Need for Cross-cultural collaboration

Over the course of history, people of color have been exploited, and oppressed by existing power structures of dominance through institutional as well as systemic racism in this country.

Just recently at work, we released a report that profiles the low-income Asian American communities in Massachusetts. The profile report profiles the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Chinese low-income communities in Massachusetts in the hopes of debunking the crippling effects of the Model Minority Myth. But more precisely, the information collected was aimed at helping community organizations apply for grants with data that overwhelmingly points to inquities within the Asian American Diaspora.

Today we few staffers connected with a community organization representing the Cambodian community in an old textile town in Massachusetts where we presented our report to the Director. Their Cambodian community is one of the largest in the state, yet also represents concentrated poverty channeled through a majority of immigrant first generation families. Despite their growing demographics there exists this one organization to address the needs of not only the ever-growing Cambodian community, but of a burgeoning South East Asian community which has absolutely no one to turn to for help. These community members turn to the $800,000 budget organization to address their very basic needs such as deciphering the ever-elaborate jungle of health benefits, rising real estate and a plethora of other neighborhood concerns. The organization is unable to keep up with maintenance and rising costs of their expansive building and are being forced to sell their business and move to another location. They are increasingly having harder times connecting community members with the important information they need to live day-to-day as they themselves struggle to remain afloat.

Very few Cambodian youth are involved in the organization, and what little help they do have to sustain their organization come from sympathetic white folks who work within the philanthropic or non-profit fields. The director describes the need for his organization, and board to have the “capacity” to develop themselves into community, business-savvy individuals to help with the nuanced relationship their organization, and community share with local municipal government and businesses.

He says due to the severely unstable conditions of the Cambodian government, many of these immigrants, refugees, and asylees had historically preserved their wealth in gold and homeownership. Which currently exemplifies a good number of families’ attitudes toward managing their finances in the U.S. Over the past five years or so he painstakeningly described a scandal that a fellow Cambodian woman carried out scamming millions of dollars from unsuspecting Cambodian families across the U.S.

“We need to have the capacity to teach our community members and those involved in our organization how things work. One-day workshops from outsiders is not the key. We need sustainable cyclical knowledge that is passed down through generations to stabilize our community,” he said.

Many young people of low-income parents and families feel a sense of obligation toward their parents to earn their keep in the family and provide supplemental income. This he says is the reason that many are less privy to the idea of contributing or assisting their own communities once they have “achieved success.”

What really struck me was his optimism, and hope which he says he draws from watching Chinese American organizers and community organizations provide the necessary resources for their communities. He sees their successes as the Cambodian communities potential to succeed. This I see as a really powerful tool that we have as Asian Americans. Especially adoptees, who don’t necessarily identity with working class families. We are all confined by the same limiting racial ideological restraints yet some are learning ways to bypass these restrictions and help themselves. While the term “Asian” or even “Asian American” for that matter remains an arbitrary racial category used to contain and indiscriminately discriminate, this confining racial category can work to mobilize us all. We as transracial adoptees need to understand these issues and advocate for not only the Asian American underprivileged, but the underprivileged people of color and marginalized. Our mariginalization converges upon the same power structures that have been in place since America’s birth. These issues, are ALL our issues.


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