May 11, 2015


by Teresa Nguyen
2014-2015 graduate of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Institute

My mother made an observation on my brother’s birthday about all of her children. She said all three of us have a tendency to be nervous and uncertain when sharing vulnerable things about our hopes and dreams openly, as though we’re afraid we’ll be rejected. She said that she wasn’t sure where any of us got that behavior, but to know that if we decide to speak, we will be heard.

I’ve been carrying that with me since October 2014, after I began my very first fellowship through the API-CLI program. It’s been a challenge for years to speak openly about issues I personally felt deserved a platform from which to be seen, and it’s been even more challenging to find ways to hold space for my many intersecting identities that I’ve been carrying with me my whole life. Each layer presents itself in a new way the more deeply I dig into my critical analysis, which adds even further to the nuances of being a genderqueer Vietnamese-American here in Portland, OR.

In many ways you could say I joined API-CLI to figure myself out. Yet at the same time it was still challenging to reconcile things internally because growing up I experienced huge waves of cultural and generational diaspora from my Vietnamese heritage, since I was the first bi-racial child born into my Vietnamese immigrant Catholic family.

Instead of feeling cut off from knowing who I was personally, I had to find out how I could lead and understand how to make spaces for folks who felt the same way I did. Joining API-CLI was a way to find voices that sounded like mine. Joining with this fellowship helped me dismantle internalized biases for what activism “should” look like, and that every lens brought to the table to look through had something valuable to offer in terms of creating camaraderie, re-emphasizing the power of family, and making room for folks most of us would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet.

What I found after the fellowship was a newfound community from which to draw inspiration from, and a chance to celebrate being a newly out and proud radical activist with a few like minded grassroots driven individuals. It was a chance to find a safe space to ask questions and build language I had only used in passing but witnessed being delivered from various colleagues in the Organizing field with a fiery passion. And by utilizing the learning model of Public Education, I contributed what I knew to the discussions and built upward with others’ existing knowledge.

I told myself this was going to be the year that I would engage more in my social justice roots, and move forward as part of the next generation to advocating for equal rights for the communities I represent and the communities I stand in solidarity with. I hope to continue this journey for as long as I can, and help create leadership opportunities to pass on to the next person.

The API Community Leadership Institute, led by IRCO/Asian Family Center in partnership with APANO, is one of six culturally specific leadership programs funded by the Meyer Memorial Trust through the Coalition of Communities of Color. Applications for the 2015-2016 cohort of the API Community Leadership Institute will be released soon. Please contact Kara Carmosino at to be notified when applications are public!

Read more stories from AAPI Heritage Month here.