Objective of the program: To develop the organizing and leadership skills of low-income Asian immigrant youth so they can improve their communities.
In a Nutshell: A division of Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA), Youth Build Immigrant Power (YBIP) focuses on political education, leadership development and collective-action campaigns. Once schooled on important community issues – namely, sweatshop jobs, racism and language barriers – youth work with interns and AIWA staff to develop community action projects. Those include passing out fliers about community issues, participating in anti-war demonstrations and going door to door for get-out-the-vote drives.
Where and When it Happens: AIWA was formed in 1983 to advocate for better conditions for low-income Asian immigrant workers. Its office is located in Oakland’s Chinatown, where many of the families live, work and shop. Youth became increasingly involved with AIWA during its Garment Workers Justice Campaign from 1992 to 1997, and YBIP was created in 1997 to develop the leadership of low-income Asian immigrant youth.
Who started it and Who Runs It: YBIP was developed by youth from the garment workers campaign, with the support of Stacy Kono, AIWA’s former intergenerational program coordinator. It is coordinated by Lily Wang, with the help of a part-time staff. Former YBIP youth leader Rebecca Lam helps youth understand the issues affecting them and their families through Asian Youth United, a 12-week education program.
Obstacles: In the beginning, YBIP offered only a weekend training program twice a year and a few internship positions, making it difficult to increase its base of committed youth. So YBIP youth leaders developed the Asian Youth United program, which youths attend every week. Those who complete Asian Youth United can get internships with YBIP and eventually become core leaders. The bottom-up style brings in about 40 new youth per year, YBIP says. It says it gets more applicants than it can accept.
Cost: About $180,000 a year.
Who Pays: YBIP relies mainly on the support of the Tides, Marguerite Casey and Ms. foundations. It also relies on volunteer tutors and trainers to oversee free workshops.
Youth Served: Low-income Cantonese-speaking Chinese youth from immigrant families, ages 13 to 21. Forty youth are expected to go through Asian Youth United this year, working with 18 interns and 13 core leaders who’ve already been through that part of the program.
Youth Turn-On: Incentives such as food, social events, overnight trips and earning community-service hours.
Youth Turn-Off: “We hardly have space to do workshops for 20 people,” says coordinator Lily Wang. “Kids often say it’s too small, and it’s an indicator of our growing pains. … The program is growing faster than we are able to get more money.”
Results: At least one of YBIP’s youth-led campaigns has had tangible results. The “I Have Something To Say Campaign” was started at Oakland High School because, in a school where 30 percent of students spoke Cantonese, there were no Cantonese speakers on the staff. The effort persuaded the school to hire two bilingual community assistants. The principal also agreed to let a committee of immigrant youth and parents conduct the interviews and make the final hiring decisions.