Today’s blog post was written by Surjeet Ahluwalia, Executive Director of Asian American LEAD, a youth development organization serving low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth.
May was Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month. APA Heritage Month began as a week of commemoration in 1978 and became a full month in 1990. For close to 40 years we have been increasing the awareness of the APA community by celebrating the contributions of APAs in America, but this has not translated into increased awareness of the challenges low-income Asian Pacific Americans face in our country today. The model minority myth that Asian Americans are all wealthy, highly educated, and won’t advocate for themselves still dominates.
At Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), we serve youth who don’t fit within the model minority myth. For instance, Mei begins her day in her 1 bedroom apartment at Museum Square in Chinatown, DC, which she shares with her brother and father. They have received misinformation many times from their landlord that they have to leave their home. Their father has often shared his concerns about what’s happening in their building with community members, but the constant pushing is taxing on him. Mei and her brother don’t want to have to switch high schools. They want to stay in their home, but also to have a peaceful living situation. After hard days at home and at school, Mei and her brother head over to afterschool programs with AALEAD.
Asian American LEAD is a place where youth find their second home with people who welcome them and can relate to their struggles. AALEAD’s programming focuses on educational empowerment, identity development, and leadership opportunities for low-income APA youth. Youth like Mei are supported with tools to pursue their educational goals when their parents are not able to put time toward this, and supported to feel proud of themselves and where they come from. With this confidence and the opportunities AALEAD provides, youth have the tools to become leaders across communities.
We need safe spaces for youth of all backgrounds to grow. AALEAD is the only space in the DMV specifically for low-income Asian Pacific American youth. As you commemorate the APA community, we ask you to remember not only past contributions of Asian Pacific Americans, but also provide support to low-income APAs in your community today.
To find out how you can support the work of AALEAD, view their wishlist on our website, or visit AALEAD.org.