Asian Americans represent one of the fastest growing communities in the U.S., but often times, it still feels like their voices are going underrepresented and their needs are going unaddressed.
To help bring Asian American issues to the fore, the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, has been working to empower low income and working class immigrants in Chinatown since 1972. CPA’s programs are focused on three key areas: civic engagement, labor rights, and healthcare.
The civic engagement campaigns are primarily centered on get-out-the-vote initiatives and helping immigrants understand the political issues that affect their daily lives. These efforts have been ongoing since 2000, and so far, they’ve been instrumental in helping pass San Francisco’s Minimum Wage Ordinance in 2003 and the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance in 2006.
Closely related is CPA’s advocacy work for workers’ rights and unions. A 2010 study found that wage theft is of particular concern for the San Francisco immigrant community: 1 out of every 2 restaurant workers in Chinatown restaurants receive less than minimum wage, and 20% work more than 60 hours a week. CPA has organized restaurant workers to help them collect back over $700,000 in wages and continues to promote job security and job creation in the community.
But as the Bay Area’s inequality issues become more pointed, CPA won’t be able to take on political empowerment, workers’ rights, and other concerns on their own. That’s why CPA has launched strategic partnerships with several organizations, reaching across geographic, sector, and racial divides in their work.
For instance, CPA worked with People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER) to create a youth leadership program for Chinese and Latino youth. In collaboration with the City College of San Francisco ESL program and Chinese for Affirmative Action, CPA also launched a vocational program for immigrant workers.
Looking ahead to the future, CPA has also nurtured future community organizers through its Eva Lowe Fellowship for Social Justice. (The Eva Lowe fellowship is actually named after the mother of Dr. Rolland Lowe, CACF’s own chairman.) With the success of the fellowship, there are plans to turn it into a national program to empower young leaders across the country.