AAPIP Voices

What Do We Stand For?


Dana Kawaoka-Chen is the Network Director for the Bay Area Justice Funders Network.  She is an active member of the AAPIP-SV chapter and LOTUS Giving Circle.

Peggy Saika, AAPIP’s President & Executive Director opened the AAPIP gathering on Friday, June 6th at the Joint Affinity Groups’ Unity Summit with “#Because of Yuri, we have learned that it is not what you look like, but what you stand for.”  She would echo that refrain in her comments when addressing the assembled mass of 400+ philanthropic colleagues gathered from around the country when talking about the role of philanthropic affinity groups.  Peggy’s statement offered in two different contexts surfaced three questions for me—What do we stand for locally?  What do we stand for from our particular philanthropic perch? And, what do we stand for in the field?


What do we stand for locally?

At the AAPIP meeting, Saket Soni of the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice noted that corporations are increasingly using a contingent worker business model that is de-stabilizing our economy.  Low-wage jobs—notably in the fast-food, retail, and restaurant industries combined with the practice of classifying workers as temporary, seasonal or project-based perpetuates under-employment and deprives workers from access to consistent wages and benefits.  Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice wrote in the Nation, that, Nearly one-third of the workforce is now contingent, as employers abandon traditional employment models to rid themselves of union contracts, labor standards, direct liability and employment taxes.”  Here in the Bay Area, we see a number of local campaigns to raise the minimum wage.  This is one strategy being used to address unchecked corporate labor practices that are undermining our economy, and many of the individual wage campaigns have strong Asian-American leadership.

In fact, California is home to a number of mature Asian-American-led grassroots organizations experienced in local organizing and policy change.  For example, Asian Pacific Environmental Network has been leading on climate justice issues, Chinese Progressive Association has been leading on worker justice issues and Korean Resource Center has been leading on immigrant justice issues.  It is exciting to hear that these three organizations will be launching AAPI’s for Civic Empowerment, an initiative to support the building of civic infrastructure in AAPI communities.

And not a moment too soon: California now has ¼ of the national Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) population, and in Santa Clara County, where I live, more than 30% of Santa Clara County’s 1.8 million residents are AAPI.  Unfortunately, the numbers do not yet equate with power.  In his recent book, “Asian American Political Action: Suburban TransformationsDr. James Lai of Santa Clara University noted that the migration of AAPI communities from urban centers to suburban communities has contributed to the lack of a united AAPI civic power, that holds elected officials accountable to a solid pro-active agenda that includes the concerns of AAPI communities,

As community members and members of AAPIP, what is our role in addressing corporate practices that de-stabilize our communities and threaten the social safety net?  Where can we support front-line organizations seeking to build power within our AAPI communities, and in solidarity with other allies?  And what kinds of long-term, coordinated efforts do we need to undertake now to match, support, and scale local efforts?


What do we stand for from our particular philanthropic perch?

The second part of AAPIP’s meeting on Friday featured Barbara Phillips formerly of the Ford Foundation, June Noronha, Senior Manager with the Native Nations Team and Bush Foundation, and Nisha Patel, Deputy Director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute and formerly of the Gates Foundation.  All three were asked to respond to the following prompt: “What kind of leadership does it take to advance social justice/movement building in philanthropy?”  Each spoke eloquently, and at times painfully about their experiences in senior leadership roles as women of color who are also leading with justice. 

In particular, Barbara encouraged folks to think about what you want to be able to say about yourself when you leave this position and then went on to share words of wisdom she received from Dorothy Haight, “If the time is not ripe, ripen the time.”  And so my fellow AAPIPers in being conscious of Peggy’s transition, what are we ripe for?  Or, what do we need to ripen?


What do we stand for in the field?

This convening of the Joint Affinity Groups marked 20 years since the separate identity-based affinity groups first came together under this larger umbrella formation.  As part of the reflection for what has changed over time, Peggy also noted that despite the increased numbers of people of color in philanthropic roles, we have yet to see a percentage increase in the amount of philanthropic dollars going to communities of color, to support the rising American electorate in contributing to a vibrant democracy, to support social justice movements, etc.

Given this, what is the role of philanthropic affinity groups?  And how do we both support our members in an “inside change strategy” as well as help push an “outside change strategy” that keeps philanthropy accountable, while continuing to lift-up work that centers the values of love, social justice and movements led by those most impacted by inequity?

I look forward to engaging both with my fellow AAPIP colleagues and other allies in the field about how we answer these questions individually and collectively—to figure out what we stand for.