I report to various communities of accountability. “Report” is too strong a word for some of these communities, but right on target for communities that certify me [i.e. the Presbyterian Church (USA)]. I could operate all by myself as an individual, but that would be a lie. I am who I am because of the communities that form(ed) me and support(ed) me.
One of my communities of accountability is a group of Asian Pacific American Presbyterians.
For those of you who don’t know, last week the Presbyterians had a big conference that is actually 10 smaller conferences in one gathering. In addition to the smaller conferences were multiple gatherings of various constituencies. One of these, the National Asian Presbyterian Council (NAPC), invited me to serve on a panel about the future of NAPC with three other Asian American leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This is a community of Asian Americans and immigrants of Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian descent. I used to serve on the Steering Committee of NAPC, and am proud to claim and be claimed by this community.
Here is a paraphrase of my remarks from last week’s event.
Thank you for inviting me. I am honored to be here.
I’m here to talk a bit about us.
Asian Pacific Americans are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the U.S. We are the fastest growing immigrant population in the U.S. Almost half of all immigrants in the U.S. are from Asia. We are also largely invisible in most significant discourse in society and church.
The Pew research center recently did a study of Asian Pacific Americans and religion, and it was done so poorly, with a cultural lens not meant for our communities’ unique characteristics, that a group of Asian Pacific American scholars of religion stepped in, protested, and helped Pew re-write the report.
Yes, the best research group in the U.S. couldn’t study us without their own cultural imperialism getting in the way.
Whether it be in state or national politics, we are underrepresented. Our group is the most underrepresented racial minority in corporate boardrooms when compared to the representation in the corporate world, and is largely absent as a community from significant policy-shaping work at the presbytery and national levels of the church.
NAPC is important because we can speak in Asian humor, and understand one another. I am always worried, out there, that someone will make fun of someone’s accent, and I’m going to have to tell that person they’re ignorant. But in here, it is a safe place to mispronounce, to apologize, to have awesome cross-cultural moments, because this is what it means to be us.
NAPC is important because it gives us a vehicle to organize. It gives us a vehicle to work with other communities of color in order to make change.
And it gives us a home to come back to after going out into the church and being misunderstood, dismissed, or patronized for being so exotic, or having such good English, or being fetishized for our food and our languages.
NAPC sees what’s coming down the road. We know about generational struggles and strengths. We know about ministry with multiracial families. We are experts in what it means to do new church starts and handle immigration challenges and leadership shortages.
And the real truth:
God made us. God didn’t make any mistakes. We are meant to be who we are, because God loves us, too.
I think that means God doesn’t want us to be made invisible, or be the church’s cute exotic tokens.
Racism is real.
Racism makes us invisible.
We can fight invisibility by being in solidarity with other groups of people of color. We can fight invisibility by working to develop the leadership of young people, not just for NAPC leadership, but for leadership in the wider church, and in society.
We can demand the church do more for comprehensive immigration reform. Not just church offices – they are all working really hard already, but church people.
Current proposed immigration reform would eliminate the family reunification policy covering siblings, and would put a cap on the age of adult married children of citizens. Family reunification is particularly important to our community.
My comments are not meant to put all the emphasis on us. Our actions are on not the only problem here. But since racism is still around, we will have to go ahead and do what we do.