AAPIP Voices

Conversation with 25 Leaders in Action: Paul Watanabe


To commemorate AAPIP’s 25 years of building a more democratic philanthropic sector, we asked you to help us identify 25 leaders who are making a difference in your local community and/or nationally. The 25 Leaders in Action honorees represent a diverse group spanning a wide range of organizations, years of experiences, roles and sectors.  We invite you to learn about these outstanding leaders, their inspiring work and what keeps them going in our blog post series.


Paul Watanabe, Director of the Institute for Asian American Studies, and Associate Professor of the Political Science, College of Liberal Arts, University of Massachusetts Boston

1. Why are you passionate about advocating for AAPI communities?

Less is known about the history and experiences of AAPIs than any other racial group in the U.S. That means that the challenges that have and continue to face sectors of that community are hidden, invisible. I want to shed some light on the dark corners. Remedies will only happen if we see what needs to be repaired.

2. What do you believe are the most critical issues facing AAPI communities today?

My simple answer is: the most critical issue is the perception of many that AAPI communities are not faced with critical challenges.

3. In what ways do you strive to address the unmet needs for AAPI communities?

Education is linked inextricably with activism. I view my position at a university as a base to do work in the community and not as a refuge from community. My job calls for me to engage in research and teaching but also just importantly in service. In my case advancing progressive causes and the needs of AAPIs are areas where I answer the call to serve.

4. What keeps you inspired?

I am generally not an optimist about the social condition. I suppose one might describe me as a glass half full kind of person. I am disappointed, therefore, by the slow pace and reluctance to make much need structural and systemic changes. I am inspired, however, by those who struggle against the odds, who achieve small victories despite many defeats. Small victories in other words are big accomplishments.

Dr. Paul Y. Watanabe is currently Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He was recently appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Paul also recently stepped down as Chair of the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations. He currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors of the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund; a member of the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts; a member of the Advisory Board of the New Americans Integration Institute; and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund. He is the author of Ethnic Groups, Congress, and American Foreign Policy and principal author of A Dream Deferred: Changing Demographics, New Opportunities, and Challenges for Boston. His scholarly articles have appeared in AAPI-Nexus Journal; Asian American Law Journal; Asian American Policy Review; Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing; Business in the Contemporary World; Journal of American College Health; New England Journal of Public Policy; Political Psychology; PS: Political Science and Politics; Public Perspective; Western New England Law Review; and World Today. He regularly contributes analysis and commentary to national and local media. Paul received his B.S. in Political Science from the University of Utah and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.