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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts


Members and supporters of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) are seen at a gathering of the organization. APANO reaches out to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to improve the lives of children and families by helping change public policy. (Photo courtesy of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon)

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #8 (April 18, 2016), pages 6 & 7.

New ĎVoices of Changeí

Iíve spent the bulk of my career in public radio and nonprofit theatre, so I can personally attest to the difficulty of bringing varied Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities together to listen to programs or attend performances. When I produce a Chinese or Japanese stage play, some AAPI groups do not connect with it. If an event focuses on the Hawaiíian or Tongan community, Asian Americans rarely turn out. It has been frustrating figuring out how to bring together pan-AAPI communities to support each other, whether itís a film, radio documentary, or stage play.

One group that seems to be able to bring together many of Oregonís diverse ethnic groups is APANO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. APANO began in 1996 under the leadership of Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons with the support of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization; in 2010, APANO acquired its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. According to Santos-Lyons, the main focus of the group is to improve the lives of children and families by helping change public policy. He said heís particularly proud of the groupís efforts to secure healthcare access for "immigrants and low-wage workers, and statewide legislation to improve K-12 English Language Learner (ELL) programs for our kids."

When APANO moved its office from the Leftbank to the Jade District on S.E. 82nd Avenue in Portland, the organization grew not only in staff size, but gained a presence in the neighborhood to address displacement and social-justice issues. It also drew the attention of young people who participated in arts and media events as well as leadership-development programs.

Santos-Lyons, however, said APANO isnít known only in Portland. The organization brought notice outside of Oregon with its "Oregon Motor Voter" and "Vietnamese Dual Language Immersion" campaign wins last year, which he said were "big milestones in the organizationís history."

APANO has successfully gathered pan-AAPI communities. The groupís staff and volunteers, along with the audiences at its arts and outreach events, tend to be diverse and bring together many ethnicities and cultures. This includes a great many young community activists and leaders.

One of APANOís predominantly young staffers is community-engagement manager Luann Algoso. She started as an APANO intern while completing her graduate program in conflict resolution at Portland State University. Algoso organized the first female Asian and Pacific Islander standup comedy show in Portland in collaboration with Dis/orient/ed Comedy. Shortly after that event, she was hired as a part-time communications associate and worked on a story-collection project focused on health equity.

Similar to many people on APANOís staff, Algoso always wanted to work in social justice and loves being able to work with and for AAPI communities in Oregon. When she moved from Anaheim, California, she recognized that Portland "wasnít a very racially diverse city." She said APANO was the first organization her classmates "highly recommended." Now she manages its communications as well as some fundraising, arts, and culture programs.

Algoso also organizes arts and media community events held in the groupís temporary event space ó JAMS ó also known as the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space. It is located in the former Banner Furniture Outlet building at the intersection of S.E. 82nd Avenue and Division Street. The space will soon be filled with attendees of APANOís annual "Voices of Change" Asian Heritage Month celebration and fundraiser, at which the organization honors youth who have, according to Algoso, "demonstrated leadership in their community." The group also bestows the "Minoru Yasui Voices of Change" award (named in honor of the Oregon attorney who challenged the constitutionality of a curfew on Japanese Americans in Portland at the beginning of World War II) to recognize an Oregonian who has promoted civil liberties throughout their lifetime.

As a longtime southeast Portland resident, I can attest to the impact APANOís presence in the Jade District has had in the neighborhood. Their JADE/Midway Placemaking arts residencies and events have created an invigorated focus on gentrification and displacement issues in the area. Algoso said the JAMS space will eventually be developed and may retain some of the community space on the ground floor with potentially 40 to 60 units of affordable housing above. Thatís big news for an area without much permanent affordable housing. Algoso thinks it will take at least 18 months before financing is set up for the project. In the meantime, JAMS will continue as a community event space.

"We believe this would be a win for a community facing gentrification pressures," said Algoso, who believes the potential new development will "address a number of neighborhood concerns."

I find inspiration in the youthful energy at APANO, not only in its staff, but with how they offer opportunities for youth and community members to become leaders. This gives me hope for a better Portland and a way for pan-AAPI communities to have a voice in making decisions about issues such as health equity and livability.

The 2016 "Voices of Change" celebration and fundraiser is scheduled for Friday, May 6 from 6:00 to 9:30pm at the JAMS space. This yearís keynote speaker is Miya Yoshitani, executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network based in Oakland, California. The admission cost is $50 per person ($25 per person for APANO members). To learn more, or to buy tickets, call (971) 340-4861, e-mail <info@apano.org>, or visit <www.apano.org>.

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