This was the first week of the CAUSE Leadership Academy, and we jumped right into things with a three day orientation retreat in Indio, CA. On the first day, Jess, a fellow intern, was kind enough to pick me up and drive us to the CAUSE office in Pasadena.
I had arrived in LA the night before, and while I was still adjusting to the start of the internship, the other interns began to trickle into the parking lot one by one. We introduced ourselves and made small talk about where we attended school and whether we brought shorts for our venture into the desert heat, all the while trying our best to remember each other’s names. Shortly after, we split up into each of the staff members’ cars and headed out to our retreat house.
The next forty-eight hours were intensely packed with workshops, logistical briefings, trainings, team building activities, and of course delicious food cooked by the CAUSE staff. CAUSE Executive Director Kim Yamasaki made it explicitly clear from the very first presentation we received on the overview of CAUSE about how rigorous the next nine weeks would be for us. “I can guarantee that this internship will be the most difficult that any of you have had to date,” she said, letting us know how much was expected of us in terms of challenging and engaging ourselves in the work that we will be doing at our respective office placements.
The CAUSE Leadership Academy established itself as a highly selective and rewarding internship, and the staff have the utmost faith that we can perform to their expectations. However, this does not mean that we are expected to be individual achievers. Throughout the retreat, it became obvious that we could gain incredible support not just the staff, but from each other as interns.
With our snapshot activity on Tuesday, each of the interns shared an integral part or “snapshot” of themselves. A day had barely passed since we first met each other, yet each intern was brave enough to share vulnerable aspects of their identity – from what they have gone through to be where they are now to what motivates them to pursue their passions.
Every intern showed compassion, respect, and trust by intently listening without judgment. Ultimately, this trust and community helped lay the core of what our retreat was about. Beyond the immensely important and practical workshops on media training, political processes, and Asian American experiences, the retreat was about fostering relationships.
Without this level of comfort and trust, we would not be able to depend on one another and help one another grow throughout our nine weeks. As I listened to people share their unique experiences, I felt inspired and revitalized. I was reminded that my heart will always be in these spaces where I am surrounded by mentors and peers who are all invested in making positive changes for APA communities.
Whether its government work or grassroots organizing, we must never forget that everything is done through people and for the people. We depend on strong, genuine relationships in order to collaborate and move things along in the political process. And the best way to understand what the APA community needs is to continually immerse oneself in that community.
Every person in our program was highly capable of expressing themselves and their opinions, but what each of us prioritized was listening to each other. With something as diverse, complex, and amorphous as “the APA community,” it is especially critical that we listen and understand the different circumstances and experiences that compose this vibrant constituency. CAUSE Director of Programs Aki Leung encapsulated this feeling by stating, “Know how much further you have to go, but also remember how far you have come.” That is the only way we can adequately lead and serve.
After three thought provoking and joy filled days, we drove back to the CAUSE office. The interns stood in the parking lot once more, but this time we were no longer strangers. We did not struggle to remember each other’s names or try to fill the silence with small talk. Instead, we hugged one another and bid emotional goodbyes. On Friday, we all got together once more for our kickoff event. Things will only continue to be set into high gear from that point. But we will be capable; we will be prepared, and most importantly, we will not be alone.