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By Anna Dellit

Summer 2023

I am currently studying abroad in Vietnam, reflecting on what I was looking for out of this summer experience, and asking the exact same question about coming here. If I had to summarize my thought process accepting a spot as a Seeding Change Fellow I would say that I wanted to find my community, to understand what Asian American community organizing looks like, and build a network of like minded students. Seeding Change is an organization designed to foster young Asian American community leaders dedicated to building power within working-class Asian immigrant and refugee communities by pairing each fellow with a host site located across the country. Beyond the placement, Seeding Change facilitates opening and closing retreats in the Bay Area and weekly community calls to discuss our placements and experiences in the organizing field.
The opening orientation in June was overwhelming in the best possible way. I was thrown into organizing with a group of young leaders, half of which had been in the field or with their organization for up to 2-3 years already. I went in thinking everyone was still in undergrad, figuring out what their future looked like, and new to organizing. I was pleasantly surprised at how Seeding Change brought in people who are familiar with organizing, but still were seeking a wider network. This aspect really contributed to my learning experience. I made some amazing friends and big sisters within the group that have continued to guide me even in Vietnam. At the same time, the retreat made me feel insanely insecure for not having a centralized cultural community. I heard reflections of a fellow fighting against the construction of the new potential 76ers arena straight through Philadalphia’s Chinatown where he played as a kid and knew everyone who would be directly impacted. Or about the experience of creating resources for the Hmong community throughout the Bay Area and Fresno, in language, and surrounded by childhood mentors. I had felt like an imposter before when claiming my Vietnamese identity because of not speaking the language or being perceived as white, but this felt different. It put so much internal pressure to make something out of this summer and to find what I was missing.
While there were a plethora of options to apply to and request to be placed at, I only asked to be placed at APANO, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, with a specific goal in mind. APANO is based out of my hometown, Portland, Oregon. I am ashamed to say before this summer I knew very little about the history and realities of the Asian American community in Portland. Living in the suburbs of Portland and attending a predominantly white Catholic high school, I considered myself without a cultural community. I thought this was my opportunity to find the community I was seeking. The pressure from the opening retreat only further ignited this desire for community.

APANO moved to virtual work during the pandemic and has made the decision to stay virtual for accessibility reasons, which I think are completely valid. Many of the employees don’t have childcare for their young children and need the option to work from home especially in the summer when school’s out. It is also more convenient for those who transportation is an issue for or those who still don’t feel comfortable gathering indoors. Selfishly for my summer experience, virtual work created unexpected obstacles in my pursuit of feeling connected and building a community in Portland.

That all being said, I greatly value my time at APANO. In Northwestern classrooms, I’ve conceptualized about liberatory societies, work culture, and personal healing in a very theoretical framework. APANO really put that into tangible action. I witnessed employees being able to take weeks off for mental health checks, to bring their kids to work without judgment, to check in constantly and show care. It was a great work environment with very compassionate and dedicated co-workers who happened to be separated by screens.

At APANO I was placed specifically in the Policy, Political, Advocacy, and Civic Engagement (PPACE) team. We were preparing a deep canvassing campaign throughout the Jade District to introduce APANO to our community members and to gauge how people felt about voting in the upcoming local and national elections as well as what needs they would like to see met. On the PPACE team I developed skills necessary for good community leadership. My leadership journey started in the first five minutes of the fellowship placement at a third party training with REPOWER with all of my coworkers. Not only was I able to meet my coworkers in person, in an informal and educational environment, I was also able to build connections with leaders in Black empowerment, anti-gun violence, and accessible transportation movements across Oregon. REPOWER training helped me understand what horizontal leadership means and how to apply it to our collective and individual approach to the work. I took extensive and enthusiastic notes for not only my work at APANO, but for my leadership positions at Northwestern student orgs in order to prevent burnout and make the work more sustainable.
In preparing for canvassing and compiling an informational resource about AAPI official elected officials in Oregon, I invested my own personal stake in the work to hold myself accountable to each project. Canvassing and organizing for monthly member meetings I began to understand some of the major challenges within the Asian American community and within non-profit work. Asian American itself is such a broad, unspecific, and generalizing term to encompass a diverse array of experiences, not to mention adding Pacific Islander to the equation. One question raised in the closing Seeding Change retreat was how to explain and encourage an
abolitionist or liberatory mindset when there is a lack of in language media sources available to many of the elders. I think that was one of my greatest takeaways from this summer and even in the last two weeks here in Vietnam. How can we make academic work and theories accessible and workable on the ground?
APANO is making a great effort to provide all voting and political information about local elections in a dozen languages based on surveys conducted during our canvassing events. Their member meetings were always very inclusive and drew in organizers from all areas of social justice and power building. Overall, I am extremely grateful and fortunate to have had this opportunity to explore community organizing, and I would like to thank APANO, Seeding Change, and the AASP.  While finding a cultural community or a political home is still such a daunting task for me, I no longer feel the pressure to force community. Through this summer, the friends I made, and the organizations I was exposed to, I am beginning to piece together what the future looks like for Asian American power building and the resources and mass determination necessary to meet our needs. This summer acted as a perfect transition period to introduce new inquiries about organizing, power, and immigrant narratives that elevate my research and studies in Vietnam as I take on a transnational lens of Asian resistance and advocacy.