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This week we had our third Washington Leadership Program, on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Women’s Mental Health. This was a smaller, but just as impactful program featuring a “fireside” talk between Moderator Kelly Honda and Dr. DJ Ida and a discussion forum with the audience.

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Kelly Honda currently works as the Policy and Membership manager at the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), where she specializes in education, healthcare, and Native Hawaiian issues. Dr. DJ Ida presented her wealth of knowledge as a health care provider for thirty five years with a special commitment to the issues which affect Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI). They utilized their collaborative knowledge around both the policy side of healthcare and real life experiences with patients to discuss the taboo subject of mental health issues and care in the AAPI community.

One of the key points that Dr. Ida focused on was the diversity of experience we all have even within the AAPI community. As members of the diaspora, some of us are immigrants ourselves, or many generations from it, and also have varied experiences of trauma and treatment within the United States. She discussed the mental health issues that affect Native Hawaiians and others who have struggled with sovereignty and impoverishment. On the other side of the spectrum she also explored the mental toll on children and adults raised to be the “model minority” who have felt the pressure of trying to live up to the better life that children of immigrants often feel pressured to strive for. On the policy side, moderator Kelly Honda explored the Affordable Care Act and the ways that this monumental act changed access for mental health care in addition to physical care for people with different backgrounds and classes.

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In this program the moderators opened up a safe space with a discussion forum, in order to talk about our own misconceptions around mental health and the issues we see affecting ourselves, friends, family, and communities which we so often hide. One young female student asked how we could talk about mental health when faced with the combination of ageism and sexism when speaking to even those closest to us, such as fathers and brothers, especially in cultures which are often based on filial piety.She thought it was best to continue to bring up mental health topics, but at the same time try to understand why some people are resistant. Perhaps it is trauma, toxic environments or misunderstandings of pride that lead to miscommunication. The session succeeded in opening a dialogue around AAPI mental health especially around women and issues which are rarely given time or attention.

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Our Round Table Lunch this week was with moderator Irene Lin and speaker Jason Chung. Irene Lin works as undersecretary in the United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Services and Jason Chung serves as National Director – Asian Pacific American Initiatives and as APA Communications Director at the Republican National Committee (RNC), both of whom are legacies of the CAPAL Scholar and Intern program. Chung was also a former board member.

These two friends, as a democratic and republican, respectively, truly embodied the bi-partisan ethic. They created an exciting atmosphere for the intimate lunch group to learn more about their experiences in campaign and policy work. Chung’s lasting advice was to those of us interested in policy, he imparted, “thing is, you cannot work on policy unless you win something, you gotta go help someone win … if you really want to effect change look to campaigning, staffing, it will give you an insight to the people who you are serving”. This roundtable taught us about more than just how to work for a party, but how to use our position to get what we want for our communities and keep our eye on serving the public how we can.

Click here to register for next week’s Washington Leadership Program IV: Education!

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Taylor Huang-Boutelle 

is an incoming Senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is double majoring in World Literature and Feminist Studies, with a concentration in Law, Politics, and Social Change. Taylor is in the D.C. cohort for the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment (www.causeusa.org) and is currently a summer interns at the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, where she is focusing on development and fundraising, and will be developing the blog content for this summer. Taylor is passionate about issues of representation, coalition between underserved communities, and creating spaces for strength and solidarity around injustices through community activism and public policy. taylor.boutelle [at] capal [dot] org