Building Power and Celebrating Resilience: Reflections on AAPI Heritage Month

May 19, 2023 By Mariko Silver, President and CEO
Building Power and Celebrating Resilience: Reflections on AAPI Heritage Month
Henry Luce Foundation President and CEO Mariko Silver (center), veteran journalist and civil rights activist Helen Zia (left) and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen (right) in conversation with other AAPI thought leaders and funders at the Association for Asian American Studies Annual Conference in Long Beach, CA on April 7, 2023. Photo by Joel Juarez, Studio To Be

Two years ago, the Henry Luce Foundation launched a new Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) portfolio. This decision was both a response to the moment, which included a dramatic rise in anti-Asian sentiment and violence in the United States, and a natural extension of the organization’s longstanding relationship with Asia. Recognizing the limitations of the AAPI framework, we pay particular attention to include diverse perspectives, understand intra-community disparities, uplift marginalized subgroups, and engage in respectful dialogue.

From its founding in 1936, the Henry Luce Foundation has sought to cultivate academic, policy, and cultural exchanges between the United States and Asia. It has also attended to the migration of people from Asia to the U.S., the well-being of Asian-descent communities, and the connections between this diaspora, Asia, and the Pacific. The launch of this more formal effort in 2021 enables us to engage with and expand support for AAPI communities and organizations through a proactive and concerted approach across different programs.  

To this end, we have identified four broad goals:   

1. Building Knowledge Infrastructure

A priority at the Foundation has been helping to build a knowledge infrastructure for the field. We support community-engaged research and training to produce and disseminate more nuanced information about AAPIs. Access to knowledge, broadly defined to include demographic, economic, and public opinion data as well as personal histories, is foundational to understanding the complexity and diversity of AAPIs, advancing equity, and elevating marginalized voices and needs.   

Through our grant to the University of California, Santa Cruz for the Okinawa Memories Initiative Archival Project, we learned about Haruo Yamashiro, a long-time landscaper for the city of Gardena, CA, and helped bring to life through oral history work the stories behind the 15,000 images Yamashiro and his children took since the late 1970s for the local Okinawan community.  

We also supported the launch of the Lao American Archive at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Historical Society — the first national repository for its kind — to preserve the papers of people like Khamchong Luangpraseut, who fled after the Royal Lao Government fell in 1975. In the U.S., he became a prominent public intellectual and worked as a multilingual education specialist in California, producing educational materials for Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Hmong American immigrants. 

While these archival projects help preserve individual stories for posterity, we also recognize the critical importance of data collection and analysis in crafting public policies that affect AAPI groups. AAPI Data built a national consortium of applied researchers and policy staff in academia, government, and the nonprofit sector to improve our understanding of AAPI communities by producing and disseminating timely and impactful research. With support from Luce and other funders including The Asian American Foundation and Coulter Foundation, the Pew Research Center recently completed its largest probability-based national survey of 7,006 Asian Americans and pre- and post-survey focus groups, advancing our understanding of diverse cultures, attitudes, and experiences.

2. Cultivating New Leaders

Lack of representation still disadvantages AAPI communities on many fronts. The Foundation supports next-generation leaders and experts, helps elevate their voices in public discourse, and advocates for their central role in scholarship and policymaking. 

Recognizing the incredible work of many trailblazers, especially women, we continue to invest in young leaders and experts to ensure AAPI voices are included in important conversations. For the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum, whose work focuses on policy research, dialogue, and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the inclusion of AAPI Young Leaders is essential to building cross-cultural understanding and networks.   

Young AAPIs are represented among our Luce Scholars where they expand their exposure to and experience with Asia, a dynamic region critical to America’s future. Joining our 2023-2024 Luce Scholars cohort are Ibby Han, a multiracial Chinese American community organizer who trains and empowers young people to address structural injustice in their community; Quinton Hayre, born and raised in a family including both Greek Orthodox and Sikh faiths, with a passion for global public health; Edward Tran, a senior computer science major seeking to leverage his knowledge in health and technology to improve healthcare for immigrants and other marginalized communities; and Caroline Yuk, dedicated to increasing access to and perspective on medicine for the deaf. 

3. Harnessing Narrative Power 

In uplifting and amplifying AAPI voices, we support work focused on public education and media intended to shift the public perception of AAPIs and increase awareness of the humanity, diversity, complexity, and accomplishments of this group. We believe a better understanding of both the shared histories and unique experiences of AAPI individuals and communities will help counter prevailing stereotypes and distorted perceptions that contribute to exclusion and violence. 

