Asset Builder Champion Profile: Lisa Hasegawa

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Lisa Hasegawa is the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD), the first national advocacy organization focused on housing and community development for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Hasegawa also serves on the Board of Directors of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Executive Committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. She was the community liaison for the White House Initiative on AAPIs and worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health.

Clearly, Lisa is an individual with a long list of achievements, but before we delve too deep into her spotlight, we wanted to highlight one achievement that needs a little backstory.

In February 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed, which resulted in the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, Lisa’s family included. Lisa’s grandparents and their infant daughter — Lisa’s mother — were forced to relocate to Jerome, Arkansas. In 1945, the family was deported to Japan and remained there until their citizenship was restored under McGrath v Abo.

The painful history will never disappear from the history books, nor should it. When taken to a memorial back in Arkansas, Lisa’s grandmother held Lisa’s hand and said, “I’m so glad people remember.”

There was not another executive order specific to the Asian American and Pacific Island community for 57 years. In June of 1999, Executive Order 13125 went into effect when signed by President Clinton. This time, the purpose was to increase participation of the AAPI community within the federal government, in order for their representation to be more proportionate. It was this executive order that created the new position of community liaison and allowed Lisa to step into a role to fight for the AAPI community on a federal level.

When recalling her time there, Lisa said, “There was a sense of tremendous responsibility and opportunity. No one had ever tried to do what we did.” Yet, she cautions, there are eerily reminiscent policies going on today that reflect that dark time in 1942. “The heightened levels of suspicion and overzealous law enforcement that so clearly targets and impacts people of color is heartbreaking.  Since Barack Obama became president, [too many have] come face to face with the realities of bureaucracy and resistance from within federal agencies, Congress and conservative backlash.”

The amount of hurdles facing Lisa at National CAPACD is endless, as things tend to be when a nonprofit takes on economic insecurity of an entire group of American citizens. But one large hurdle might be a little surprising: the way data about them is collected. Lisa’s work, uplifting some of the poorest subpopulations of the AAPI community, is in direct conflict with how the AAPI community is categorized as a whole, both federally and in the general population’s consciousness. Not all AAPI’s are wealthy, Lisa wrote, nor do they all have wealthy relatives. “Take my family. My grandmothers were a garment and domestic worker. My grandfathers were an agricultural worker and a TV repairman.” She continued that these are people who “are certainly much better off than so many AAPI families who came as refugees, who do not speak English, who do not understand how systems in the US work.” Basically, because the Asian community is combined as a whole, high-earning subgroups overshadow communities that are in desperate need for stronger federal programs. This is why Lisa works closely with the White House in order to strengthen the government’s ability to collect, analyze, and disseminate better data.

This would not be a proper spotlight without ending on something important to Lisa: advocacy and civic engagement. When asked about the subject, she had this to say:

Not only is it important, but it is important to do in a broader frame of racial, social, and economic justice.  Asian Americans are so often used by the right as a wedge community.  Professor David Shih wrote a very on point article recently about the indictment of officer Peter Liang in the shooting of Akai Gurley.  He aptly stated, “Like negative stereotypes, the model minority stereotype is also a tool of white supremacy. The model minority stereotype has always been less about praising Asian people than it has been about shaming black people.” Advocacy and civic engagement of AAPI communities around key racial and social justice issues prevents us from being used as a wedge and strengthens movements. 

We here at the Center for Global Policy Solutions applaud Lisa Hasegawa for her strong dedication and impressive effort lifting up the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community and we look forward to many more years working alongside her.

Click here for our full interview with Lisa.

Written by Alex Bannon