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Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is an annual celebration in May to honor, uplift and bring visibility to the lives of millions of Americans. Oregon Food Bank had the privilege of chatting with previous OFB teammate, Amy Hwang Powers. Now Co-Executive Director of Programs at a long-time OFB partner, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Amy shared some of her story, a few thoughts on what this month means, and ways folx can get involved, be better allies, and advocate for lasting change to advance equity here in Oregon and beyond.

Oregon Food Bank: It’s so wonderful to get this opportunity to talk with you, Amy! How are things? What’s been happening in your world?

Amy Hwang Powers: Y’all know me! I was the Metro Services Manager at Oregon Food Bank for four years, after all. But before my work life, I'm a mother first and a partner first. I’m the daughter of immigrant parents. I am a sister and an auntie. Family is really important to me, and I center my family and my community in everything that I do. And my community includes you all, you know. We grow this community together and we co-create it together.

I was born and raised here in Oregon. My parents immigrated here from Korea, and they raised my brother and me in Washington county on Kalapuyan Lands. It's been so wonderful to raise my own kids in the same community where I grew up. Of course, it looks very different from what I experienced, but it is pretty neat to go back to the school buildings where I used to walk the halls and things like that. So it's been pretty wonderful in that way.

The community has been growing and changing. And because we have access to the analysis on the census data from 2020, we know that the Asian community has been growing and is the fastest-growing population in Oregon. It’s been so great to be a part of the community and see the growth and all the changes that come with it

OFB: Thank you for sharing your story, Amy! You’ve recently joined Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO). Can you tell us a bit more about APANO and the work they do?

AHP: It's been really exciting to join the APANO team! I started at the end of February, but prior to me getting on-boarded, APANO went through about a year and a half of figuring out how they wanted to create an organization built on community, belonging, trust and transparency. And the staff and the board really wanted a distributed leadership model. And now we have a really flat organization.

It's been amazing to see the organization’s efforts to center shared leadership and collaborative learning. It’s really transparent, and there is a lot of listening and honoring of different perspectives and diversity. There is always a centering of equity, care and love, and that's what really drew me to APANO. And I see my work at APANO as a sort of continuation of the work I was doing at Oregon Food Bank.

Through our distributed leadership model, I am part of an amazing Co-Executive Director team. Kim Lepin, our Co-Executive Director of Culture and Communications, started at the same time. And of course we have Allie Yee our Co-Executive Director of Finance, Operations, and Development.

APANO is an organization like none other working statewide in Oregon focused solely on social justice work. We're not a direct service provider, as there are amazing nonprofits who do that work like IRCO and Asian Health and Service Center. And I've been a part of some of those as well in my past professional journey, but I can't think of any other organization that centers Asian and Pacific Islanders in building power to really address systemic issues like racism, social injustice and advancing equity.

Our mission is to unite our community to build power, develop leaders, and advance equity through organizing, advocacy, community development and cultural work. We build political power and we support, encourage and empower API folx to run for elected office on our 501(c)4 side. On our 501(c)3 side, there’s a lot of community engagement, community outreach, cultural arts, and community development programs.

OFB: What significance does AAPI Heritage Month hold?

AHP: For APANO, we’re having conversations both internally and externally around what the term API even means. We’re a super diverse community and we're not a monolith. One of the things that we've been really trying to talk about is disaggregation of our data and that's been something new for me to learn about. That learning is something that I really, really appreciate. It’s about breaking down into the details of our communities and what that data tells us. It tells us how we can change our services, and it can also really help us elevate communities that might not have their voices being heard all the time.

In the month of May, we are going to have this community-centered theme throughout and we'll have several events for folx to participate in. I want to encourage people to participate in one of our events. “Liberation in Practice” will be occurring every Wednesday in May until our culminating annual event called “Voices of Change” which will take place the last Wednesday of the month. “Liberation in Practice” is a space for Black, Indigenous and all communities of Color (BIPOC) only, and it’s a really great way to celebrate our community and be in community with one another.

OFB: What are some ways people can be better allies to AAPI communities? What are some ways AAPI folx can celebrate and get involved this month?

AHP: I would always recommend uplifting our communities in any space that you might be in. There are so many organizations in Oregon and in our metro area that are doing amazing work, so elevating their work and donating is always appreciated!

When our communities offer a call to action and something resonates with you, go for it! Taking action is always helpful, especially in the different legislative priorities that we have. And there are so many ways to get involved. You can volunteer and support events like New Year in the Park and other community-based events. And this year, in-person events are coming back, which is very exciting.

And lastly, I’d like to call on people to join us in our efforts to disaggregate the term “API”, which would mean separating out and taking a more detailed look at the diverse communities grouped together in this all-encompassing term.

To start that process, I’m really excited to share with you all APANO’s story map. From the census data, my colleagues worked with two organizations, Insight for Action and Willamette Partnership, to do a data analysis of our communities right here in Oregon. The goal was to ensure that we are more reflective of our communities to have a better understanding. And we want to share that with folx because each community is very different from the next. They're so diverse and there are so many different communities within [API], so for us to just say “API” can be harmful.

I hope to see some familiar faces and new people at our events this month, and I hope this May is one that brings new learning, celebrations and healing.

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Oregon Food Bank shares great appreciation to Amy for her time and efforts, and to the entire APANO team for their work to change systems that perpetuate marginalization. OFB honors and celebrates all in our communities who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander. And we fully recognize these terms are too limited, reducing the identities of more than 63 nations into just two terms. We look forward to learning with you all about how we can better honor all identities.

To start, we’d like to share some resources for additional learning and community spaces for AAPI communities. In addition to those resources, please see some local events from around the state to join in celebrations and education opportunities.

Resources For Learning and Healing

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Events

From our partners at APANO

From UNIT SOUZOU

  • Constant State of Otherness, a new taiko and dance performance
    When: Friday, May 20, 2022, 7:30pm; Saturday, May 21, 2022, 2:00pm* and 7:30pm
    Where: Portland Opera, 211 SE Caruthers Street, Portland, OR 97214

    *In solidarity with AAPI Heritage month, audience members of Asian & Pacific Islander descent are invited for a one-hour facilitated gathering following the May 21st 2:00 pm matinee performance to share, reflect, process and acknowledge personal stories of otherness and its impact on our identities and lives.

Calendars from additional community partners and organizations

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