PEAK launched four peer groups for peer learning and support in spring 2021 in response to members asking for more dedicated spaces to convene around shared identities. Among them is the PEAK Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus, which met for the first time during PEAK2021 Online. Over the past year, this group has been a space to discuss identity, personal and professional challenges, and to provide mentorship and a fortified sense of community to help members to have successful careers in the sector.
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, cochairs Jina Song Freiberg, senior grants manager at the Katz Amsterdam Foundation; Anna Huynh, grants and systems director at the Baszucki Family Foundation; and Sheryl Saturnino, grants administration associate at the Miami Foundation, reflect in this Q&A on the activating power of this peer group and the potential it has to reshape giving practices.
Why did you want to cochair PEAK’s AAPI Caucus?
Saturnino: The AAPI Caucus was founded shortly after the Atlanta spa shootings that took the lives of six Asian women. As the only AAPI-identifying person at my workplace, I needed community and a safe place to vent. Around the same time, PEAK had sent out an email inviting members to join affinity groups and communities of practice and I was shocked to see that an AAPI group did not exist. I emailed PEAK staff and asked what was needed to create one, and from there, we had our first meeting where we held space to reflect on rising anti-Asian violence. Serving as cochair has allowed me to stay connected to my Filipino identity, which is not easy living and working in Miami.
Freiberg: I wanted to be able to contribute to the AAPI community by helping to create a space for members to learn, share, and support one another. I’ve also longed for a community like this one, and to meet other AAPI professionals in the philanthropy and grantmaking space. And I was thankful to have the space to be with others and share our own thoughts and experiences during the time when attacks on AAPI people were becoming so widespread that it was difficult to process everything alone.
Huynh: Having worked in the private sector for most of my career, and in the philanthropy sector in the last 4 years, I’ve really leaned on the PEAK community for knowledge. But I was also yearning for a community to connect with beyond just about workflows and processes; where I could openly talk about AAPI issues and how philanthropy can help and to be able to have these conversations without having to explain the AAPI experience or justify the challenges. I wanted to build a safe and supportive space with fellow AAPI PEAK members to laugh, vent, share ideas, and lean on one another.
In what ways do you see the caucus as being able to fill professional and informational gaps in the field?
Huynh: I believe that the caucus is a first step for PEAK members who identify as AAPI to be in community with one another and to feel at ease to share frustrations, ideas, and hopes we have for a professional field where AAPIs are the minority. As a minority in the field, it can sometimes feel like no one in the room could relate to our experiences as Asian Americans, as immigrants, or children of immigrants.
Asian Americans as a group are not monolithic, and our experiences are vastly different among different ethnicities. This is an example of a common understanding that many of us have. With understanding and acceptance, we don’t have to agonize over having to explain our experiences or worry that our experiences may be questioned.
There’s something freeing that comes from feeling understood through the smiles and nods from others in the room. From this place of safety, we can deliberate and strategize more effectively on how the field can better serve our community.
Saturnino: The caucus has been a supportive group for AAPI individuals in the grantmaking space, and conversation topics have ranged from elevating funding for AAPI communities to the hobbies we picked up during the pandemic. I love that we’ve been able to cultivate relationships virtually. Our Zoom meetings always feel like a family get-together.
What is an insight or a discussion theme that has made your participation in the caucus a valuable experience?
Huynh: The first PEAK AAPI Caucus meeting had over 40 attendees, and I felt a sense of belonging that I didn’t know I was looking for in the philanthropic space. Our conversations were organic and dynamic and I look forward to each meeting to build connections and friendships in this space.
Freiberg: Self-advocacy. The more time I spend with my cochairs and community members, I realize many of us face similar professional experiences when trying to advocate for ourselves. Hearing from different members’ experiences and perspectives have been helpful for me in my own career.
Saturnino: A common theme that has come up is professional development and possibly starting a mentorship or buddy program. I love that our community has people at different stages of their careers and people aren’t afraid to ask questions or seek advice.
In what ways can the funder community best support the AAPI community right now?
Huynh: A report published by AAPIP in 2021 highlighted that “for every $100 awarded by foundations, only 20 cents is designated to Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.” Additionally, “five funders accounted for nearly 40 percent of all philanthropic support”. Despite foundation funding increasing more than 350 percent between 2008 to 2018, foundation funding designated for AAPI communities in the United States increased by only 20 percent.
These numbers were not surprising to me. Volunteering for AAPI organizations over the last 10 years, I remember thinking that it feels like we’re all applying for the same bucket of money. This report put what we already knew into concrete numbers.
Firstly, there should be ongoing support for this study so we can measure our progress. Secondly, given that only 0.2 percent of foundation dollars go to AAPI communities, funders have a tremendous opportunity to invest and create positive change in the AAPI community. With the rise of violence against the Asian American community since the pandemic, funders can support AAPI efforts to fight misinformation, advocate for Asian American studies in public schools, and increase language access to resources for the vast Asian ethnicities in the United States.
Freiberg: Celebrate the AAPI professionals in your organization. Include the AAPI community in your DEI work, whether it’s through funding AAPI led organizations and causes or internal education work. I remember at the height of the AAPI attacks, a large Colorado funder hosted a conversation and forum with AAPI leaders in the field for an honest discussion on what was happening even though this topic had nothing to do with the funder’s primary program areas of focus. That’s an example of a funder creating the brave space to be in discussion, but also opening it up to both internal and external partners for shared learning.
In what ways does reflecting on AAPI heritage activate you in your work?
Freiberg: Growing up as an immigrant and a Korean American, I often think of the many sacrifices my parents made for me that allowed me to be successful in my work. It’s a primary motivator for me, especially because they’ve instilled certain Korean heritage values of hard work, respect for others, and the importance of community. All those values and my experiences remind me every day of what a privilege it is to work in philanthropy.
Huynh: I am reminded of our resilience and resourcefulness. I am reminded of my own power and value. I’m motivated to celebrate the work of my fellow AAPI PEAK members within their circle of influence and within their own workplace. I think it’s important to take time to celebrate our achievements while still knowing we have more work to do.