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CAPAVA Promotes Power for APAs

By Jackie Bong Wright

Power Lunch

Do you want to empower yourself and work with people in power? What is the right recipe for success for Asian Pacific American (APA) community activists? These questions were in the air at a meeting last month in Richmond, where 15 organizations attended the 4th Asian Pacific American Legislative Forum hosted by the Coalition of Asian Pacific American of Virginia (CAPAVA) and the Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASCV).
Leaders from the Pakistani, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese communities convened to learn how to apply for foundation grants and government contracts. They discussed career opportunities in the financial industry, how the state legislature and budget process work, and the priorities of the Republican and Democratic caucuses.
But they also came together to relate their own struggles and challenges.
Power, participants were told, is accessing project funding. The APA activists learned about the Foundation Center, which can be reached through any library or personal computer. Supported by 600 foundations, the Foundation Center connects non-profits and individuals to 90,000 grantsmakers who gave out $1.3 million annually in grants. Their philosophy is to advance a democratic society by helping grassroots organizations access information and financial resources.
At a meal hosted by the Bank of America that the organizers called a “power lunch,” participants were told how to maintain assets and increase wealth with wise tax and financial planning. The advice was straight-forward: Plan your gains and losses as an individual or as a business and don’t forget disability and life insurance. Organize your retirement and execute a will and a living trust, then transfer your business or assets to your successors in accordance with the tax and inheritance laws. This is power you can hold in your hands for now and transfer to other hands in the future.
Do you want to become a power to be? Kate Hanley, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, urged APAs to go after the 4,000 appointments on the Governor’s boards and commissions. They range from the Board for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to that for Child Abuse and Neglect, the Board of Education and Health Professions, the Board for Architects, the Board for Housing and the Board for Consumer Services. Applications were provided.
Want the power that comes with owning a business? The Virginia Enterprise Initiative (VEI), created in 1995, helps disadvantaged individuals – low income, women, and minorities – to become economically independent through micro-business training and access to credit. VEI funds nine sites, each with an annual grant of $53,000, to offer business skills, one-on-one technical assistance, micro-loans, and follow-up assistance. Besides, under the Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Enterprise Zone Grants reward investors and revitalize communities with job creation grants and real-property investment grants.

APA Community Issues

The Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce announced that, at Census 2000, there were more than 30,500 Asian American business establishments in Virginia. In 2002, Virginia had the 8th-largest percentage of Asian American firms in the country.
CAPAVA Chairman Eric Jensen, however, was not satisfied with the status quo. “With an increasing APA population of nearly 400,000 who contribute over $4.5 billion to the state’s economy and account for nearly 50,000 jobs, we are still under-represented in public service, public education, and leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. We also lack knowledge of the state bureaucracy and of business and procurement assistance.”
Voices were heard from businesses and from the community. Kyung Choi, Vice President of the Korean American Grocers Association, said his group’s 120 grocery stores, supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, had seen 36 robberies and 10 murders in the past six years in the Richmond area alone. Only two robberies and two murders had been resolved, with nothing heard of the other cases. Choi wanted the protection of the law so victims and their families could feel safer.
Silvia Patton, President of the Korean American Women Association of USA (KAWA-USA), opposed proposed legislation by Senator Cuccinelli denying unemployment benefits when staff were fired for failure to speak English. Patton claimed that the bill was unfair and discriminatory, giving employers an excuse for terminating workers without paying them their benefits. As long as employees are qualified and language does not interfere with their job performance, they shouldn’t be penalized for the lack of English, she said.
A college teacher from Bangladesh said she and her husband, both citizens, had resided in the U.S. the past 28 years. But her husband, whose name is Mohamed, had been strip-searched every time he traveled after 9/11. She understood the Homeland Security rules, but wondered whether name checks in government databases could not obviate the need for searching citizens of good standing. She noted that not everyone named Mohamed should be profiled as a terrorist.
Lakshmi Challa of Challa Law Offices said she had compiled over 50 bills affecting the immigrant community that are still pending with the General Assembly in the fields of business, higher education, state law enforcement, and immigration.
Rumy Mohta, President of the Asian American Society of Central Virginia, said resources and policies had not kept pace with the needs of APA communities. He hoped this Forum would bring Asian communities to the attention of key executive and legislative leaders.
Solutions for a variety of ills drew mention at the Forum. For lack of utilization of state services by the APA community, a proposed solution was to use direct outreach to advertise services and access information in the ethnic media and to support the rights of Virginia’s legal residents to enjoy state services and entitlements. For the lack of statistical data about APA communities, it was suggested that data be collated in state programs and disseminated through public and private portals to policy makers and program administrators for their strategic action. For lack of inclusion in the policy and political processes, the answer was to encourage local decision-making forums with support economic and political participation, to help enroll APA voters, and to inform them of the voting rights of Virginia residents.
Ting-Yi Oei, CAPAVA President, said, “This is an important opportunity for the APA community and APA businesses to learn how to access programs and get information vital to their well-being as Commonwealth participants.”
The Forum ended on an optimistic note, with Governor Tim Kaine coming to show his support at a dinner reception hosted by the Sun Trust Bank where over 150 legislators, cabinet officials, media, and community leaders attended.