Asian Americans are critical to the racial justice movement.
“Asian American communities are critical to the racial justice movement not because of demographics, but because of the nature of Asian American identity itself – always in flux and unstable, and as such, ripe for imagination and prone to being made and remade…
Asian American is not a fixed and essential identity, but a political coalition
Asian American is not a fixed and essential identity, but a political coalition united through the experiences of exclusionary immigration and naturalization laws, restrictive marriage laws, labor exploitation, war, and mass incarceration. The original mission of the Asian American movement was to contest the underlying forces behind those experiences – racism, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism – by working across ethnic, racial, and national boundaries.
Interracialism and pan-ethnic organizing were core tenets of movement leaders
Which ethnic groups were included within Asian America was less important to the movement than the shared interests it sought to address. Interracialism and pan-ethnic organizing were core tenets of movement leaders, who were committed to ending the oppression not just of people who looked like them, but perhaps more importantly, of those who didn’t.”- Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit
To be Asian in America is a complicated and nuanced experience to say the least. That is why at CYI, we ground our work in the history of Asian American activism and organizing and operate in anti-racist frameworks that challenge our students’ concepts of social justice. In doing so, we are working to build a legacy of young leaders who with their awareness of community issues and identity through our project initiatives, can leave CYI confident to take on solving the issues of our times. CYI strives to foster the developmental growth of New York City youth socially and emotionally. In order to fulfill its mission, CYI has developed 3 main programs that each align with one of CYI’s core values. While all our programs encompass all our core values in some aspect, each program epitomizes one core value slightly more.
The crux of Chinatown Beautification Day (CBD) is education. Founded in 2003, CBD has been a large event organized in response to government inaction to support Chinatown after 9/11. The 2 day event begins with panels and workshops to introduce Asian American youth to the tools and language to address the racial inequities that they see and experience in their daily lives. The second day is all about going out in the streets, cleaning up, and interacting with the greater Chinatown community. In 2020, youth coordinators, in conjunction with the SLI youth, shifted CBD to be completely remote to organize a large scale event of 100+ high school students (citywide), introducing our students to the possibilities of collective action. We realized that CBD now has the potential to reach even more students and we cannot wait to see what CBD 2021 has in store.
Chinatown Literacy Project (CLP) boldly embodies empowerment; empowerment felt by our youth who run the entire operation and empowerment felt by our ESL learners who through learning a new language, can advocate further for themselves. Founded and led by high school students, the Chinatown Literacy Project has educated and empowered both youth and adult learners in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community by making English instruction accessible for New Yorkers regardless of economic status. Under the guidance of a community advisor, high school coordinators manage the day-to-day operations, including hiring teachers, recruiting language partners, finding adult learners, and leading workshops. CLP is near and dear to us as it is our program that works to strengthen and bridge understanding across generations.
Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) is CYI’s flagship program that personifies exploration. SLI is a six to eight week leadership program led by late-high school and college-aged facilitators who design and lead weekly workshops to engage, educate and empower high school youth using exploratory activities and discussions. Leaders set the tone of SLI by creating a safe space for a cohort of 20-30 high school youth, many of whom are just entering into the fight for racial justice. They then lead the cohort to explore topics such as identity, community and consciousness building, culminating in a tight-knit youth led group inspired to take action.
These 3 programs exemplify CYI’s 3 core values: empowerment, education, and empowerment.
At CYI, our youth tend to move orthogonally, moving up and down our ladder of engagement while simultaneously, participating across our programs. It isn’t uncommon that you’ll find a CYI student being both an advisor for SLI and a facilitator for CBD.
It is our hope that through our programs, our youth will develop and build their political consciousness and leadership skills to reimagine a world where communities come first.