After a decline during the mid-20th century, we’re now several decades into a new global wave of immigration, bringing Boston back to its roots as a city of immigrants.Read More
In 1987, the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW) published a report titled To Live in Peace: Responding to Anti- Asian Violence in Boston. It was dedicated to Vincent Chin who, in 1982 at the age of 27 and on the eve of his wedding—was murdered by two laid-off auto workers in Detroit. His attackers blamed the Japanese for taking their jobs away. Chin was Chinese American.
Closer to home, the report also told the story of Bun Vong, a 34-year-old Cambodian refugee from Lowell who was beaten to death by two Somerville men as he and a friend returned from Revere Beach in 1985. His companion, Som Bunyoeun, was badly beaten, but survived.
The ignorance and hate that drives crimes against Asian Americans reflect a profound misunderstanding of the community as a whole. The term Asian American suggests a degree of sameness and obfuscates the diversity of the community. Many would be surprised to learn that it is the fastest growing community in Greater Boston—including large populations of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Nepalese and Pakistani Americans, all speaking different languages. More than one-third of our region’s undocumented immigrants are from Asian countries. Another little-known fact is that there is tremendous need in the community. Close to 29 percent of Asians in Boston live in poverty, more than double the rate for Whites. Some 40 percent have limited proficiency in English. Almost one-third of Chinese adults in Boston have less than a high school diploma.
“Even though we are a diverse community, we are one community,” says Paul Lee, a member of the Boston Foundation’s Board of Directors and Co-Founder and Chair of the Asian Community Fund. “The goal of the ACF is to bring us together so that we can galvanize, collaborate and gain strength from each other.” “This work comes at a time of incredible reckoning and pain in our community,” says Stephen Chan, Vice President for Strategy and Operations at the Boston Foundation.
“Especially as it relates to the unfinished work of racial justice.” The Foundation has seeded the new fund with $250,000. While the Asian community here and across the country needs tremendous support because of its members’ immigration status and poverty, Chan points out that philanthropic funding of AAPI nonprofits nationally has been virtually flat for the last 30 years—hovering around 0.2 percent of all giving.
The ACF is raising a permanent endowment and will make grants to nonprofits serving the many immigrant, low-income and economically disadvantaged Asian Americans in Greater Boston. Its first grant was to the AsianCommunity Emergency Relief Fund, a collaboration of Asian nonprofits established to help the community cope with COVID-19. That effort rapidly raised and spent down $350,000 and now extends its mission to supporting those working to stop anti-Asian hate. “It is a great example of the kind of collaboration we want to encourage,” says Lee, “which is especially important for diverse communities like ours.”
Changing Faces of Greater Boston, a report released in 2019 by Boston Indicators, the research arm of the Boston Foundation, UMass Boston and the UMass Donahue Institute, drew attention to the diversity and size of our region’s Asian American community. It also featured a deeper dive into the city of Quincy, which has been transformed by Asian Americans, who now make up 28 percent of the population. And it pointed to the powerful impact Vietnamese immigrants have had on the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester.
As detailed in Changing Faces, a very public incident of bigotry mobilized the Vietnamese American community to become more civically engaged. In 1992, while riding in the Dorchester Day Parade, Boston City Councilor Albert (Dapper) O’Neil was videotaped insulting the Vietnamese American enclave in Fields Corner, leading community members to protest and join together to fight for their own rights. VietAID was founded in Fields Corner just two years later.
“The Vietnamese population in Boston is fairly new,” explains Lisette Le, Executive Director of VietAID, who immigrated here when she was six. “We started arriving in 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, and continued to come in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The understanding of our community is also somewhat new.” VietAID works to encourage economic development programs, alleviate poverty and advance civic participation in Fields Corner.
The racism and the lack of understanding about the needs and the contributions of Asian Americans reflected in O’Neil’s comment 30 years ago are gaining national attention and sparking outrage today. The launch of the Asian Community Fund, which to date has raised more than $2 million to support Asian-focused nonprofits helping those in need—and to galvanize the entire community, is prescient in its timing and already has sparked numerous leadership gifts.