Asian American Federation
Stories of Impact
Almost 16% of U.S.-born Asian American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetimes — compared to 13% of overall Americans — illustrating just one of the many the critical issues facing Asian and Asian American communities today. Mental health, food insecurity, and poverty, often considered taboo in Asian cultures, can be uncomfortable topics to discuss. However, the Asian American Federation (AAF) recognizes the importance of addressing these issues.
Since 1989, AAF has used research, policy advocacy, public awareness, and nonprofit support to raise the influence and well-being of the pan-Asian American community throughout New York State. Dedicated to working in solidarity with other organizations and communities of color, AAF partners with 70 member agencies that are deeply rooted in pan-Asian communities and provide social services to those in need.
Asian American communities all across the country were faced with a unique challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to worrying about the health and wellbeing of their loved ones, Asian Americans had the added anxiety of potentially becoming a victim of anti-Asian hate.
Brooklyn Org trusted us to do right by our communities and this gives us the flexibility we need...and provides a much-needed lifeline when we need it most.Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director
Brooklyn Org played a big part in ensuring that AAF could properly support its community members during such a difficult time. “Brooklyn Org funded our Hope Against Hate campaign and was vital during the pandemic,” Jo-Ann Yoo, AAF’s Executive Director, recalled. “They trusted us to do right by our communities and this gives us the flexibility we need. Their participatory grantmaking model shows that we are respected as experts on what’s happening in our communities, and provides a much-needed lifeline when we need it most.”
But AAF isn’t just a support system for its community members in times of crisis — the organization also strives to ensure that Asian Americans in our area have the tools they need to build stable and flourishing lives. A core component of AAF’s work is small business assistance. While there is a widely held stereotype that Asians are business savvy, Yoo says that there’s a deeper narrative that is often neglected.
“Asians have become so entrepreneurial because many of us didn’t have any other options,” Yoo explained. “Being locked out of so many employment opportunities, many Asians have turned proverbial obstacles into stepping stones. Because these small businesses have become the lifeblood of Asian communities, one of AAF’s goals is to empower them so they can thrive and continue supporting New York’s communities of color.”
A number of Asian American Federation’s members and partner organizations also work on the issue of affordable housing, with the aim of addressing what Yoo refers to as “hidden homelessness.” According to Yoo, these living conditions are especially precarious for low-wage workers who are crowded into basement apartments. “All across Asian American communities, I’ve seen high levels of hidden homelessness along with overcrowding that’s often out of sight,” she said. “These dire living conditions would make you want to sob. Just imagine 10 adults living on top of one another.” During Hurricane Ida, many of the victims who perished lived in basement apartments and didn’t receive adequate warnings in their native languages before the storm ultimately ravaged the region.
In addition to low wage workers, Asian senior citizens are an especially vulnerable segment of the population, with Asian seniors being some of the fastest-growing and poorest populations in New York City. In addition to not being fluent in English, many Asian American older adults don’t have many income opportunities or qualify for social security. With rising food prices, increased cost of living, and gentrification that leaves individuals isolated, even food banks and nonprofits that once served primarily non-Asian communities are seeing a rise in Asian American older adults who are struggling to make ends meet. “As the enclaves where they’ve lived for so long are becoming less affordable, where do they go?” Yoo said.
As Asian Americans continue to face compounding issues, Yoo sees Asian American Federation as a source of hope and holistic care: “This is why it’s so important to have nonprofits that are guardians of the community.”