by Kara Carmosino
When I first learned about the API Community Leadership Institute (API-CLI), the eight-month leadership institute led by IRCO Asian Family Center in partnership with APANO, I was compelled to apply from hearing about the opportunities to build connections with other leaders and communities within the Asian and Pacific Islander umbrella. And through participating two years ago, I took away concrete skills, increased confidence, and cohort connections that have lasted.
One of the most powerful parts of my experience, however, and one of the facets I enjoy most now that I help staff the program, was and is how participants get to travel and interact with communities around the state and in other communities of color. Oregon is a state with a complex and painful history of racial exclusion, persecution and discrimination, one that crosses rural communities and urban centers in unique and different ways. As communities of color, we are a growing portion of the population, but make up a much smaller percentage of elected officials. We need to build bridges across communities and regions to truly build power.
So, in addition to learning about each other’s experiences and communities and the long history of Asian and Pacific Islander groups in Oregon, this year’s API-CLI cohort spent their October retreat at Kah-Nee-Ta and heard from Native leaders from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs about their history and traditions. In December, the group visited CAPACES Leadership Institute in Woodburn and learned about their work building social justice leadership in the Oregon farmworker movement through PCUN and partner organizations. In January, we traveled to the Asian & Pacific Cultural Center at Oregon State University to connect with community members in Corvallis and on campus.
Finally, API-CLI is one of six culturally specific BRIDGES programs under the Coalition of Communities of Color, and on February 20, API-CLI joined the second annual convening of all six programs across Latin@, Native, African Immigrant, Black/African American, Slavic and API communities. We gathered in the IRCO gym and spent the day sharing values, stories, culture, visions of leadership, issues and next steps for working together—as well as a lot of time laughing, dancing and eating together.
Watching the cohorts interact and discuss strengths and stories, as well as challenges that our communities face around health access, environmental justice, police brutality, education, employment, housing and running for elected office, I was thinking about what solidarity and deep relationship building looks like, and what true leadership for our communities requires. I am proud to see this program develop leadership not in isolation, but with and alongside other communities of color, and to see the emergence of more leaders in our communities who stand not only for Asians or Pacific Islanders, but also in solidarity with others and with a deep understanding of the systems that create racial inequities.
I look forward to celebrating each one of this year’s API-CLI fellows at their graduation ceremony on Saturday, April 9, from 12:30 – 3:30 PM in the Multnomah County Board Room (501 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland). Please save the date and join us in celebrating these leaders!