212,000 Asian Pacific Islanders in Oregon

Joseph Santos-Lyons

As an Asian-American, with Chinese roots in the Pacific Island of Hawai’i and extended family into the Philippines and around the world, I’m appreciative of this month as a chance to consider how my community is doing, and contemplate what this means for the future of my children and relatives.

On May 11th, Governor Kitzhaber is joining with community leaders representing the more than 100 ethnic and language groups that make up Oregon’s API communities to issue a proclamation celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This is an important time to reflect on the status and progress of one of Oregon’s fastest growing communities. It is a moment in the yearly cycle of remembrances and history months to download new knowledge, update our analysis, and consider ways we can work for a better society.

As an Asian-American, with Chinese roots in the Pacific Island of Hawai’i and extended family into the Philippines and around the world, I’m appreciative of this month as a chance to consider how my community is doing, and contemplate what this means for the future of my children and relatives. What kind of a world will they live in? Will they live in a world that values our humanity and the generations of contributions we have made to America?

Growing up in Clackamas County, I rarely saw many Asian and Pacific Islanders. I went off to college before the first Thai restaurant opened up in my town. Yet today, Pacific Islanders have grown 68% and Asians 40% from 2000 to 2010, and with a population of over 212,000 in Oregon. We are 5.5% of the state, second only to the Latino community. While 70% of our community resides in the Portland-metro region, we have fast growing working class communities in Marion, Jackson, Lane and Benton counties.

Recently the Coalition of Communities of Color, a growing network of culturally specific organizations, published Asian and Pacific Islanders in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile. One key finding is that there are persistent, and in specific cases, growing inequities in social and economic conditions facing API communities, particularly in comparison to Whites in Multnomah County and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities nationally.

For example, new data was presented on the academic achievement of K-12 API students broken out by language (see pg 61-62 for great charts). This data spotlights significant and alarming educational disparities facing specific API communities in math, reading and on-time graduation that ultimately reduce opportunity and drive inequities including poverty within the API community.

“This report unveils the underbelly of a range of institutions that fail Asian and Pacific Islander communities. This is not a matter for the history books but rather current practices that have masked urgent needs, denied equitable treatment, and led to profound challenges for much of the API community,” says Dr. Ann Curry-Stevens, leading author of the report.

We’ve come to learn that a healthy, thriving community, is an engaged community. Organizations like APANO are working to ensure we are heard through our organizing and advocacy. We're making a difference with our leadership development and civic engagement that builds the voice of our community on the education, health and economic issues that impact us. One of the ways to measure the ability of any community to meaningfully and fully engage in the social and economic issues that impact them is by evaluating political leadership. I did a little unofficial research by talking with a handful of community leaders and found a very short list of API who have served in elected office...ever. Currently in the state legislature, there are zero API in the House or Senate that I know of. For that matter there are few people of color at all in elected office. This impacts the ability of our government to effectively engage and consider the needs of all communities.

Oregon needs more API running for office, candidates who will be visible and work for progressive values, give voice to our community and provide strong leadership for all of Oregon. We need the kind of candidate schools like Emerge for communities of color to prepare the good folks ready to lead for public service. Speaking personally now, things are changing in 2012, with two strong and compelling candidates who have deep relationships with many communities including API running for office in Dr. Thuy Tran for House District 47 and Helen Ying for Metro. We saw a spirited campaign by Sho Dozono for Portland Mayor a few years back. It has been moving to see the engagement with first-time voters, new citizens, and all our aunties and uncles stepping up to learn more about the political process. I’ve seen each of these races galvanize a new generation of API community members who are building their capacity to run for office in the future. This is good for our communities, and ultimately good for Oregon.

ps - Yo’ure invited to come out on Wednesday May 23rd to party with us at theSLATE for Stick Together! APANO’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

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