Community Development as Diverse as the AAPI Population

When we talk about the community development needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), it’s tempting to think in terms of formulas—what’s the right recipe or set of ingredients that will prove an effective community building strategy?  Due to the diverse nature of our AAPI ethnic groups, the diverse geographic representation of our community, and the broad definition of community development itself, to expect a “cookie-cutter” answer is not only unrealistic, it is culturally incompetent.

We know that the category of “Asian American and Pacific Islander” consists of over 50 different ethnic groups.  Ours is a diverse, multicultural and multi-lingual community that is hard to fit into any one definition.  Likewise, “community development” is a very broad term that is used to describe a wide range of strategies and activities from housing to workforce development to small business assistance and local economic development to urban agriculture to advocacy.  But just as people who identify as AAPI share common traits, the people, groups and organizations that are using a community development framework to lift up their community or neighborhood also share some common traits and values that are worth highlighting.

As a community development professional as well as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, I am proud that there are organizations across this country that are interpreting “community development” in their own unique and powerful ways to help the AAPI population. The diversity of their causes and approaches is undoubtedly a strength, and it results in a collective effort that unifies AAPI populations from every corner of this nation.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) is a statewide and national network of over 100 Native Hawaiian Organizations.  Founded in 2011, CNHA is also a certified Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) under Department of Treasury guidelines.  In this capacity, it deploys capital and tax credit investments in Hawaiian communities.  Through its “Homestead Self Help Program” CNHA coordinates technical assistance to groups of families to build their homes together, and through its “Homestead Energy Program” CNHA provides ten-year financing and grants to purchase and install residential solar systems and compact fluorescent light bulbs, both of which reduce household expenses and help the environment.

Based in Los Angeles, Korean Churches for Community Development (KCCD) is unique among community development organizations for its faith-based affiliation, but its nature reflects the strong role of churches in the history of the Korean American and Asian community.  KCCD’s mission includes strengthening the resources of Korean and other Asian American faith-based groups by focusing on neighborhood revitalization, and through educational and economic development programs.  Its diverse programs include homeownership counseling, foreclosure prevention classes, small business training, and a fatherhood initiative.

One organization making a difference in the South is the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation.  This group is a Community Development Corporation in New Orleans that has launched the “Viet Village Aquaponics Project,” an effort to redevelop 20 acres of wetlands to a multi-function farm that includes aquaponics (fish farming) as an economic development strategy.

These are just a few profiles of community builders in our AAPI community who, despite their geographic, ethnic, and linguistic differences, share some common threads through their collective action: they empower their local community, they focus on strengthening the assets of both the individual and the community, and they connect their local work with broader social, economic, and environmental justice issues facing our nation.

Hyeok Kim serves as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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