This past week’s civic engagement session gapped the tremendous bridge between the past and present in terms of systemic injustices. During the overview of our API history, we highlighted issues that were often seldom brought up in mainstream media. It is uncommon for people to think of Asian American immigrants as undocumented or as a major population of the undocumented – but in reality, this group is the fastest growing population of undocumented immigrants. 1 in 7 of API immigrants are undocumented, which is a staggering fact when the common perception of the undocumented demographic is the Latinx community. During the session, we also read an article about how most Asian Americans actually consistently support affirmative action, with only the Chinese American population deviating. This contradicts the narrative often portrayed in media of academia where it is perceived that Asian Americans don’t support affirmative action and thinks it disproportionately affects them.
Our lessons only go to demonstrate that the stories and experiences of the API community are so diverse. The API demographic is not just the image we see in Crazy Rich Asians; it involves low-income, undocumented, and non-college graduated API folks. It is important in our advocacy efforts that we understand all these stories instead of only advocating for our respective ethnic group(s) under the API umbrella. We also talked about the challenges of consolidating all ethnic API identities into a coalition and focusing on individual groups. It is an ongoing conversation that we will continue to have as we figure out where and how we can make the most impact in this world.
Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute and speaker during our civic engagement session, gave me a reinvigorated hope for civic engagement. At times, it feels like there are too many problems and not enough solutions. However, Sonenshein showed us that the API community is actually becoming more politically engaged than ever, as compared to their predecessors. The model minority myth has prevented us from being the activists we could’ve been. Even though there have been powerful API activists, our coalition isn’t as strong as other communities because of the expectation that API members must respect authority, stay silent, and be amenable. But now, we see that more API youth are talking to their families than ever about politics. More people of all ages in the API community are rallying, protesting, and demonstrating.
Personally, I grew up in a very apolitical household where my parents warned me never to get tangled up in rowdy activist rallies or marches. But I’ve found that political engagement goes much deeper than that; it extends into storytelling, listening, and advocating.
Nearing the end of the session, we covered professional development skills, such as how to find mentors and have successful coffee chats. These were really helpful because no one has ever taught me how to navigate these conversations in professional settings. I’ve had a few coffee chats that have been wonderful and really useful for life advice; but I also want to secure strong mentorships as I grow. It’s hard to ask an established professional to take on a naive college student in as their mentee, but I know that by setting the foundation for those relationships, I can find a mentor of my own to help me shape my future world as an API leader.