May 22, 2017
In her first proclamation as a Multnomah County Board member, Commissioner Lori Stegmann highlighted the significant contributions of Asians and Pacific American Islanders in Oregon.
The first commissioner elected from the Asian community, Stegmann read the proclamation which declares May 2017 as Asian and Pacific American Islanders’ Month. The proclamation honors the more than 200 years of contributions that Asians and Pacific Islanders have made to Oregon’s history, economy and culture yet stresses the invisibility that Asian Pacific Islanders (API) communities sometimes feel and the ever growing disparities that exist for community members.
“Today, this discrimination is at a high with a national and local spike in hate crimes against our community, especially targeting Muslim, South Asian and Southeast Asian members,” Stegmann read at Thursday’s board meeting. “This proclamation is to highlight joint efforts to eliminate barriers and ensure the success and safety of our thriving Asian and Pacific Islander community in Multnomah County.”
Members of Oregon’s Asian and Pacific American Islanders’ community presented to the board, including Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) and Asian Leaders for Liberation of Youth (ALLY).
Even though Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are among Oregon’s fastest-growing communities, Joe Enlet, a local pastor and Native Pacific Islander, described feeling invisible.
“Asian Pacific Islanders (API) serve as business owners, construction managers, engineers, IT specialists, doctors, teachers, government employees -- the list goes on,” Enlet said.
“But the community voice is often left out of the picture,” he continued, “and feelings of invisibility are increasingly compounded by the feeling of fear over looming uncertainties of federal policies and anti-immigrant sentiments.”
National advocates say anti-foreign sentiments have grown. The spike has prompted the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil and human rights nonprofit, to document reports by launching the first-ever tracker of crimes against Asian-Americans. At a recent APANO public forum, members overwhelmingly identified hate crimes as their biggest concern. But the offenses often go unreported.
Jessica Yu, a senior at Franklin High School, told the board about her first experience with racism. She wasn’t even 10 years old at the time.
Her family approached a rental company for equipment on a crabbing trip. When her mother, a native of Canton, China, noticed the family was being charged extra for life jackets when no one else was, she approached the rental company owner for an explanation.
“When she asked the owner with her broken English, the owner was immediately hostile,” Yu explained. “She told my mother that if she did not speak English then never come back. My mother called the police and I remember sitting in our van as a child, younger than 10, watching the red and blue sirens blare across the parking lot not completely understanding what was happening.”
In high school, Yu learned about her heritage for the first time in school curriculum.
“It should never take 16 years for a student to see someone that looks like them for the first time,” Yu said.
Two years ago, after joining ALLY, the youth division of APANO, she helped launch a campaign to add ethnic studies classes at Portland’s public high schools.
“Having a campaign led by all Asians was something that I never imagined could have happened,” Yu said, “and it is so empowering to be able to control something that is happening in our school for once.”
Speakers commended the civic engagement through culturally-specific organizations that is beginning to take root locally but noted the need for more support in efforts to reduce poverty, create more language access, provide health care, participate in meaningful civic engagement and build more spaces for Asian and Asian Pacific community members to gather.
As the first Asian American and Korean American to serve on Multnomah County’s Board of County Commissioners in its 162 years, Commissioner Stegmann recounted her own experiences with racism.
“Jessica, I felt very much like you. When I was growing up, I felt very invisible and as an adult I never really realized why and much of it has to do with racism. I so appreciate your bravery as a young person to come out and share your story. Because that is the story of a lot of immigrants, so it’s really important that we acknowledge and validate what your family went through. So it is my great honor to sponsor this proclamation.”
In addition to Thursday’s proclamation, Stegmann has been deeply involved in the API community and is frequently a guest speaker and supporter of organizations like APANO, API Forward, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization's (IRCO's) Asian Family Center, Korean American Health Professionals Association’s (KAHPA) Mentorship Program, Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and the Asian Health & Services Center.
“While some want to build walls, those of you here today are building bridges,” Stegmann said. “And your commitment to build a path forward that meets the diverse needs of Asians and Pacific Islanders is something I am incredibly grateful for.”