Coalition of Asian American Leaders: Uniting as Asian Minnesotans


Asian Minnesotans: Who are we? How do we bring voice and visibility to our community assets, needs, and potential? And why does unity matter?

Since these questions are just as data driven as they are existential, the newly formed Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) worked closely with Minnesota Compass and Wilder Research to dig into the data. CAAL hosted its first Asian American Leaders Forum in November 2014 where we engaged more than 150 Asian Minnesotan leaders. From this Forum, a committed Circle of Leaders came together in January 2015 and voted to focus on improving education and economic outcomes for our communities.

Throughout our work together, we asked and we will continue to ask:

Why should Asian Minnesotans unite?

While Minnesota is home to some of the largest racial disparities in the United States, we are also home to some of the most robust equity initiatives to close gaps. Yet, Asian Minnesotans are largely invisible from equity initiatives and often left out completely from the work. Launched in 2013, CAAL’s mission is to harness the collective power of Asian Minnesotans to advance equity and improve the lives of our community members. We believe that uniting will put healthy pressure on our home state of Minnesota to make our communities heard, understood, and included, which will result in faster and better outcomes for all Asian Minnesotans.

Who are Asian Minnesotans?

Throughout our process, we are mindful of how the banner “Asian Minnesotan” is as diverse as it is vast with more than 50 cultural communities included. We find that unlike any other areas in the United States, Asian Minnesotans are largely Southeast Asian, and we are the fastest growing community in Minnesota, increasing by 53% since the year 2000 (see sidebar for more).

At best, Asian Minnesotan data could be characterized as complex, nuanced, and imperfect. Data is frequently unavailable or have large margins of error, information is not collected or collected inconsistently, or sample sizes are small. This lack of data often means little to no public work directly benefits our communities. Yet we know that data or no data – Asian Minnesotan communities are important – no matter what.

How do we bring voice and visibility to Asian Minnesotans?

We know that data must be community driven and community led to meet community needs. We can use aggregated data about Asian Minnesotans to move forward on shared priorities that impact everyone and continue advocating for disaggregated data to move forward on different priorities within each of our individual communities.

The November Asian American Leaders Forum and the January Circle of Leaders gatherings are our ways of walking from where we are to where we want to be. With friends in California philanthropy, Texas advocacy, and Washington DC national initiatives cheering for and supporting us from across the United States diaspora, we are excited to continue building our own unity in Minnesota.

Throughout our work together in 2015, we will keeping asking ourselves who we are as Asian Minnesotans, why we come together, and how we might amplify our impact. Only then will we understand what is important to our communities.

Join us.

We welcome Asian Minnesotans from all walks of life to join us. While we are proud to count local homegrown leaders among our numbers (such as Wilder Foundation President, MayKao Hang), we must ensure we do not overlook the least heard people from within our communities. We must continue to reach further and better so we may rise to our full potential. We believe each and every person in our communities has the capacity from within to lead.

Engaging in a shared purpose through the Coalition of Asian American Leaders is one way for us to do more together. If you are Asian Minnesotan and believe you can make a difference, we welcome you to join CAAL by emailing bo@aapip.org.

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“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” – Mohandas Gandhi

Bo Thao-Urabe is the Senior Director of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and the director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders. Denise Hanh Huynh is a Research Associate at Wilder Research and the Data Geek for the Coalition of Asian American Leaders. With data support from Peter Mathison, a Research Associate with Minnesota Compass.