Dustin Kelley: Hello, my name is Dustin Kelley and I am one of the librarians at Lewis & Clark College’s Watzek Library. Today is Thursday, December 3, 2020. I am meeting with Duncan Hwang, the Associate Director of APANO, via Zoom. APANO is the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Duncan, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Duncan Hwang: Of course, thanks for having me.
DK: Can you begin by briefly introducing yourself and your role with APANO?
DH: Sure, I am Duncan Hwang. I use he/him/his pronouns. I am the Associate Director at APANO, which means I work mostly all of our various programs and making sure they have their resources and assistance to be successful.
DK: Awesome. How long have you been with APANO?
DH: Seven and a half years.
DK: That is a good run.
DH: It is, yeah.
DK: Can you tell us a little bit about what APANO does and when it began?
DH: Yeah, so we began in the nineties as a volunteer group. I think we were really created to advocate for culturally specific services, which in the nineties did not really exist or were funded. Then we became kind of our own independent organization and I think that was in 2010. So we have officially been running on our own for about ten years. We traditionally do organizing and advocacy for the state's Asian Pacific Islander Community. We also now do arts and culture work, community development, leadership development, and civic engagement. We also have a sister C4 organization, APANO. So we have the APANO Community United Fund which is our C3. Then APANO is our C4 and they do political and lobbying work.
DK: Going back to the very beginning, who were some of the catalysts in founding APANO?
DH: Who, individual-wise?
DH: I think we are kind of in the cycle-- in our nonprofit life cycle––where we have moved beyond the founders in our board of directors. But I would credit folks like Mary Li, Thach Nguyen, Polo Catalini, and a few others. I do not remember all of the names right now.
DK: That is okay, and that is great as an organization when you expand your board of directors to include new voices and increase representation for future generations.
DH: Yeah, it went from like a volunteer working board to now we have the two boards that are doing more oversight and strategic direction and fundraising. Yeah, just a more mature nonprofit, I guess, in most ways.
DK: You mentioned some of the current goals, and the reason for expanding. What were some of the initial motivating factors for the volunteer group at the very beginning?
DH: My understanding was in the nineties there was not really––like the counties, in particular, were not doing culturally specific services well. So there was a big shift to basically move funding from mainstream serving, like social service providers, to kind of the partners that you see now like at IRCO (Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization) or NAYA (Native American Youth and Family Center), those types of organizations, to be able to provide those culturally specific services. That was one of the big catalysts and then there was a whole bunch of racial justice out measures and things like that over time. So I think that was kind of, from my understanding, sort of the initial catalyst folks just felt like Asian Pacific Islanders needed a political and advocacy voice. I think that is what really kind of fueled the growth is the Asian Pacific Islander diaspora is the fastest-growing demographic in the country and in the state of Oregon. So I think we have grown pretty quickly because of that as well. The community has grown. Like when the nonprofit ecosystem that serves our community has not caught up yet. So I think there are still significant gaps in a lot of the service areas that exist. So I think that has been part of our role, is figuring out how to do that. Really kind of advocating for systemic change, which is our core mission. I mentioned some of the strategies, like organizing advocacy and leadership development and community development. The issues that we work on are really focused on housing, access to health care, education, transportation, and general access to civic engagement and democracy.
DK: That is awesome. So I am the project manager for the Vietnamese Portland project in particular. So I am curious––how has APANO been involved in Portland's Vietnamese community specifically?
DH: It is really a supporting role––like the Vietnamese community is one of the largest communities in Oregon. So I would say the deepest engagement has been in the early 2010s with the creation of the Vietnamese Dual Language Immersion program at Portland Public Schools. So that was really kind of a community-lead push. So we were able to help facilitate that with PPS to create I think the nation's second Dual Language Immersion program. It has kind of been rooted historically in education access. I think more recently, we have been working on health care. So we have an organizer working actually on HPV prevention with Oregon Health and Science University. Vietnamese women have one of the highest rates of HPV infection and we are trying to study why that is and a lot of it is cultural stigma. So we are doing a health equity program around that. And then in our community space we just work with Vietnamese folks. We used to do Zumba class in Vietnamese. Stuff like that...
