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We spoke with the leaders of two organizations working to empower Chicago’s Asian American community. Grace Pai is the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, which is marking a major milestone: 30 years in the city. It began in 1992 as the Asian American Institute, a policy and research focused organization. Pai said the organization has evolved since then.
“At the beginning we focused on things like film festivals, symposiums, we published a bunch of reports about the Asian American community and our diversity,” Pai said. “And we’ve evolved since then to really focus and center on building power for the Asian American community.”
She said Asian Americans Advancing Justice now does a lot of work on “policy advocacy and systems change to impact issues that are impacting Asian Americans.”
Pai said that includes education equity, immigrant rights and language access. And over the last two years, harassment and violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise.
“2020 was just the beginning, unfortunately,” said Pai. “And that was a full year before the Atlanta shootings happened, before the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis that really impacted the Sikh community there and so you know I think unfortunately even though we were really reeling in that moment of May 2020 we did it escalate and get worse throughout 2021.”
To fight back against harassment and discrimination, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago is offering Bystander Intervention training for community members.
Our Chicago: Part 2
As this is happening, Chicago is on the cusp of having its first-ever Asian American majority ward. It’s something that has been decades in the making, said Grace Chan McKibben, executive director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community. She said going from zero Asian American wards to one is important symbolically.
“Because Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the very few, possibly only, growing Chinatown in the United States the other cities are also looking to us making history and watching and cheering on,” she said, adding that it reflects the growing population. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in Chicago and Illinois, making up about 7% of the state’s population.
For more information on bystander intervention training:
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