Building AAPI Power: Representation, Voice and Advocacy in AAPI Communities

December 15, 2021

On December 15, the Asian Community Fund, the Boston Foundation and Boston Indicators co-hosted the third in a recent series of forums on the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Greater Boston and Massachusetts. Entitled Building AAPI Power: Representation, Voice and Advocacy in AAPI Communities, the event focused on ways that AAPI people and communities are working to leverage the growth in the Asian population to create greater opportunities for Asian representation in seats of power.

The discussion highlighted recent successes, including the recent election of Michelle Wu as mayor of Boston and the growing number of AAPI state and municipal elected officials, and the challenges facing an AAPI community that is growing, but includes large numbers of foreign-born and non-English speaking people.

Watch the forum Video

After a welcome from Boston Foundation President and CEO Lee Pelton, Asian Community Fund Chair Paul Lee laid out the three-part mission of the Fund and its plans moving forward. Paul Lee, who is also a member of the Boston Foundation Board of Directors, also highlighted the hiring of Danielle Kim as the first-ever Director of the Asian Community Fund.

Review the presentation slides

He then introduced a short video from Mayor Wu, which led into a compelling data presentation from Anne Kiyono Calef of Boston Indicators. Calef highlighted the statewide growth of Asian populations in the state, especially in suburbs outside of Boston, but noted that in many critical areas, that population growth has not translated into leadership growth. For example, in the state’s school districts with the largest populations of Asian students, the percentage of AAPI teachers lags. Calef also cited studies that showed significant room for growth in political office and other leadership positions.

In his role as respondent, UMass Boston professor Paul Watanabe gave context to the data, noting that in politics, Asians and other non-White groups face a “triple barrier” to political access - needing to not only achieve citizenship, but then also register to vote and turn out in elections. Faced with those time-consuming obstacles, he said, Asians should also recognize other ways their voices can be heard, and urged consideration of other measures, such as dual-language ballots and resident (versus citizen) voting as ways to rightly give voice to excluded communities

From there, the conversation shifted to the panel discussion. Incoming ACF Director Danielle Kim moderated a panel that included Raj Melville, Executive Director of the Deshpande Foundation, activist Shaw Yang, and two of the state's higher-profile Asian elected leaders: Massachusetts State Rep. Vanna Howard of Lowell, and Quincy City Council President Nina Liang. Panelists shared their efforts on grassroots advocacy, the importance of opening up more politcal and leadership roles to Asians, and the critical need to find and elevate Asian leaders not just in government, but in business and other community roles - building trust and improving results for Asians often shut out or deterred from taking part more strongly in civic and social life.


Welcome & Opening Remarks
M. Lee PeltonPresident & CEO, The Boston Foundation

Overview of the Asian Community Fund
Paul W. Lee, Chair, Asian Community Fund, Board of Directors, The Boston Foundation;
Retired Partner, Goodwin Procter LLP

Video Welcome
Michelle Wu
Mayor, City of Boston

Regional AAPI Demographic Shifts
Anne Kiyono Calef, Research Fellow, Boston Indicators  

Respondent Remarks
Paul Watanabe,
 Professor of Political Science & DirectorInstitute for Asian American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston

Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A
Vanna HowardState Representative, 17th Middlesex District, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Danielle KimCommissioner and Secretary, Asian American Commission; Incoming Director, Asian Community Fund, The Boston Foundation (Moderator)
Nina LiangPresident, Quincy City Council; Executive Director, Emerge Massachusetts
Raj MelvilleExecutive Director, Deshpande Foundation
Shaw YangCo-Founder, Coalition for Anti-Racism, Equity, and Justice in Education (CARE); Steering Committee Member, Indivisible Acton (MA)