DK: ...events in the Vietnamese language. Is that what you are talking about?
DH: Yeah. I think doing what we can to support the community and I think trying to develop partnerships. So like when we were working on the Oregon Worker Relief Fund in the pandemic. We worked with folks at VNCO (Vietnamese Community of Oregon) to try to get folks enrolled in that. Folks who could not access unemployment or federal stimulus because of their immigration status. So I think a lot of it is doing some stuff on our own and then supporting partnerships or the Vietnamese community-based organizations.
DK: You mentioned the Dual Language Immersion program with Portland Public Schools. What was APANO's role in getting that off the ground?
DH: Yeah, I think our role in advocacy work like this is really about providing and organizing advocacy skill training, then hoping to frame a campaign that is actionable on the bureaucratic level, I would say. So it is like the community wants to see X and then it is like, how do you have those skills to do it? Then, how do you present it in a meaningful way so that the agency, government, or whatever you are trying to move can take that and do something with it. Then open the doors that are like, these are the folks that you need to talk to to get that done. I think there have been a lot of great examples of that work over the years where it is not enough to say, “Oh, we want more affordable housing,” or, “We want a Chinese Dual Language immersion program that’s accessible for our community.” You need to be able to have the process laid out, who to talk to, how to talk to them, what specifically to ask for, and how to do it. Like what school board members and how to do those types of meetings and things like that. It also happens in the state legislature and whatever kind of government decision making areas too.
DK: Was the Vietnamese community on board with APANO from the very beginning, from your understanding? I am curious, for instance, what initial community outreach looked like or was there any resistance to some of APANO’s goals?
DH: Oh sure, yeah. I think with a lot of our communities, it is challenging to operate in a Pan-Asian-American space. Because there are already cultural biases that exist in interior community conflict already. So I think it is just important to try to find as much common ground as possible. So I think almost all of our communities really care about education for their families, access to health care, and things like that. The Asian American community is not a monolith and the Vietnamese community is also not a monolith. But yeah, I think there is a lot that we can agree on in terms of education. But there is a lot we do not agree on, depending on the segment of the community. So it can be a very religious-focused community in certain segments within ours. So a lot of the stances that we take do not resonate yet. I think we come in with an organizer's mentality of like, we want to find common ground and meet folks where they are at and try to move them along towards our progressive values, which do not always work.
Pro-choice for example. Right, we believe in reproductive justice and that is one of our core values. A lot of our community members are not there. Until we quell with that as a concept but I think our role is to have hard conversations around stuff like that. This summer we put out, with the murder of George Floyd––we put out a pretty bold statement about how Black Lives Matter and holding police accountable and things like that. There were certain elements in the community that also did not agree with that. Some folks called us Communist [laughs]. So I think that is a big thing too, is navigating that political divide in the Vietnamese community where a lot of folks are also very anti-Communist. Then a lot of the work that we do can be seen as or be called that. Even though if you wanted to get down to it, defunding the police is very anti-Communist in my opinion. But it is not that space for political debate kind of thing. But yeah, I mean, we do not always agree with everyone and people do not always agree with us. I mean, that is just the way it is and that is fine [laughs].
DK: I think that is reasonable to expect. There are a lot of divisive topics out there.
DH: Sure, yeah.
DK: So I am curious, you mentioned some of APANO's early leaders and I am curious who some of your allies from the Vietnamese community have been over the years. Maybe a few key players long term, and who are some of the key players today?
DH: Yeah, I mean I think early on definitely like Thach Nguyen was a Vietnamese who came over after the war and worked for Multnomah County and community justice and was one of our founders. I think we have always looked to Tuck to be a leader. I am not as-- because I am not in that program with all the older Vietnamese community leaders––I think that is something you could ask some of our other staff about. I think one kind of recent shining example is Khanh Pham, who I worked with at APANO for four or five years. [She] is our manager and organizer and is now elected, so we recruited her to run for the House of Representatives. She is the first Vietnamese woman to be elected to office and the first Asian American in I think fifteen years in the state legislature. So she will be representing the Jade District and our staff who work for her. So yeah, I think that was kind of the political mobility chat we had was, “How do we get our folks to state office?” One of those worked out for us and where we are headquartered, which is a great win. And then Khanh is very familiar with the internal community divide, I think, in the Vietnamese community.
