Next Generation of AAPI Leaders


with Kendall Kosai, Deputy Director at OCA National


May 04, 2018

According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. Asian population increased 72 percent between 2000 and 2015, resulting in the fastest growth rate of any major racial or ethnic group. And as this population continues to grow, there remains a lack of involvement in politics and corporate leadership positions. Kendall Kosai, Deputy Director at OCA National discussed programs designed to help high school students explore their identity, and encourage them to become future community leaders.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: The U.S. Asian population is the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, but remains largely underrepresented in politics and corporate leadership positions. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me to discuss building the next generation of AAPI leaders is Kendall Kosai, Deputy Director of OCA National. Kendall, welcome to the program.

Kosai: Thank you for having me.

Traynham: So let´s talk about that pipeline. Oftentimes, it´s perhaps internships or maybe even starting in elementary school, junior high school, high school. Walk us through specifically what you do and how you´re trying to reach down to those next generation of leaders.

Kosai: Yeah, our real focus is developing a pipeline of AAPI leaders, and so we really start actually at high school. We have a program called APA Y-Advocate where we focus primarily on AAPI identity issues. For me, when I was going through high school, I really didn´t have the opportunity to learn about AAPI history. You know, we talked maybe a little bit about the railroads, and we talked a little bit about incarceration, but we don´t talk about the contributions of AAPIs throughout the history of America.

Traynham: So where do you get that history lesson from? Is it mainly from your parents and family?

Kosai: Absolutely. My family, actually, has been here for over 100 years. And so through the generations, we´ve learned what our history as Japanese Americans here in the United States has been. But, you know, the program that we´ve put on in these high schools is a program that teaches them about their own history. They talk about contributions of Filipino Americans during World War II fighting in the Pacific or contributions of Hmong Americans who were recruited by the U.S. to fight in the Vietnam War. We don´t talk about that in our high schools.

Traynham: And, Kendall, what does that look like? Do you have some type of course curriculum for teachers? Do you go into the high schools as an extracurricular activity? What does that look like in terms of actually speaking to high school students?

Kosai: Yeah, we utilize our chapters and affiliates across the country to put on these trainings. It´s a half-day program during a weekend, typically, where we have maybe 30 to 40 kids in any given session to talk about these identity issues. And for many of them, this is the first time they´re really exploring the identity, really exploring these kind of issues that really affect them, and really thinking more deeply about what it means to be Asian American and Pacific Islander.

Traynham: And, Kendall, I want to transition now to college and internships. What does that look like?

Kosai: Absolutely. So I´m actually a product of the internship program myself, but OCA provides 10-week internships here in Washington, D.C., where we place them in government agencies, congressional offices, non-profit organizations, as well as corporations to really get hands-on learning experience. And in addition to that, we also teach them what it means to be an advocate, what issues really affect AAPIs in the United States. We talk about immigration, education, things like that that really make a difference. And the hope is that they´ll go back to their communities after their internships and become community leaders. Many of them have gone on to be, you know, chapter presidents within the organization. Many of them have gone on to become executive directors of other non-profit organizations. We really want to develop that pipeline of leaders through our internship program.

Traynham: Kendall, we´ve got about a minute and a half left. I want to focus on you and your internship. Walk us through specifically what did you do. I assume it was here in Washington, D.C.?

Kosai: Absolutely, yes.

Traynham: And what takeaways did you learn from your internship that perhaps our folks that are watching could learn from, quite frankly?

Kosai: Yeah, absolutely. I think it gave me a wide, diverse understanding of the issues of the AAPI community. You know, I wasn´t -- Growing up, I wasn´t super-involved in AAPI issues. I didn´t know that immigration was such a hot topic or education was such an important topic to AAPIs. But coming to Washington, D.C., and understanding and being with my diverse cohort of, you know, individuals from all around the country of all different backgrounds, it gave me a better understanding of the diversity of the AAPI community.

Traynham: So it sounds like, Kendall, that you would strongly recommend your experience to your peers and to your colleagues and so forth.

Kosai: Absolutely. Absolutely. It was life-changing for me, and for many of the interns that have gone through the program, it continues to be life-changing.

Traynham: And, Kendall, in the 30 seconds we have left or so, where can folks find out more information about the internship program and/or the high school program? Is there a website they can go to?

Kosai: Absolutely. Our website is And I encourage everyone to take a look at our programs that we have available.

Traynham: Kendall Kosai, the deputy director of OCA National, thank you very much for joining us. -

Kosai: Thank you. -

Traynham: Really appreciate it. And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Robert Traynham.

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