President's Perspective Blog

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Celebration, Struggle or Both?

woman in thought

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month occurs throughout May to recognize the contributions and influence of Asians and Pacific Islander to the history, culture, and achievements of many countries, including the United States.

But it didn’t always feel like a cause for celebration for me. 

My family immigrated from Vietnam to Hawaii and struggled to start a new life in an unfamiliar country.  In elementary school, I struggled to learn English as other kids pointed at me when I couldn’t pronounce words with “l” or “r” properly.

At college in DC, I struggled to fit in. I remember one young man pointed at me during a boisterous Spring Break party and announced loudly to his group of friends that he would never kiss a “gook.”

Raising my family in Seattle, I struggled to explain to my two young children why a woman pointed at us and screamed, “You Asians brought this virus to America and now the rest of us have to wear masks!”

In my work as a fundraiser, I struggle to find others that share my same ethnic background and lived experiences in the philanthropic world. But when I do, it’s a cause for celebration! I love the comfort of speaking Chinese, honoring my ancestors’ rich histories, comparing citizenship stories, or cheering for another barrier broken by a BIPOC trailblazer.

According to the 2019 Census Bureau population estimate, Asian Americans account for 5.9% of the U.S. population. According to the same study in the same year, only 2.6% of fundraisers are Asian.

I joined AFP to gain professional training and to learn from and network with others in the industry. As a board member of the AFP U.S. Foundation for Philanthropy, I call upon our organization to make a conscious commitment to at least double the percentage of Asian fundraisers through purposeful scholarships, governance, and career development.

This fits in line with AFP President and CEO Mike Geiger’s promise last year that AFP would not be afraid to embrace change and differences by looking at its leadership nomination process, hiring practices and examining how to make the association more equitable and representative.

There is still so much work to do. It is a messy, awkward, and difficult struggle. In the meantime, may I ask: Do you identify as BIPOC? Please reach out to me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/nonprofitmom808). I would love to get to know you, have conversations, lift our voices, and share personal stories so that we don’t have to struggle alone in our work. There’s also an AFP affinity group for the Asian community being held tomorrow (May 25) on Zoom. Will you be there? If you sign up for the discussion, I look forward to connecting!

谢谢. Mahalo. 

JLDJennifer Li Dotson (she/her) is vice president of philanthropy at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). In this role, she provides executive leadership to shape and develop institutional fundraising efforts across the Indo-Pacific region. Ms. Dotson previously worked at the U.S.-China Business Council, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, and the U.S. Embassy in London. Her professional experience also includes serving with the National Kidney Foundation, American Red Cross, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She holds a BSc from Georgetown University, a MSc from the London School of Economics and speaks two dialects of Chinese fluently. First generation from Vietnam, born and raised in Hawaii, she is a working mom of two elementary school age children that enjoys dancing hula, stand-up paddle boarding, and competing in triathlons. Connect with her on Twitter: @nonprofitmom808.

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