Follow The Need!

By: Neel Saxena, Executive Director
Photos Courtesy of Multiple Sources

Hi Everyone. I’ve been thinking about getting more active on the AALEAD blog to share information and my perspective on the Asian Pacific American (APA) community and youth. Of course the name of my blog entries was the next thing on my mind and I thought I’d combine something that I love, BOBOA, and the name for a unique mental health space for youth workers created by an AALEAD staff called AALEAD Tea and Talk Time. That is how the ED’s Boboa Tea Time came about. This will be a space where I hope to shed light on the APA community and youth to spark conversation, over flavorful Boboa tea of course!

Photo Courtesy of Google

One of my first memories of my connection with AALEAD was around 2004 when I was heading to the Que Huong Market, a now closed Vietnamese market on Park Road, to pick up items for Mt. Pleasant Day where AALEAD youth and families would sell summer rolls to support after school and summer programs. AALEAD first started in Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant area to support the vibrant Vietnamese refugee population that has since dispersed across the DC metro area.

This migration has not only occurred in this neighborhood and ethnic APA population but with the Chinese community who first came to DC over 100 years ago. They have had to move on 3 different occasions – families had to uproot their lives and Chinatown to make way for development projects. Is development, or as many refer to as gentrification, causing the regional migration of these populations? I wonder if and how the voices of these families are included and engaged in the development plans? Is the planning mechanism inclusive of APA families? If these places were not developed, what would they look like? Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute contends, “In the long run departure of the Verizon Center to the RFK site could allow Chinatown to regain authenticity and a unique sense of place which has been eroded in recent years.”

Photo Courtesy of The Equity Lab

AALEAD’s expansion has followed this regional migration by following the need of youth and families. Our expansion started 10 years ago to Montgomery County, and recently to Fairfax County. One of the first signs that re-development would impact low-income APA families came when AALEAD with other groups supported the effort to rescue Parkfair Apartments that the District government had condemned in a neighborhood being taken over by luxury condos. Unfortunately, since then, many families have dispersed across the city and region as luxury condos pop up. AALEAD continues to support youth in and around these areas supporting their overlooked needs and providing them space to express their voices. A project by The Equity Lab called Project Uptwn is also providing a forum for DC APA youth to express their individuality and share their perspective on their changed neighborhoods.

Photo Courtesy of Little Saigon initiative.

I wonder if planners engaged families and youth voices as they looked to develop their neighborhoods, how did they identify the needs of the community? The regional migration of APA communities was not limited to the District, but was also seen in Arlington’s Vietnamese population. Back in the 1970s, Clarendon was Little Saigon and by the 1990s, this community was displaced by other businesses. Shop owners, once thriving, cited new business requirements during the re-development of Clarendon as one of the reasons for shutting down. Did these development plans follow the needs of this population, were language and culture barriers addressed during this process?

Today we continue to see low-income APA populations migrate in the region as areas re-develop. As these populations expand, AALEAD has expanded its footprint driven by the needs of the youth we support.

To the municipal planners and urban researchers, I urge you to consider the impact of current planning systems and mechanisms on low income APA populations. It is important to find ways to fully engage and empower families. We must go beyond the simple efforts of one-way communication in the planning process to ensure that the overall process proves to be fair and equitable.

Something to ponder over some Boboa!

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