Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and a Conversation With CEO Kathy Park
May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The term AAPI is generally used and includes all people of Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander descent.
May 7, 1843, marks the first arrival of Japanese immigrants to the United States, and May 10, 1869, recognizes completion of the first US transcontinental railroad, to which Chinese workers contributed significantly. This fundamental development cut travel time across the United States from months to less than a week. It also came at a huge cost to the AAPI community in the form of long hours, low pay, and other brutal working conditions.
US history has not been pleasant for the AAPI community, which has stood up against discrimination and anti-Asian hate crimes while advocating for civil rights. We celebrate our Asian community for breaking down barriers, building up businesses, gracing us with their culture, and serving a country that in return has not always reciprocated.
Evident Change stands in solidarity with our Asian American and Pacific Islander community and invites everyone to stay abreast of the latest news and ways to continue to provide support via https://stopaapihate.org/.
Spotlight on Kathy Park
As we observe AAPI Heritage Month we would like to celebrate Evident Change’s own CEO, Kathy Park. Kathy is the organization’s first leader of color. She joined Evident Change in 2000, sharing her passion and expertise in roles from researcher to assistant director before becoming chief executive officer in 2015.
When you think about your career and the many changes you have contributed to, what are you the proudest of?
One of the things I’m most proud of is the resolve and intentionality that people within Evident Change are bringing to our racial equity values. Our mission of promoting just and equitable systems requires us to examine our own practices, policies, and norms that explicitly or implicitly perpetuate disparate outcomes for people of color. At Evident Change, we are committed to creating an inclusive and more equitable workplace culture. We aim to center the experiences of staff who share identity with communities historically underrepresented in our organization and overrepresented in the systems we work with.
I’ve learned so much since initiating and leading this change process. When I took the first step in 2018 by introducing an explicit racial equity value to anchor our strategic plan, I couldn’t have imagined the breadth of the challenges that would arise or the depth of rewards we would experience. I’m proud of overcoming the burden that perfectionism imposed on my capacity to advance this work—quite honestly, it held me back for a long time. The fear of not “getting it right” felt paralyzing at times.
It was liberating when I finally realized that equity and inclusion work is a continuous process rather than an idealized, static future state. I was able to embrace the reality that, like all journeys in life, this work will take us down some paths already cleared by people before us, some dead ends where we need to blaze new trails, some perilous terrain, and some incredible moments of beauty and appreciation. We’ll have to be resourceful, creative, and vigilant. We’ll need to support our colleagues who are struggling and be mindful of our own needs for self-care. How we navigate the landscape and support one another along the way is part of the work.
Doing this type of work requires an awareness that we didn’t get here overnight, and we won’t change things overnight. The structures, policies, practices, and norms that exist have arisen from a 115-year organizational history, and will take time to shift. That said, I’m really pleased about the progress we’ve made together over the last few years.
What is one thing that is “working” that you hope continues to uplift the AAPI community? What is one thing you hope will change for the betterment of the community?
Since the 2019 onset of the COVID pandemic in the United States, the country has witnessed a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, including a recent shooting in Dallas that injured three Korean women and the mass shooting that took place last March in Atlanta, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. From March 2020 to June 2021 alone, more than 9,000 reports of violence against Asian people were attributed to race-based motivations. At the same time, we witnessed an outpouring of support across the country from people getting behind calls to #StopAsianHate.
However, interwoven in the narrative perpetuated through social media and various news outlets is the perception that the majority of those perpetrating these acts of violence against Asians are Black. The reality is that the vast majority of perpetrators of anti-Asian hate crimes are white. The false narratives that continually inundate us act as insidious forces that create divisions within BIPOC communities. These false narratives, at their core, are a strategy of white supremacy culture.
This AAPI Heritage Month, my hope for the AAPI community is to continue actively creating opportunities to build, strengthen, and express allyship with all BIPOC communities, and to be ever vigilant about the ways race-based hate seeks to divide and weaken collective power and identity. Our safety, health, and well-being as a community rest on the safety, health, and well-being of all BIPOC communities.