15 Nov The challenge for Asian community organizations: Will the same old banquets grab the next generation of AAPI leaders?
Erin and I attend a lot of banquets. That’s what happens when you’re involved in the local Asian community. I don’t know what it’s like in places like LA or San Francisco, where there are a lot more Asian Americans and a lot more organizations, but there are something 30 Asian community groups in the Denver area, and we end up at banquets, fundraisers and events all year round for a handful of them. Many of the dinners are held at Palace restaurant, the spacious eatery owned by Johnny Hsu, who supports the community and welcomes their members.
That’s where we found ourselves last night, attending the 12th Anniversary Celebration dinner of the Chinese American Council of Colorado. It’s an umbrella organization of Chinese community groups that serves as a funnel between the community and the larger Asian American community, and offers services as varied as free income tax filing, health fairs, and volunteers at the annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival.
The food at Palace was great, as usual: an eight-course feast that included Xi Hu Beef Soup, Wok Fried Pepper Shrimp, Whole Fish with Salt Ginger Chef Sauce, Nan King Pork Loin and Golden Fried Chicken.
The evening ran long, but it was worthwhile to see the unity in the Chinese community, which is not always so united. One reason may have been the Lifetime Service Award, which was given to Nai-Li Yee, who helped found the Colorado Chinese Language School in 1974, and has been involved in the AAPI community ever since, and is universally respected.
The spirit of unity last night could also have been because of the keynote speaker, Colorado’s First Lady Jeannie Ritter, who gave a somewhat rambling but customized (not pre-canned) speech on volunteerism.
Lee deserved the kudos, so it was nice to see the community’s support for her (a bunch of former language students even showed up as a surprise and gave her flowers, photo above). She embodies the spirit of volunteerism.
Ritter’s talk touched on a topic that got me thinking about the future of the non-profit organizations that serve as the backbone of the AAPI community. They’re all run by a core group of volunteers who tend to e older, and who’ve put their sweat and energy into these groups for decades. Ritter pointed out, correctly, that though the CACC does great and important work, it’s time for its leadership to think about nurturing the next generation of leaders and hand off the organization — even if they don’t agree with how it might be run in the future.
This is an important issue, and a transition that’s starting to happen in just a precious few groups.
The Mile-Hi chapter of the JACL has a young leadership now, and the group of Nisei who ran the chapter for years are less visible (the JACL’s challenge is for the young leaders to find ways to keep the knowledge and experience of the elders on hand instead of chasing them out entirely). The OCA’s Colorado chapter is also led by young leaders, but like JACL, is in a period of transition. The FACC, the Filipino American Community of Colorado, has a constant flow of young members active in the organization, which is great, because families are so strong in the Filipino community.
The Colorado chapter of NAAAP (National Association of Asian American Professionals, a real mouthful) is alive with young members, and it shows: Their events are well-attended and abuzz with a different spirit than the coat-and-tie banquets at the Palace, even if the event is after-work and the members are wearing office attire. After their monthly events, a dozen members or more go to nearby restaurants to eat and drink and continue their pan-Asian networking. I can’t see that happening after many other Asian community groups’ meetings.
The other groups feel older, even if they include younger members and volunteers. Maybe it’s simply the formality of fundraising dinners, which seem so… old-fashioned. Maybe we should all study Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, which drew an army of young volunteers, and was able to raise scads of money over the Internet.
As technology evolves, non-profit groups should evolve so we can serve our communities better. Social networking allows us to be connected virtually, and build communities of passionate stakeholders who are wired to each other, and to their other networks.
Don’t get me wrong — dinners are great. As anyone knows, I love food. In fact, I was upset last night when we got to Palace and I discovered I’d left my cellphone at home, because it meant I couldn’t post Twitter updates (“twEATs”) about every course.
The Denver Asian America Journalists Association group, for which I serve as president, will continue to meet every month at various Asian restaurants around town, just because, well, you know, it’s so sociable to meet and gossip over pho, dumplings, dim sum or Korean food. At our last event, we even had Rock Band set up at Bam Bu, a great little pan-Asian restaurant, and we had a blast AND did some serious networking.
We just don’t require coats and ties — that’s just much too adult.