Reflections on the Asian American Community in Illinois

Over the last two decades, the Asian American community in Illinois has doubled in size to close to 700,000 residents.  In just the past decade, over 200,000 Asian Americans have moved to our state, and while 40% of them have settled in Cook County, that means that 60% of them are living, working and raising their families out in the suburbs and exurbs of Chicago.  Many are recent immigrants and refugees, seeking the same kind of opportunity that all Americans yearned for when they left their native homelands.  
We also have a growing demographic of what is called “2nd Gen” youth and young professionals who have largely assimilated into mainstream American society.  I am one of them, and while I could technically quality as “1.5 Gen” and definitely would NOT qualify as a youth or young person by any demographic standard (ha!), my work at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago has afforded me the opportunity and privilege to connect with those organizations and leaders in our communities who are truly the pillars of community-based leadership. 

These men and women work at community-based organizations that teach English and citizenship classes, provide culturally-relevant programming for our seniors and youth, and provide access to social safety-net services so that those who are most in-need and vulnerable don’t go without. Their organizations not only serve Asian Americans, but serve as a resource for all the residents of the neighborhoods they serve: Chinatown, West Rogers Park, Uptown, Albany Park and increasingly the suburbs where new immigrants are landing and in need of services such as Elgin, Schaumburg, and Elk Grove Village.  They are Filipino, Lao, Pakistani, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, just to name a few, and serve in over 17 different languages. 
While the purpose of our post-election briefing  today is about  voter turnout and civic engagement among Asian Americans, the stories of why we do this work and commit ourselves to a broader understanding of our shared, pan-Asian American policy agenda can be can be found in the neighborhoods and communities served by our coalition partners.   I’ll be sharing more about our community partners and what we are doing together to increase our commitment to full democratic participation – voting, protecting our voting rights, access and choice – for all Asian Americans, in Illinois, the Midwest, and nationally in the coming months.
Kathleen Jung Hee Fernicola, Director of Policy and Programs  Advancing JusticeChicago
Downloadable reports and links from the briefing include: