There are several prevalent organizations active in the Chinatown community aimed at serving Asian Americans: EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care, located at 87 Bowery Street, the Chinese-American Planning Council, headquartered at 150 Elizabeth Street, and OCA Asian American Advocates, stationed at 50 Madison Street. These organizations serve their respective community in various ways, from fighting social injustices, to providing simple translation services, or simply offering recreational classes. Nonetheless, all these organizations are faced with challenges that they must overcome to serve their constituents more effectively.
Peter Chang, is the Community Liaison at EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care. In his role as Community Liaison, Peter educates Asian Americans about the benefits of various health insurance plans, and provides assistance with applications. In his experiences, Peter believes that one of the biggest problems in Chinatown is people’s over dependence on the Chinese/Asian community which in turn, limits their experiences. According to Peter, it is one thing to embrace your culture, but it is another to use those experiences as a barrier. In his own words,
“The biggest problem that I see as a challenge is really the over dependence on the Chinese/Asian Community. I understand preserving and embracing culture, but far too many people do not have an understanding of the areas outside of these neighborhoods. Not only do they hinder their own experiences, but I know that it affects their children as well. It’s hard enough to get past people asking you where are you really from and how come you don’t know where the best Chinese Restaurant is, but people will continue to treat Asian Americans as exotic and places like Chinatown as a tourist destination. I would really want to see Asian Americans become just AMERICAN.”
Ivy-Teng Lei is a board member for OCA, an organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian Pacific Americans. She is heavily involved in events that promote the social, political, and economic well-being of the Asian Community in New York, but she sees one of the greatest struggles in her opinion as the segmentation within the Asian Community. As it turns out, there is friction within the overall Asian community. In order to truly speak the needs of the community, we must first embrace the diversity within the Asian culture and overcome the segmentation barriers, caused as a result of different dialects.
One of the greatest struggles in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community it’s segmentation of different dialect and culture. Although it’s diversity brings richness in our culture, it also creates language barriers for information to be passed from main stream media to another. Aside from ethnic media, changes in our political landscapes and important issues affecting our community, such as immigration reform, are often spread via word-of-mouth.
OCA New York, formerly known as Organization of Chinese Americans, now rebranded as “OCA Asian American Advocates” addresses this issue by working with organizations across different ethnicities. From Southeast Asian organizations to our Latino sister and brothers, we unite basic upon issues rather than culture and ethnics. It is strength of community building and organization that truly speaks the need of immigration reform, healthcare issues and minimum wage.
Emily Gorbach, Summer Youth Employment Program Coordinator from CPC attributes the fault to the fact that Asian American students are overlooked in terms of their social and communication skills. In her years as coordinator for the summer program, she sees many Asian American students excel academically in school, but fall short when it comes to communicating with others and marketing themselves confidently. In an attempt to develop their social communication skills, CPC provides high levels of mentorship and workshops to improve speaking techniques.
In some instances, Asian American students who are high achievers academically are viewed as not requiring services or assistance. Even though these students perform well in school, they may be in need of developing their social and communication skills and confidence. At CPC, we work to create an environment to foster these skills for our young adults. In our programs, we encourage team building and social interaction. We also provide high levels of mentorship. In regards to promoting and celebrating Asian culture, we incorporate identify exploration and culture in our after school program. Through workshops and cultural field trips, we hope that our participants can gain a better understanding of their heritage.
Overcoming these challenges will not be easy, but it is reassuring to know that these organizations are well on their way to improving the state of things for the Asian American community as a whole.