AAPI Summit Draws Leaders in Search of Policy Solutions

UCLA scholars and students gathered with leaders from the government, community, corporate and entertainment worlds at a Feb. 10 summit aimed at creating a future that is inclusive of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. The AAPI Policy Summit at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center shed light on issues including health and mental health inequities, anti-Asian hate, immigrant protections, mobilization of voters, diversity in corporate suites and fair representation in Hollywood. California Attorney General Rob Bonta delivered the keynote address at the daylong summit. “You can’t fix the problem until you face the problem,” he said. “I believe that the folks on the ground who are doing the work —community leaders, researchers, nonprofit leaders — that the folks who are closest to the problems and the challenges are also the closest to the solutions.” Touching on his experiences growing up in a family of Filipino immigrants who fought for civil rights, Bonta urged members of the audience to recognize their own capacity to stand up against injustice. “We are not bystanders to what is happening in our state and in our nation. … We can make a difference,” he said. “The road is long but we are bending that arc of history towards justice, and it’s going to need the fingerprints and the hands of all of you bending it together to get us where we need to go.” The AAPI Policy Summit was sponsored by UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center and Luskin School of Public Affairs in partnership with the California Asian American & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

View photos from the summit on Flickr.

AAPI Policy Summit 2023

Umemoto on Wide Scope of AAPI Issues Aired at Summit

Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, spoke to ABC7 News about the work of lawmakers, researchers and community leaders who attended the Asian American and Pacific Islander Policy Summit at UCLA on Feb. 10. The summit focused on policy issues pertaining to Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, including their unique experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as safety concerns regarding the elderly population. Umemoto said that over 18 UCLA faculty members presented policy briefs based on their research. The Asian American and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus was a partner in the summit, where a major goal was to address issues including gun violence and other hate crimes, economic challenges, mental health and public health.


Latest Cohort of 4 Activists-in-Residence Is Largest Ever UCLA's cityLAB, Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and Asian American Studies Center will serve as on-campus hosts

UCLA welcomed an artist and three community organizers to campus on Jan. 31 during the 2023 UCLA Activists-in-Residence reception held at DeCafe in Perloff Hall.

This year, four activists were selected, making this the largest cohort in the program’s six-year history. Steve Diaz and Josiah Edwards will be working with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which has selected at least one activist since 2017.

Diaz is deputy director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) based in downtown Los Angeles, and Edwards is a youth climate justice organizer who grew up in the South Bay area of L.A. County.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center returns to the residency program after a pandemic-related hiatus to host Melissa Acedera. The daughter of Filipino immigrants to Los Angeles, Acedera is a founder of two community-powered food systems helping feed unhoused and food-insecure communities across L.A. and Orange counties.

New to the Activists-in-Residence program this year is cityLAB-UCLA, which selected Marlené Nancy Lopez, a public artist whose work focuses on serving communities through muralism, storytelling and multimedia. She was born and raised in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Conceptualized as a sabbatical, the residency allows for time and space to reflect, envision new projects, and connect with UCLA faculty, students and staff. At the reception, each of the activists spoke briefly about their previous experiences and their plans for the next few months.

Find out more about the activists and their plans.

View photos from the reception on Flickr.

2023 Activists in Residence

A Resource to Educate Students on the AAPI Experience

Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning, was cited in a Rafu Shimpo article about a $10 million grant that the UCLA Asian American Studies Center received to create resources that teachers across the nation can use to educate students about the experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). “The textbook will be the most comprehensive, scholar-informed, online history of AAPIs that redefines the American narrative and opens unlimited possibilities for building a just, multiracial and democratic future,” Umemoto said. Coming in 2023, the online platform is designed to educate students about the history of racism toward AAPI communities. It will be adjustable to educators’ teaching styles as chapters can be stand-alone and modules will be customizable for different learning formats.


Asian American Studies Center to Develop Free Curriculum on AAPI Experience

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center has received $10 million in state funding to propel the development of a free multimedia learning experience that will help teachers around the country fill a curricular gap about the histories, struggles, cultures and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The AAPI Multimedia Textbook will feature an open-access, online platform with customizable chapters using visual, audio and archival artifacts that bring history to life. “The textbook will be the most comprehensive, scholar-informed, online history of AAPIs that redefines the American narrative and opens unlimited possibilities for building a just, multiracial and democratic future,” said Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and director of the Asian American Studies Center. The curriculum will support educators at a time when California and other states have made ethnic studies a graduation requirement for some public high schools and colleges. Umemoto was part of an academic advisory committee for the 2022 Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the U.S. Index that found the contributions of Asian Americans continue to be invisible to much of the American public. Fifty-eight percent of Americans were unable to name a prominent Asian American and 42% were unable to name a significant Asian American historical moment more recent than the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The AAPI Multimedia Textbook Project will help improve understanding of how AAPIs have influenced and shaped the United States, as well as foster a sense of belonging and acceptance of Asian Americans.

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Latino, Asian Households Lag in Access to State Rent Assistance Program In a new report, UCLA researchers recommend extending protections against eviction

By Jessica Wolf

California has extended eviction protections to June 30 for hundreds of thousands of renters made vulnerable by the pandemic’s economic disruptions, yet tens of thousands of renters who might need assistance remain either unaware of the program or face barriers to applying.

This problem is especially acute among tens of thousands of low-income Asian and Latino households that are behind on rent and have not yet applied, according to a new UCLA report (PDF).

