What it will take to advance equity for AAPI communities?

August 10, 2021

Dear Changemakers,

I’m excited to share with you a new Urban Institute report that offers recommendations for achieving greater inclusion and belonging for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the US. These communities are facing a new specter of physical and mental harms arising from racialized accusations around the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Advancing Equity for AAPI Communities report provides strategies philanthropic and policy leaders can use to help transform the national environment and combat anti-AAPI racism.

Urban’s landscape study of AAPI organizations across the US was produced in collaboration with The Asian American Foundation, founded this year to accelerate opportunity and prosperity for AAPIs, the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in our country.

This group is also the most invisible and misunderstood; as Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts said during Urban’s latest Evidence to Action conversation, “There is no simple thing as an Asian American.… They are not a monolithic model minority.”

Indeed, today, Asian Americans stake claim to the highest average levels of income and education of all racial groups and occupy many hard-won leadership posts in the academic, corporate, and government sectors. However, AAPIs also hold positions at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, with Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asian Americans among the AAPI communities with some of the lowest income and education levels in the US.

The community is also ethnically diverse, tracing their roots to more than 40 countries. They speak more than 100 languages, practice an array of religious faiths, and experience distinctive generational patterns in the US.

One thing AAPI communities have in common, though, is being viewed by many in our society as “forever foreigners,” an unfair, inaccurate characterization that denies AAPIs’ significant contributions to our culture, economy, and lives. However, it’s this shared history of othering and the ongoing experience of discrimination—as well as the universal desire for belonging, equity, and safety—that unite AAPI communities. Urban researchers found that these experiences have contributed to a unified set of aspirations across AAPI communities and advocacy organizations.

In Advancing Equity for AAPI Communities, my colleagues argue that there are opportunities to reverse the harmful public narrative about AAPIs, capitalize on AAPI diversity to build equity, advance policies that protect APPI communities’ right to belong, and strengthen the work of AAPI advocacy groups by disaggregating data and doing better research to understand AAPIs’ diverse experiences. Without such population-specific insight, funders, policymakers, and other agents of change risk easily reducing AAPI people’s unique experiences to stereotypes, overlooking their needs, and targeting their investments inaccurately.

I hope you will take a moment to learn more about our findings and to check out my brief conversation with Watanabe; Sonal Shah, president of The Asian American Foundation; Neel Kashkari, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; and Maria Torres-Springer, vice president of US programs for the Ford Foundation, about what it will take to meet the diverse needs of AAPI communities through federal policy.

Warmly,
Sarah