JACL/OCA Leadership Conference: An Intern’s Eye View

Another post from our intern, Poonam Patel, about the JACL/OCA Leadership Conference that took place in Washington, DC two weeks ago:

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the Japanese American Citizens League /Organization of Chinese Americans Leadership Conference held in Washington DC. It was a unique opportunity to meet with other Asian Americans who had a vested interest in learning about political and civic issues facing the Asian community as well as developing innovative ideas to address them.

Most of our time during the conference was spent listening to a wide variety of speakers that included WWII veterans, professors, community advocates, Congressional members and staffers, as well as ethnic and mainstream journalists. Although each of the speakers came from different backgrounds and fields of work, their message was harmonious to some extent. Almost each member of every panel spoke about the importance of our community’s members representing our community’s issues.

Deepa Iyer, SAALT’s Executive Director spoke on the panel titled “Biased Based Incidents in the Minority Communities: History to Today” during which she went through a brief history of South Asians in the United States followed by a discussion related to bias incidents within the South Asian population, especially following the 9/11 backlash.

In addition to these panels, we were given the opportunity to discuss with each other development and outreach ideas in an attempt to build closer ties with local OCA and JACL chapters as well as other Asian American organizations. Each evening we spent visiting a local landmark such as the Smithsonian Museum and National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II after which we had dinner at a local restaurant.

The DC Leadership Conference was an ideal forum to continue building coalitions amongst organizations working with the Asian American community by fostering relationships between the leaders within them.

Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ–South Asian Style!

Poonam Patel, an intern at SAALT was in attendance for South Asian Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ on March 16th. She shares her experience below. If you want to read more about the South Asian Advocacy Day, check out this great blog post by Sonny Singh at the Sikh Coalition blog!

On Monday, March 16th, I had the opportunity to attend the first South Asian Advocacy Day in Trenton, New Jersey–an inspiring experience, to say the least. Growing up in a traditional Indian family with the stigma that speaking to elected officials at any level is fruitless, it was reassuring to see legislators not only responsive to the issues discussed but also willing to take action—research new means of solving fundamental problems whether that involved supporting existing legislation or introducing new ideas.

One of the advocates talked about a project their organization had developed—grading public schools in a report card format based on their cultural competency. The legislator that was presented with this idea not only agreed that it was a very effective way of creating awareness, but also asked for specific details so that the program could potentially be implemented in her district. While I was listening to this exchange take place, it became clear that innovative projects developed by experts in their own fields combined with the government resources can truly have an affect on the community at large.

Furthermore, to see so many community members, advocates, and students collectively discuss the issues most relevant to the South Asian community shed light to the fact that they cross boundaries of all sorts–gender, age, and national origin to name a few.  Even though the South Asian community is so diverse in a number of ways, there are several issues we can all relate to such as developing comprehensive immigration reform or creating cultural competent resources for community members. This is what was at the heart of Trenton Advocacy Day. It wasn’t about each individual advocating something unique, but a strong, collective voice that caught the ears of state legislators.