During the pandemic, the Asian Pacific American Religions Research Initiative (APARRI), in collaboration with the Asian American Research Initiative, interviewed elders and religious leaders in the U.S. about their experiences of anti-Asian racism. Their voices, featured in the Luce-funded Transformative Hope project, documented how Asian Americans helped to sustain their respective communities throughout this difficult time, enriching our understanding of religious (and generational) diversity. 

Sharing Self Evident’s belief that everyone has stories worth telling, the Foundation supported its pilot project to develop a scalable, public-facing program for documenting, teaching, and sharing oral histories to amplify Asian American stories and voices.  

This upcoming November, our grantee John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, will open the core exhibition of Cloth as Land: HMong Indigeneity, to showcase artwork made by HMong women in refugee camps in the 1970s. Their story cloths illustrate their experiences of war and displacement, the beginning of their diaspora journeys, and the deep longing for teb chaws—earth, country, and land. The exhibit will also celebrate many contemporary Hmong American artists, whose work connects the past and present of Hmong identity to ensure its presence within American society. 

4. Building Movements 

As a complement to our grantmaking, we also support and host convenings to help facilitate and fortify networks. Ongoing conversations with and among AAPI thought leaders from the worlds of philanthropy, academia, media, policy, and community organizing have been essential to creating a shared sense of purpose and urgency. 

At the Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication in Detroit last year, we were reminded of how the struggle to win justice for Vincent Chin sparked the modern Asian American Civil Rights movement and fueled a multiracial, multicultural coalition. The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide produced in conjunction with the event will continue to inspire us along the journey of uniting communities of color and strengthening democracy. This past May, a Luce representative attended the official launch of the Vincent Chin Institute in Washington D.C., to participate in a press briefing on Capitol Hill and a convening of national thought leaders. The Institute is dedicated to mobilizing a multi-generational network of community leaders to address anti-Asian sentiment through education and resource-building. 

In the same spirit, we participated in an uplifting gathering, Power in Solidary, co-hosted by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and Native Americans in Philanthropy last June in Seattle to celebrate the essential role of AAPI peoples and cultures in the sector and to strategize on how to best build capacity for our communities.  

This past February, we joined our grantee partner, the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), in gathering national thought leaders and local Asian American organizations in Washington, D.C. to discuss how narratives can help build movements and catalyze civic engagement. At this convening, veteran journalist and civil rights activist Helen Zia underscored the importance of networks to building narrative power. “To make real narrative change, we will [need] cooperation, collaboration, discussion with groups from all over the country,” she said. 

It is exactly this intersection of narrative and coalition-building work the Foundation supports through its Democracy, Ethics, and Public Trust (DEPT) Initiative: groups such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Narrative Initiative, and AAPI Civic Engagement Fund are at the forefront of helping AAPI communities drive policy change through innovative storytelling and message amplification. 

Recognizing that many organizations, especially grassroots and direct-service entities, often rely on partnerships to effectively carry out their work, the Foundation also provided grants to foster deeper collaboration and resource-sharing. In October 2022, we asked the DEPT cohort to nominate allied organizations and selected groups like the Asian Prisoner Support Committee to buttress their partnership networks. 

The Way Forward

These efforts to highlight the rich diversity of AAPI identities and experiences across a range of program areas reflect the Foundation’s belief in knowledge as a powerful facilitator of meaningful change. Our new mission, vision, and values statements explicitly recognize the paramount importance of enabling diverse people and communities to determine their own best futures while working together in pursuit of shared understanding. To this end, we remain committed to working closely and collaboratively with our grantee partners and other peer funders to forge multiple pathways toward a shared future. 

Authored by:

Mariko Silver
President and CEO: Mariko Silver

Dr. Mariko Silver is the president and CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation. She was previously the president of Bennington College. During the Obama administration, she served for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as Acting Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Policy. Dr. Silver also served for Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as the Policy Advisor for Economic Development, Innovation, and Higher Education. Prior to her government service, Dr. Silver was instrumental in the transformation and expansion of Arizona State University, leading teams in economic development policy and metrics, science, technology and innovation policy, state K-12 and higher education policy, sustainability science, and global health. Dr. Silver is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds a Ph.D. in Economic Geography from UCLA; MSc, Science and Technology Policy from SPRU, University of Sussex (UK) and B.A., History from Yale University.


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