DK: That is awesome.
DH: I do not know if you ever get a chance to talk to her, but that would be helpful.
DK: We have, yes, she interviewed for us about a year ago. We are hoping to speak with her again soon. We are in the works of having follow-up interviews to discuss what it was like to run for office and more of her political goals. So we are excited for that opportunity as well.
DK: You talked a little bit about how APANO has evolved from more of a volunteer organization to one with different advocacy goals. I’m curious how else has it evolved over time in terms of even maybe a physical space. Do you have different locations? How have you seen the organization grow more tangibly?
DH: Yeah, it has grown a lot. I mean, I have been here for about seven and a half to eight years. When I started we had four employees, and we have somewhere in the thirties now––like thirty-two I think, or thirty-five, or around there. So pretty exponential growth, we have three offices now. Two in the Jade District and then one in Beaverton in Washington County. We also own our community event space and offices in the Jade District so we have to develop affordable housing with our partners at ROSE Community Development, the partial owners of that building. So I really think that speaks to our expanded community development work. And then we are doing a lot of service to advocacy-type projects. So we do small business or technical assistance and support, we do rental assistance. Then we do food security. So it has kind of expanded our mission in a lot of ways. But ideally, it feeds into our advocacy goal. One thing this summer that we were proud of in COVID was that a lot of our restaurants were being honestly priced-gouged by Postmates and Grubhub, so we were able to work with our clients to advocate and bring a delivery cap fee for those delivery services. Like there was one Vietnamese restaurant that was paying sixty-percent of their revenues to Grubhub. They showed me a picture and it was like someone bought a noodle dish and some spring rolls, and it was eighteen dollars and like twelve dollars of it went to Grubhub.
DK: That is insane.
DH: That is insane. So now we have a delivery cap fee, that only ten-percent goes to deliveries instead of sixty-percent, sometimes it would be ten percent.
DK: What is it like in terms of assisting in that advocacy work? What does that process look like?
DH: Yeah, I mean we––in the pandemic, we are able to give out like a million dollars now basically in small business grants. Also, provide technical assistance so folks can come to talk to us, we have a business coach. That’s like if you need access to a PPP loan. You know, right now a lot of it’s like, “Do you think I’m going to make it?” [laughs] I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh but like, that’s just what we've come to basically, because of the lack of support for the restaurant industry, I would say, nationally, that like the honest conversations that are happening now. “Unfortunately, is it even worth it for me to continue in my business,” kind of thing.
But this summer, since we are working with these clients, one of the issues we kept hearing about was the delivery cap which was just incredibly extractive, right? Like we are basically taking revenue from immigrant-owned businesses and the money is going to Grubhub shareholders wherever. Prosper Portland had a focus group, so we brought our clients to the focus group, around what they are experiencing. Then we went to our advocacy director Jenny Lee at the time, and worked with the commissioner Eudaly’s office to put the ordinance together and get it passed. So kind of similar to the Vietnamese DLI example. There is that identified community need. We will bring the community members in to tell their story and then work with the right legislative body to do something about it. So that is kind of the model of advocacy that has seen success as like what is the need, let's talk about it, let's create a solution through the policy side and then push it through, and then the city council voted for it unanimously. So I think at the time it passed, and I think it still is, it is the strongest delivery cap fee in the country.
DK: That is fantastic. Do you have any annual or regular events that you look forward to?
DH: We do a lot of events, but COVID has been hard. We have our annual gala fundraiser every May for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Yeah, it got canceled this year because of COVID. We have the East Portland Arts and Literary Fest every fall. So that brings East Portland and creatives around the city to celebrate the arts and literature. So it is a multi-day festival, usually. We have the Jade District night market in August which is our big neighborhood celebrating the event. You know, I think we are active every election cycle with get-out-the-vote work. So that is often two to four times a year sometimes, depending on how many elections there are, and all the special elections that we might want to work on. So it runs the gamut from the school board to governor. What else? We also have a Day of Action in the state capital most years, depending on the lead session that’s happening. Yeah, I would say votes are the big annual event that we do every year.
