Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the country. And while this population engages locally within communities, there is a lack of civic engagement at the federal level. Gregg Orton, National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans
shares efforts to encourage more engagement from this population not only to advocate for the needs of the AAPI community, but to add diversity to representation and the national dialogue.
Traynham: There are 20 million Asian Americans in the U.S. today who trace their roots back to more than 20 countries. Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders can face bias and discrimination based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, or even immigration status. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me to discuss the AAPI community´s place in the larger civil rights movement is Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. Gregg, welcome to the program.
Orton: Thanks for having me.
Traynham: You know, it´s really important, I think, to put this in context because I think when we think of civil rights organizations, we think of the NAACP. We think of, maybe, the National Gay and Lesbian Conference and so forth. But walk me through, specifically, the Asian American movement, if you will.
Orton: Sure. So I mean, as you know, the last 12 months have been interesting in America. And for NCAPA --
Traynham: In terms of the national discourse and so forth?
Orton: Absolutely. And so, the, you know, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans is a coalition of national organizations that represent all the Asian-American communities in America. And we absolutely believe that we have a role to play in the current civil rights conversation. You know, we´re one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country. And with that comes, you know, growing into political power and understanding, sort of, civic engagement. And while we have a long history of engaging and advocating on the ground level, we truly believe that there´s a ton of unrealized potential when it comes to, sort of, having our voices heard at the federal level. And so, that´s the challenge, is sort of growing into that. And so, it´s important, obviously, to have a seat at the table. Not just because we want to be able to advocate for the needs of our community, whether that be culturally sensitive, you know, language, access to services, or collecting data that sort of reflects our communities, but more importantly, just being able to stand side by side with people who believe in an America that embraces diversity, and that we´re stronger together.
Traynham: Gregg, I want to speak for a few moments about what you alluded to. And that is maybe some of the anxiety. Some of the national conversations that are going on. And it seems like they´re heightened. It seems like they´re much more intense -- or have been more intense over the past year, now more than ever. Can you walk us through, specifically, what your organization is doing to convening conversations, to facilitating the conversation, if you will, to talk about, quite frankly, people´s anxiety, and also, candidly, to talk about people´s own prejudices, if you will.
Orton: Sure, absolutely. And so, you know, thinking back a couple months ago when we had this immigration debating going, one of the terms that came up that was floating around in media and sort of publicly was that idea of chain migration. And that was troubling to all of us, mainly because, to us, the conversation really is about family immigration.
Orton: Our immigration system has been based on family immigration for decades, and sort of trying to chisel away at that was concerning for us to all sort of watch.
Traynham: Can I pause there for a second? I´ve heard the term "chain migration". Are you suggesting that´s a negative term?
Orton: Absolutely. Or at least in terms of the way it was sort of co-opted by the people who are using it to sort of sow fear or concern or misinformation about sort of what our immigration system actually looks like. You know, family is universal, whether you´re Asian American, African American, White, what have you. And so, to sort of take that idea and sort of spin it into this thing that is causing concern or anxiety for everyone, to us, just didn´t sit well. And so, you know, we really try to challenge the idea that our family immigration system is problematic.
Traynham: Gregg, we´ve got about 45 seconds left. So what´s the solution? What is the pivot point where all of us, as Americans, can have this conversation, but also candidly, to have this conversation in a very thoughtful way?
Orton: I mean, that´s exactly right. And I think recognizing that we all have to occupy the same table and come to solutions together. Otherwise, we´re gonna continue to run into the challenges in terms of disagreement. And not being afraid of disagreeing, but being honest about those disagreements and being candid but being respectful. And I think that is sort of the challenge moving forward, is having these conversations in a respectful way that takes into account your views and mine, and trying to find that common ground. And so, like I said, the API community is proud to be a part of that. And we´re absolutely committed to continuing that.
Traynham: Gregg Orton, I look forward to having you back on the program to talk about all of the progress that you´ve made. Thank you very much.
Orton: Oh, thank you very much.
Traynham: National director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. And thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham.