Our Chicago: Advocates discuss Chinatown’s growing community and efforts to end hate crimes during Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month

CHICAGO (WLS) — May is Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month.

We spoke with the leaders of two organizations working to empower the Asian American community in Chicago. Grace Pai is the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, which marks a milestone: 30 years in the city. It began in 1992 as the Asian American Institute, a policy and research-oriented organization. Pai said the organization has evolved since then.

“In the beginning, we focused on things like film festivals, symposia, we put out a bunch of stories about the Asian American community and our diversity,” Pai said. “And we’ve since evolved to really focus on empowering the Asian American community.”

She said Asian American Advancing Justice is now doing a lot of work on “advocating for policies and changing systems to impact issues that affect Asian Americans.”

Pai said this includes education equity, immigrant rights and language access. And over the past two years, harassment and violence against Asian Americans has increased.

“2020 was just the beginning, unfortunately,” Pai said. “And that was a full year before the Atlanta shooting, before the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis that really impacted the Sikh community there and so you know, I think unfortunately even though we were really reeling at this point in May 2020, we’ve had it escalate and worsen throughout 2021.”

To combat harassment and discrimination, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago offers bystander intervention training for community members.

Our Chicago: Part 2

By the time that happens, Chicago is about to have its first-ever majority Asian-American neighborhood. It’s something that’s been decades in the making, said Grace Chan McKibben, executive director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese-American Community. She said going from zero Asian American neighborhoods to one is symbolically significant.

“Because Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the few, perhaps the only, growing in the United States, other cities are also counting on us to write history and watch and cheer us on,” said she said, adding that this reflected population growth. Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic in Chicago and Illinois, making up about 7% of the state’s population.

For more information on bystander intervention training:


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