DK: Do you have any organizational allies-- I know you’ve spoken some to this––or other organizations that you partner with significantly?
DH: Oh yeah, we have a coalition tables list. Then we classify each coalition by the level of commitment and involvement that we have in it. So it is like we have a convener and leading it, versus we have just signed on to the coalition, and everything in between. So it is set by tiers. I think we have sixty coalitions we are a part of. So that is down a little from the eighties. We had a couple of years where we tried to streamline that a bit. So yeah, we do a lot of work in coalition. You know, I think we work with a lot of the same folks consistently, which is unsurprisingly the community-based organizations in whatever kind of issue area we’re in. So we work a lot with NAYA and Urban Leagues, Verdes, Latino Networks, and Houses of the World on a lot of different things.
DK: We have both talked a little bit about 2020 and some of the impacts it has had––I am curious for you and your colleagues what 2020 has looked like on a professional level.
DH: Yeah, I mean it has been really challenging. I would say we have had dual crises that we addressed for better or worse in different ways. So first obviously is the pandemic. The pandemic hit our community earlier than most. So our small business clients were reporting losses from January basically, because of xenophobia and fear. So like fear within our community because all the folks that worked with or heard about COVID from folks back home and that’s all that they were hearing about basically. So they did not want to go out. Then folks here did not really want to go to Asian-American-owned restaurants because they were afraid. The national rhetoric around the China Virus or the Kung Flu or whatever did not help that. So yeah, we were losing revenues earlier on.
Then in March, when the governors came out, we basically had to shut down a lot of our programs because they were so––like we used to do a Zumba class and we used to do an art class and we could not do that anymore. But then we have really shifted a lot of work to basically advocacy for what our community needs. So the Oregon Worker Relief Fund for those who are undocumented, like housing eviction moratoriums, delivery fee caps. So those are all kind of informed by our community work and shifting a lot more to direct service type work. So like food security, rental assistance, small business grants. Like we have an Impacted Workers Fund that we did the big crowdfunding for. Then we did the distribution of PPE and sharing pandemic related public health information in languages so our communities can have access to that information. So that’s been a big chunk of work. Yeah, I mean it has been––because of the federal stimulus––there has been a lot more resources flowing through so we have been able to engage with folks that we often don't engage with, like folks that are undocumented. So I think it has impacted the organization a lot. I mean, all of our office spaces are also closed. Then I think the other big crisis was the racial justice movement with the summer protests and even figuring out our role in that movement has always been something we think a lot about.
DK: You mentioned distributing PPE. How were you able to be a player in that process?
DH: So early in the pandemic when masks were rare, one of our Chinese organizers collected money and ordered, I think, tens of thousands of masks from China. We just gave them out to frontline workers and hospital workers and TriMet bus drivers.
DK: That is significant.
DH: Yeah, we collected a lot of money and handed a lot of masks out. I don’t know what it is about the supply chain, but you can basically order them on Chinese eBay but people in the United States could not do it. There was just this weird supply. Like my dad sent me boxes of masks basically that he just ordered off of Chinese eBay. Like I got like a couple of hundred N95s when no one else had them. Just because we ordered them online. So anyway, it was very bizarre in my opinion why that was.
DH: But yeah, we were distributing a lot, and then as the stimulus came on the city and county was able to bulk buy a lot of PPE that then we distributed to our clients. So the community event space became more of a mini-warehouse.
DK: That is great you are able to shift in that direction to meet community needs, that is awesome.
DK: So what are some of APANO’s future goals? Some long-term things that are on your radar?
DH: In midterm we have our 2021 long session so I think that is going to be big. A lot of it is going to be pandemic-focused, and how to respond to that. I think stepping into more of our statewide mission is also on top of our minds. So I think just right before the pandemic, we opened the Washington County office. So a significant community of our folks, including the Vietnamese community, lives in Washington County. So expanding more from our home in East Portland to the Beaverton-Hillsboro area. You know, I think we worked on one construction project and found it interesting. But I think the longer-term thing that we need to figure out is how to meet the needs of our broader API community both state-wide and also in terms of programmatic support.
