Washington Leadership Program : Fellows Meet Congressman Rangel and AAPI leaders in Policy Making

ILF Fellows attended their second Washington Leadership Program (WLP) event last Wednesday, hosted by CAPAL. This session focused on the “ecosystem” of groups and individuals that help make policy and advocate for AAPI issues.

Congressman Rangel addresses the CAPAL WLP audience
Congressman Rangel addresses the CAPAL WLP audience

After a discussion about ground rules for forthcoming activities at CAPAL events, Congressman Charles Rangel (NY-13) took the floor and delivered the opening address. Congressman Rangel, now in his 44th consecutive year in the House, began by speaking about the importance of immigrants to the United States’ development, suggesting that America is “the only place where you can’t look at someone and tell whether they’re from here.” While other countries may develop national pride based on shared characteristics of the population and a cohesive shared national history, he believes that Americans have a stronger love for country because of the effort it took them or their ancestors to leave their homes and emigrate here. And though the Founding Fathers “weren’t thinking about minorities,” he said, the Constitution is broad enough to work for everyone, including members of minority communities. Finally, in keeping with the theme of advocacy and policymaking, he finished by stressing the importance of giving back to a society both through public service and through contributing to the diversity of ideas that he sees as only possible in the United States.

Congressman Rangel then answered questions from the CAPAL attendees, including about his plans after retirement, which he joked were to “pay back” his family for his “addiction” to public service throughout his life. He then took a question about conflict between African American and Asian American communities. Referencing the movie Do The Right Thing, he said that while there is no greater inherent conflict between the two movies, when individuals are forced into close proximity with no opportunities to advance or progress, conflict often ensues. He stressed that improving equal rights will help foster mutual respect between groups.

Congressman Rangel poses with WLP attendees, including ILF Fellows.
Congressman Rangel poses with WLP attendees, including ILF Fellows.

After Congressman Rangel finished his remarks, ILF Fellows listened to a moderated panel discussion about the policymaking process. The panel consisted of AAPI leaders from a variety of backgrounds, working in Congress, the White House, and NGOs. Panelist Kham Moua from OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates mentioned the importance of advocacy work for the AAPI community, since Asian Americans are “left out of every conversation” otherwise.

Though the panelists worked in different offices, many of the panelists had worked on the same issues, sometimes collaboratively. One issue that almost all of them had worked on was reducing racialized military hazing and bullying against Asian American servicemembers. The panel members cited Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27) as a particularly strong advocate of this issue, who became involved after her nephew, Lance Corporal Harry Lew, committed suicide after being harassed by his fellow Marines. Other issues that the panelists had worked on or are currently addressing are medical care for the descendants of those affected by Agent Orange and getting AAPI data disaggregated from the general health care data received as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The panel was frank about the incremental pace of policymaking, particularly for those in the minority party. Many of the “wins” they described were on veterans-related issues not only because of their importance, but also because they are issues that legislators from both sides of the aisle are willing to work together on. Policymaking takes a long time, and much progress, in the words of one panelist, comes from “the momentum of those before us.”

The panelists prepare for their discussion.
The panelists prepare for their discussion.

In terms of advice for future AAPI leaders, all of the panel members agreed that forming relationships with others in the policymaking world was essential to getting things done effectively and keeping everyone accountable. KJ Bagchi talked about a situation in which the political climate did not make reaching out to the other party’s leadership advisable, but outside stakeholder groups with relationships to representatives from both parties were able to bridge the gap and help to start a conversation.

After the panel finished, the panelists stayed to chat with WLP attendees, including the ILF fellows. Overall it was a great opportunity to hear from people currently involved in the policymaking process and learn from their experiences.

by 2015 Fellow Sofi Sinozich