5th Annual APA Policy and Resource Forum
by Jackie Bong-Wright
A Grassroots Coalition Forum
An alliance of over 20 Asian Pacific American (APA) community groups held the 5th annual “Asian Pacific American Policy and Resource Forum” in Richmond, Virginia, on January 15.
Eric Liang Jensen, Chairman of the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans in Northern Virginia (CAPAVA), said, “This year’s forum will make a major impact on the future of policy for APAs in Virginia because we held a public discussion to assess the concerns and issues of APAs in Virginia and then included a strategy session with all the APA groups on how to address these issues.”
Vickie Mirandah, Chairwoman of the statutory body of the Governor’s Virginia Asian Advisory Board (VAAB), said, “The VAAB is launching a series of public forums to assess the state of APAs in Virginia. The Richmond Public Forum was the first of the planned regional hearings; it gathered information on the Commonwealth’s APA communities and their needs. We hope the information from these hearings will help State and elected officials understand the needs of our communities and direct policy changes to meet those needs.”
Resource and Information Packed Policy Forum
The day began with a VAAB meeting, open to the public, to discuss plans for future regional public forums and issues raised by APA communities throughout the state. It convened a two-hour public forum to capture important information on the state of the Central Virginia APA communities. The testimonies and discussions were recorded and will be made available to the public and policy officials.
A luncheon financial planning panel, coordinated by Steve Lee, provided vital information to community businesses and families on how to prepare for the challenges of the economy.
Following the VAAB regional hearing, the Policy Forum focused on two features: the Community Legislative Briefing and the Strategic Planning Forum.
For the Community Legislative Briefing, the Clerk of the House, Bruce Jamerson, described the legislative process and important historic information for the APA community. Then, the Democratic Caucus, represented by Senator Creigh Deeds, talked about the party’s legislative priorities, including transportation and vital services to local communities. Del. Jeffrey Frederick of the Republican Caucus spoke about the budget shortfall of $4 billion and how it will affect state programs.
The Policy Forum then met to address issues of health, education, public safety, civic participation, and business as these affect the Commonwealth’s APA community, and to strategize solutions (see below for description). The goal was to encourage a more coordinated effort from APAs to influence policy decisions by the Governor and members of the General Assembly.
The day’s events were capped by an evening reception that was attended by all the APA groups and over 20 state elected officials and executive cabinet members. Corporate partners gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year with the community groups and state officials.
Virginia Asian Advisory Board Public Forum: Key Community Issues Raised
Witnesses familiar with central Virginia’s Asian Pacific American community issues gathered to present important information about the needs of central APA communities to the Virginia Asian Advisory Board.
“APAs are only 4.7 percent of the U.S. population, but APA business owners are 5.9 percent, with 30,000 APA businesses earning $8 billion in revenue in 2006,” said Rumy Mohta, president of the Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV). Most APA-owned businesses are in the hotel, restaurant, and food production sectors; other businesses include professional, scientific, health care, social assistance, and manufacturing. He continued, “The resources and policies of the Commonwealth have not kept pace with the needs of our APA communities. This is why this broad alliance of APA organizations continues to focus on issues confronting our communities.”
Angela Chiang, Program and Project Administrator of the Virginia. Department of Minority Business Enterprise, told the audience, “Out of 1,200 businesses that were registered in the Small Women and Minority Business (SWAM) category, only 279 were of Asian origin. They received contracts from the state and earned a considerable amount, over $76 million, mostly in IT.”
Due to language barriers, Chiang encouraged APA businesses to partner with larger companies to get more state contracts and to diversify into other areas, such as taxes, financing and health insurance. Other participants said the Asian American Business Council should organize more trips overseas to attract businesses to Virginia.
Although APA businesses are healthy, the APA community suffers health and socialization problems, especially after 9/11 and the multiple murders by a Korean youth of Virginia Tech students.
Dr. Philip Scholobom, pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist, said that the rate of mental disorder was over 30 percent among Asians. The rate of treatment, however, was a quarter less than for whites and one-half that of blacks. He explained that mistrust, fear of loss of face, limited English, cost and clinical bias prevented many Asians from seeking help. In addition, the cultural characteristics of male dominance, respect for older people, the expectation of obedience from children, family obligations, and fear of authority led to stress and domestic abuse.
Dr. Hasan Yousuf of the Minority Health Advisory Committee went on to say that with the “Asian population growing, chronic diseases such as cancer, heart failure, and Hepatitis B and C would put additional pressure on the system. Academic institutions need research grants to study the causes of death and to recommend preventive measures among APAs,” he continued.
To promote a safe public environment, Dr. Mokerrom Hussein, professor and criminal justice graduate at Virginia State University, talked of a needs assessment of the APA community. APAs tended to underreport because of fear of the police and other authorities. Mr. Wattana Prak, Digital Assets Administrator of the Henrico Division of Police and Forensics, agreed. Prak said that of 200 domestic violence cases among Asians, only one was reported by a neighbor. He asked for assistance from the community to encourage victims go to court and testify, and said more Asians should take up careers in law enforcement. The reticence in these areas was due to a lack of interest and fear of authority.
The discussions led to the issue of the education of Asians in Virginia public schools, where 5.7%, or 70,000, were attending. Asian students performed well (a passing rate of over 90%), but more involvement was required from parents to avoid generational conflicts. More communication and a better understanding of children’s needs and aspirations were also needed.
Eric Lin, Chair of Program Committee of the Asian American Society of Central Virginia, couldn’t agree more. He urged APAs to participate more in community activities by becoming scout members, learning to train dogs for the visually impaired, helping the homeless, and working with Habitat of Humanity. He also urged the 40-50% of APAs registered to vote to learn more about civic education and encourage others to vote. Only 70% of those eligible had voted in the last national elections.
Community Strategy Forum
The closing Community Forum included participation by all the attending APA groups to discuss strategies to meet the needs of the APA community.
The groups agreed a key barrier for APA communities was the lack of inclusion in state and local political and policy processes by the community. Groups spoke of their frustration at not getting a fair share of state services and resources and at a lack of coordination in the community in organizing for solutions. They felt that, once critical needs were spelled out, the community should unite to support key solutions and bring these issues to the attention of their elected officials and key executive branch officials.
CAPAVA Chairman Jensen said a vital state solution was public access to ethnic data collected by state agencies to help better target and utilize state services by the APA community. He also spoke of the need for translation services and materials by the State.
Participants believe that such information-sharing will enable strategic planning to target the needs of the APA community and will encourage more discussion among APA businesses and non-profits on how they can influence public policy. Other specific suggestions about lack of APA law enforcement staff were to recruit APAs to serve on police SWAT teams and to create a “call tree” of APAs willing to be active and offer assistance in the community.
Liu-Jen Chu, a community activist, recommended seeking state and private funding to open an APA office to pursue these goals.
Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Kate Hanley responded to community concerns by suggesting that the APA community approach local governments for solutions to their needs because the true resources and sensitivity to communities were in local jurisdictions.
The community groups decided it was important to unite to continue discussions on their communities’ needs. CAPAVA and AASOCV agreed to coordinate future forums to plan advocacy efforts for public resource targeting and to reach private alliance solutions to meet community needs. Copies of the issues discussed during the day and a transcription of the Policy Forum will be circulated to the public and state officials.