Like, if you look at our peer cities in Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, or wherever––any major city with a substantial Asian American community––their nonprofit ecosystem is substantially more developed. So like in Seattle, in the International District, there are two community development corporations that are serving Native Americans that are building housing. Chinatown CDC in San Francisco basically owns Chinatown. So we do not have that here. We do not have a housing and real-estate development group. We do not have a financial institution. We have a health clinic, we have social services. But we do not have workforce development. We do not have workforce navigation, financial literacy, homeownership programs. Those programs do not exist for our community really here in Oregon. So as the community continues to grow, those gaps exist. How are we going to meet those needs in the next ten to twenty years? So I do not think we will be able to do all of it. But it is like build the right partnerships or having a conversation about spinning off part of our community development work to be its own entity. I think that in a lot of ways it is not ideal to do the building, construction, and implementing, and the advocacy in one shop because the timelines are different and the goals are different and sometimes there are conflicts. So to have a clearer role, clarity, it is sometimes better to spin-off. It is also really difficult to manage multiple organizations and make sure they are funded and things like that. What we are thinking about is there is a lot of need and the pandemic has shown that to be painfully clear of like our support systems are not there yet, here in Portland and in Oregon.
DK: If someone is listening to this interview who has not had any involvement or maybe just limited involvement with APANO, how would you suggest they learn more or get involved?
DH: We have our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, our website––that is probably the easiest way. They can reach out and talk to one of our organizers, reach out in language. They can also, if they are experiencing food insecurities or something like that, they can also reach out and talk to someone. So I think there are a lot of different avenues. We have a COVID resource hub on our websites and it is in multiple languages. So they can look through those.
DK: I should add too––another service APANO has helped us with our Vietnamese Portland project is helping us do some of the interviews in Vietnamese. You have been a great teammate in helping us increase the depth of this project. So we are really grateful to be a teammate with you as well.
DH: Yeah, for sure.
DK: So hopefully any listeners, if you have not participated and language may have been a factor, reach out to us or APANO we will get you hooked up so you can participate as well. So we are coming toward the end of this interview, and I’m curious if you have any memorable experiences or favorite memories of your time with APANO that you would like to share with us.
DH: Yeah, I mean, there has been a lot and it has just been really meaningful to do this community-based work from an immigrant family myself. Yeah, I think it is really about a community––like I think the night markets are always super joyous events for many because it’s the largest street event in Portland where it’s majority folks of color. For me personally, working on the real-estate developments in the Jade District and the Orchards project. Like I spent five years on that so the grand opening of it was very memorable for me. Yeah, just being able to celebrate some of our wins in the policy world and the electoral world, they are all very meaningful as well. Yeah, I mean, we also lose a lot. But you know, I think those losses––now that I have seen a bunch of election cycles––I know that they add up over time. Like even as you are losing a specific ballot measure or something, it means you are in a better position to try again in the future.
So an example of that is my first day at the job, the governor––this was probably May 2013––the governor signed the drivers license bill, so undocumented folks could get driver licenses. It was referred to the ballot and we lost at the ballot so it was basically repealed. But then we were able to bring it back and now undocumented folks could get driver licenses a couple of years later. But I think there has been a lot of organizing that our partners, especially Causa and several organizations have done over the last five, six years where immigrant rights are taken more seriously across the state to go from losing at the state to winning. I think it took a lot of work over the years. So yeah, I think there is a lot of hopeful moments around how that work continues and how the narratives are being built.
DK: Lastly, is there anything we have not asked you about today that you would like to discuss or anything you would hope to come up?
DH: I do not think so, I think it is pretty comprehensive.
DK: Alright, well that concludes our interview. Again, my name is Dustin Kelley, I have been interviewing with Duncan Hwang from APANO. We are just so glad you took the time to chat with us today and thank you again.
DH: Sure thing, yeah, thanks for reaching out.