Albany, NY: October 10, 2017. (PCP) APAPA Civic Leadership Forum was held on September 30, 2017 at Hotel Albany Marriott. The event was attended by prominent politicians like Congressman Paul Tonko, Schenectady City Council President Leesa Perrazo; Niskayuna School Board Member Jennifer Zhao; Counsel to New York City Public Advocate, Umair Khan, Esq., Sean Ward, Albany County Legislature Chairman; Phil Barrett, Clifton Park Town Supervisor; Sridar Chittur, Albany School Board Member and Seema Rivera, Guilderland School Board.
The audience of Asian Pacific Islander (API) Americans as well as allies, started the morning with the pledge of allegiance led by Andrea Thomas, and the national anthem sung by Amal Thomas. Li Zhang welcomed audience as the host for the event.
APAPA Albany Chapter chairman HP Wang summarized the first 18 months of APAPA, with its focus on voter registration, outreach to local officials, internship program and membership growth. He expressed his appreciation for the work of local volunteers as we well as APAPA founders esp. Mr. C.C. Yin. He talked about his own desire to see greater representation of Asian Pacific Islander community members in the New York assembly and senate as well as local government. He reminded the audience, that despite constituting 9% of New York’s population, there are still no Asian Pacific Islander American members in the NY senate, and only two in the assembly.
Michael Fondacaro, presented an extensive PowerPoint on Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities in the 11 counties of the Capital Region, as well as the communities in the North Country, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Southern Tier Regions. He also touched upon the issue of hate crimes against API individuals.
A panel discussion followed, entitled “All Politics Is Local”. Dr. Aliya Saeed moderated, discussants included Schenectady City Council President Leesa Perrazo; Niskayuna School Board Member Jennifer Zhao and Counsel to New York City Public Advocate, Umair Khan, Esq.
In her remarks to open the panel, Dr. Saeed talked about the history of anti semitism in Europe as a case study of how quickly even model minorities can be scapegoated. She urged attendees not to be complacent, that assimilation and invisibility do not protect, and that social justice gains are not always permanent.
Ms. Perazzo noted that being involved in local politics and voting is especially important, because that is where taxpayer money is being spent. In response to a question, she acknowledged that her recent show of support for Sanctuary City status for Schenectady was rooted in her concern for all residents of Schenectady.
Khan reminded the audience that he was speaking in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of his office. He narrated how he was expected to be a doctor, but became an attorney instead as he became inspired to seek justice in the post 9-11 era. He especially addressed the young members in attendance, encouraging them to embrace their identity while engaging with the political process.
Zhao described her own unexpected, yet fulfilling journey into politics, and educated the audience about how they can remain aware of how their school boards function.
Congressman Paul Tonko delivered the session’s keynote address. He said his involvement in, and speaking to APAPA is something he values. As a grandson of immigrants, he said he is honoring their legacy by approaching issues with an “immigrant heart.” He highlighted his support and concern for the DACA recipients, addressing some of the common misperceptions about them, and called the API community a crown jewel in the mosaic of a diverse capital district.
Other elected officials and candidates present included : Sean Ward, Albany County Legislature Chairman; Phil Barrett, Clifton Park Town Supervisor; Sridar Chittur, Albany School Board Member; Seema Rivera, Guilderland School Board Member; and Alfredo Balarin, a candidate for the 11th Ward in the City of Albany’s Common Council.