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Six Insights from Leaders this AAPI Heritage Month

In May, Oregon Food Bank celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. AAPI Heritage Month is an annual celebration to honor, uplift and bring visibility to the lives of millions of Americans. At Oregon Food Bank, we honor and celebrate 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. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith. We must uplift and honor individuals’ specific identities, backgrounds and experiences.

As communities of color, AAPI communities face disproportionate rates of hunger. We know that the root causes of hunger are systemic injustices — including the connections between racism, classism, sexism, settler colonialism and more — which continue the conditions that sustain hunger and poverty. Understanding this, we commit to center those who most disproportionately experience hunger across our service area — Black, Indigenous and all People of Color, immigrants and refugees, gender expansive folks (including Two-Spirit folks), and single mothers and caregivers — in ways that honor and value each other and our lived experiences.

Too often, data and stories about specific tribes, BIPOC groups, and ethnic communities are erased, diminished or lumped together in ways that do not reflect the lived experiences of those communities and individuals. A census data story map created in partnership with APANO Communities United Fund, Insight for Action, and Willamette Partnership explains: “Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are made up of diverse and expansive communities. They are not a singular community and combining all Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities together glosses over the real needs that specific communities face in counties across Oregon. For example, the 2019 American Community Survey shows that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Marion County had substantially less healthcare coverage (19% uninsured) compared to Asians (3% uninsured) or whites (7% uninsured). Across Oregon, Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders experienced different disparities across health, education, housing, and income.”

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we celebrate the unique, diverse lived experience and dedication of AAPI community leaders working to end hunger and its root causes here in Oregon and Southwest Washington. See some story highlights from our AAPI communities and click the links below to read their full stories.

Heifara Wheeler, Pacific Climate Warriors:

“Food sovereignty is an important aspect of climate work. As the climate changes, the ability to grow a lot of our traditional foods, even back home, becomes more difficult. Being able to hold onto our traditional foods is an important part of our identity. Our food is not only what we eat, but it is our ancestors. It is part of our oral history of who we are. So it's important to continue on those traditions.”

Cayle Tern, APANO:

“Like many immigrants and refugees, I had a tough upbringing. I experienced racism and hate. I experienced discrimination. And in spite of all the other social inequities and challenges created by being a family on public assistance, I was expected to excel and become American. Not American by my own standards but standards established by White America. The common question that I received from people was ‘Then why do you stay? Why don't you just leave and go back to your country?’ Well, many of us can't. The violence that you see on TV with an oppressive government is very real.”

Naw Bee, Former Oregon Food Bank Ambassador:

“My message to the Oregonians, from an immigrant’s standpoint, is that all immigrants came to this country to seek a better life and fulfill their hopes and dreams. They came here because they wanted to be with their family, they needed protection, they wanted to find work, and to seek better opportunities for their children. They are forever grateful for the chance they were given to lead a more prosperous life, and they understand the responsibilities and burdens that come with being a citizen. They want to contribute to bettering our nation and watch it grow just like you and I.”

Amy Powers, APANO:

“I can picture my family sitting around a table. In our culture, we share all the dishes together. We pick off each other's plates. My mom never wants to waste food, so she always eats all the things the kids left on the plate. Food brings everyone together — it nourishes our soul and our love for one another. And I think that's what food justice means to me and my family. We love eating together. We love spending time with one another and food is always a part of that.”

Matt Newell-Ching, Oregon Food Bank:

“It was always instilled in me: it's not just about you. We need to be thinking about our community. How do we volunteer? How do we speak out? Whether it's school or our local or state government or federal government, how do we make sure that we're serving one another? We want to make sure that everything we do, we do collectively, that we're standing together with one another.”

Celia Ferrer, Oregon Food Bank:

“I'm an immigrant and a single mother. My primary motivation is to be able to give my kids and everyone's kids the best chance at life. I live and breathe that hope.”

“Hunger is not a personal issue; it’s an issue that is born of systemic inequities that exist in our society. And so I feel strongly about being able to contribute to reshaping this society. That means eliminating the root causes of hunger and looking at the systems we operate in — from food production and distribution to redistributing wealth through community empowerment.”

Resources for Learning and Healing

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Events

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