“We find that not much has changed since the onset of the pandemic — lower-income people and people of color are disproportionately struggling to pay the rent,” said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who led the study.

The state currently has an enormous backlog of applicants attempting to access California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which launched in spring 2020. More than half a million California renters have applied to the state’s relief program as of March 29, 2022.

To gauge how effective the rental assistance program has been, researchers from Ong’s center, along with colleagues from UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, Asian American Studies Center and Chicano Studies Research Center, examined the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey data gathered from July 21, 2021, to Jan. 10, 2022. They then compared it to publicly available information about renters who have applied for California’s rental assistance program.

The researchers found that Asian and Latino households are severely underrepresented among those who have managed to receive rent relief, compared to non-Latino white renters, even when accounting for income, age and metropolitan area of residence.

The report’s authors are calling for lawmakers to consider maintaining benefit programs like rental assistance and other safety-net initiatives until unemployment numbers for people of color in California drop below pre-pandemic levels.

“These findings reveal that funds have not been equitably distributed to those with the greatest needs,” said Melany De La Cruz-Viesca MA UP ’02, deputy director of the Asian American Studies Center.

Asian American renters had the lowest application rate for rental assistance, the report found. Only 25% of rent-distressed Asian American households applied for relief, compared to almost 50% of white renters and 64% of Black renters. The second-lowest application rate was among rent-distressed Latinos at only 39%. Rent-distressed is defined in the report as households that reported being behind on rent or would otherwise have been without assistance.

While 21% of white households and 20% of Black households received rent relief from the program, just 11% of Asian households and 14% of Latino households did.

Overall, the report notes that an estimated 14% of California renters are behind on their rent and 15% fear facing the threat of eviction. Roughly 10 times as many low-income renters are behind on their rent, compared to upper-income renters (21% compared to 2%, respectively). More than twice as many Asian American, Black and Latino renters are struggling to keep up relative to their white counterparts.

“We believe that the inequality facing Asians and Latinos is due in part to language barriers, citizenship status, access to technology and lack of robust community information,” said Urban Planning Professor Veronica Terriquez, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center.

The report notes that the Census’ Household Pulse Survey is not conducted in any Asian languages, further limiting information about how Asian American households are faring as the pandemic enters a third calendar year.

The most potent thing California lawmakers can do, the report stresses, is indefinitely extend the rental assistance and other safety net programs such as utility shut-off protection and food security programs, until unemployment rates for all racial groups fall below pre-pandemic rates.

Overall, around 60% of distressed renters in California either did not apply to rent-relief programs even though they struggled to keep up with rent or they applied and were denied relief, the report found.

“Part and parcel with that is designing and expanding programs to reach eligible renters, including funding community-based organizations as trusted messengers,” said Silvia González MURP ’13 Ph.D. ’20, director of research for the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “We believe there are a significant number of distressed renters who are unaware of the emergency assistance program or are afraid to apply.”


Delving Into the Archives of Japanese American Incarceration

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto was featured in a UCLA Newsroom article about an undergraduate course focusing on the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during the 1940s. Eighty years ago this month, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 after the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II. The order sent nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent, branded suspicious solely by virtue of their heritage, to live in prison camps. The upper-division course immerses students in the growing online archive of primary source materials related to the experiences of Japanese Americans. It is co-taught by Umemoto, who directs the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and public historian Brian Niiya, who earned a master’s in Asian American studies at UCLA.


Umemoto on Acknowledging Painful History

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to NBC News about the importance of facilitating discussions about racial tensions to incorporate the histories of communities that have long been made invisible. In 1871, about 20 Chinese Americans were murdered in a race riot in Los Angeles, now regarded by many as a forgotten history. Umemoto said that we can be critical of the things that have taken place in history without necessarily blaming the ancestors of those who may have perpetrated injustices. “Remembering both the accomplishments and achievements of different groups in society is as important as remembering the tragedies,” said Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. In ethnic studies, Umemoto aims to “teach about the full lives of people of color in this country and Indigenous peoples in this country so that we could develop that historical empathy for one another.”

Umemoto on Opening of Terasaki Budokan

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the opening of the Terasaki Budokan gym and community center in Little Tokyo. After decades of planning and a $35-million fundraising effort, the opening of the Budokan in June was a huge victory for the Little Tokyo community. Umemoto explained that many Japanese immigrants settled in what became Little Tokyo in the late 19th century after being shut out from other neighborhoods due to racial discrimination. Later, those same Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from Little Tokyo when the U.S. government sent them to concentration camps during World War II. The Budokan will host sports leagues, afterschool programs, classes for senior citizens and cultural events, but most importantly, it will be a gathering place in a historic neighborhood threatened by assimilation and gentrification. It will also help young people connect with their roots and may help revive business in Little Tokyo’s stores and restaurants.

Ong, Umemoto on Shortcomings of ‘Asian American’ Label

Research Professor Paul Ong and Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to Vox about concerns that the broadness of the term “Asian American” erases and flattens many of the cultures it encompasses. Asian Americans comprise 50 ethnic groups with more than 100 languages, but using the label “Asian American” fuels the myth that the group is monolithic. Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, explained that “Pacific Islanders were too small of a group in the mind of key decision-makers to report separately,” which led to their initial grouping as Asian Americans. Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, added, “There has long been a problem of lumping all of the groups together, which makes Asian Americans look well-off by some measures when averaged out as a sociopolitical group. But we’re a bifurcated community, with wide differences in well-being within and across ethnic groups.”