not to ignore our collective power as the fastest growing population in the United States to influence the political landscape. Or the cultural change strategies shared by closing plenary presenters Pop Culture Collaborative, Bridgit Antoinette Evans, and Jeff Yang, who leverage pop culture narratives to shift beliefs and behaviors that impact historically marginalized communities. That moment in the hotel lobby reaffirmed the continuing value of the work that is being done by the diverse groups and people that comprise AAPIP’s network, and made me grateful for spaces like the AAPIP convening.