AAPIP Voices

You Are Not Alone: Reflections from 2018 National Network Convening Learning Tour

By:  Margie Andreason, Diversity Equity Inclusion Manager, Northwest Area Foundation, past AAPIP-Minnesota Chapter Co-Chair

I cannot imagine the sense of hopelessness Ny Nourn must have felt at the age of 18 when she was sentenced to life in prison without parole, for a crime her abuser committed. I cannot imagine the anguish she must have felt after serving 16 years and upon release, was met by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ny was immediately handcuffed and waist chained and told she would be deported to Cambodia, a country she had never set foot in since she was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Yet at the end of sharing her story, Ny said, “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I have these opportunities. After six months in detention, I became free.” Ny immediately began volunteering for a number of organizations to support others in similar situations – Survived and Punished, Asian Prisoner Support Committee, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice/ Asian Law Caucus. These amazing organizations are pivotal in cases like Ny’s, where individuals are intentionally isolated and made invisible. Hearing Ny’s story, along with stories from Danny Thongsy and Ke Lam, was the highlight of recently attending AAPIP’s National Network Convening.

At the convening, I joined a tour that highlighted Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders working at the intersection of immigrant justice and criminal justice reform. The tour included speakers from multiple foundations and Bay Area organizations that are on the forefront of addressing these systems. Here are a few facts I learned:   

  • Since 2000, the population of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) incarcerated people has quadrupled.

  • The criminalization of AAPIs, especially Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander youth has increased, as have immigration-related deportation and detention.

  • Limited English Proficient domestic assault survivors are often arrested when police fail to provide language access.

  • Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population nationally. In California, over 85% of people incarcerated in women’s prisons experience domestic violence or sexual assault prior to entering prison.

  • 94% of people facing criminal charges choose to accept a plea often because they cannot afford bail. Immigrants are also often denied the option of posting bail if ICE has placed a detainer on them.

Institutional threats aimed to dismantle the rights and dignity of people caught in these two systems are continuing at an alarming rate. For the philanthropic community, it’s important to listen and support organizations working closely with individuals most impacted. Here are some takeaways I found useful in my privileged position in philanthropy:

  • Part of our job is to “make the case” to support this work with our peers, colleagues, board, and trustees. It helps to talk about leading with our values and inclusion.

  • It’s important to invest in movement building and organizing.

  • Statewide coalition organizing was crucial in passing laws that protect those most vulnerable. Long-term relationships and support from foundations helped.

  • It is imperative that currently and formerly incarcerated people are included in the process of finding alternative and solutions to mass incarceration.

  • We have to make sure that the messaging we use is not dehumanizing. We cannot separate immigrants into good and bad. Remember that this reasoning was used to justify the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

The learning tour included a walk just a few blocks away from our hotel to stand in front of a massive nondescript building in the middle of San Francisco. A shiver went up my spine when we learned that the building was an ICE detention center and that there were people currently being held in the building. The physical presence of what we are fighting was daunting but hearing people and organizations on the tour gave me hope that justice will prevail if we are invested in community-rooted solutions and advocacy. I also want to do a shoutout to Release MN 8, an amazing group doing similar work in Minnesota.

For those in the philanthropic community looking for guidance, we are lucky to have peers to follow like Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, AAPIP, and foundations that have been supporting this work for a while like the Levi Strauss Foundation. One consideration for the future is how we can better support the remarkable organizations I heard from on this tour in the long-run? We know that systemic change does not happen in a year or in three-year funding cycles so it is on us to respond strategically.

One last striking takeaway from the tour is the close partnership of multiple people and organizations that helped support Ny and others like her. Ny spoke about how meaningful it was that her Cambodian community came out in support for her detention trial. Asian Americans Advancing Justice helped send over 500 post cards demanding her release and a petition was sent out nationally to support her. Ny is still fighting deportation but remarked, “What give me hope is that I’m not alone in it.” No, you aren’t. There are so many of us here with you and others in this social justice movement. We must remember that all of us have a role to stand together so that no one is alone.

Thank you AAPIP for organizing such a powerful learning experience.

Margie Andreason is the Diversity Equity Inclusion Manager for Northwest Area Foundation. She interacts with all levels of the Foundation in her DEI role, from leading a steering committee of staff members working collectively to advance DEI priorities at NWAF, to working closely with the executive team to ensure organizational alignment and top-level support, to organizing learning around DEI for all staff and the board. Margie remains engaged with the Twin Cities community through extensive volunteer work. She is currently board chair of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, co-founder of Network of Politicized Adoptees, a representative on the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission, and an active member of the AAPIP Minnesota Chapter.