Building an AAPI youth movement

Growing up, I didn’t know what it meant to be politically active. Nobody in my family had gone to college or was politically connected, so I didn’t feel like I had many examples of people that looked like me engaging in politics. I understood that voting was important. And I knew I was passionate about equality, but I never felt like I had a platform that was built for somebody like me, especially as somebody with mixed Mexican and Filipino heritage. That’s why I’m so proud to work on building a platform for the voices of California’s diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander youth that I wish I had as a kid.

That platform is the Asian American and Pacific Islander Coalition Helping Achieve Racial and Gender Equity (AAPI CHARGE). AAPI CHARGE expanded from SEARAC’s original Southeast Asian Young Men’s Collaborative to include more diverse Asian American and Pacific voices and communities. When we first met in 2016, AAPI CHARGE did not yet have a name, but we had a mission: dismantle the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline that has impacted so many AAPI community members and young men, and continues to disrupt families throughout California.

Since that first meeting, our mission has evolved. Instead of just tearing down this harmful pipeline, we are focused on building something new. Our new mission is also to develop and implement a shared AAPI Youth Equity Agenda in California to change policies and shift the narratives on AAPI communities by mobilizing and building the advocacy capacity of AAPI youth-serving organizations.

In order to begin building this AAPI Youth Equity Agenda, we simply asked young people about their experiences. Through a statewide survey and subsequent focus groups throughout California where we discussed survey data with AAPI young people, we were able to get a fuller picture of some of the challenges facing our youth. We reported our initial findings at a hearing at the California State Capitol in November of last year, and had youth and community members share about their lived experiences with elected officials. While this was a huge achievement for our coalition, we know that this work is ongoing and that it must be youth-led.

That’s why on Friday, August 31st, 2018, AAPI CHARGE held our third annual convening in Oakland, CA. There, we brainstormed how we can best incorporate more youth voices into our coalition so that this platform is for youth, and by youth. For these reasons, we are planning a youth retreat in early 2019 to continue developing youth leadership and provide a space where our diverse youth can connect with and learn from each other.

That way, young people who are passionate do not have to wait for a platform to become politically active.

We will build it with them.

Gabriel Garcia is SEARAC’s Boys and Men of Color Coordinator.