Nov 12, 2008

The Abuse of APA Agencies by Mainstream Service Groups

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Mainstream service organization that's been around for a long time always gets a big chunk of money to work with a large subset of the population - such as children in the City or seniors in the County. Said organization does not have bilingual staff, usually at all, though there are now more Spanish-speaking white folks around, particularly in legal service organizations.

But regardless, they just don't have bilingual staff, and they use LanguageLine or that old AT&T service to call in people with the language ability (but who may not be local, or have any knowledge about the subject matter at all - a critical need in health and legal service provision, let alone mental health). But of course, their actual mandate is to serve all people, often regardless of immigration status, who fit into their slice of the population (women, seniors, children, whatever).

So what happens? Often, they only do one or two outreach events a year in the APA community, in particular. They use community organizations instead of other spaces like libraries because they have absolutely no way of reaching out themselves (and many traditional legal service organizations don't outreach much at all anyway). And here's the kicker: they don't have the bilingual staff and don't hire interpreters to effectively communicate with the community members. For some reason, that's not important enough for these people, and they just don't get it.

These organizations end up asking (i.e. telling) the community-based groups to do last-minute translations and interpretations. You know the groups - those that are hanging on with bare bones budgets, in spaces that are too small, staff that is underpaid, directors who are often first generation and sometimes not the best managers, but groups that the communities trust and that have been there for their community day in and day out.

This is totally unacceptable. Asian American community organizations should be supported to work directly in their own communities - it makes sense in larger cities to have larger, mainstream service organizations that can take care of common problems, and I feel strongly that they should work with all communities, but they have to step up and integrate language and cultural competence across the board - from their staffing to their processes and expectations of clients. Until that happens, it ever will, there is a critical need that organizations serving immigrants fulfill.

Some Asian American community organizations can work with individuals in a number of different languages, which is still better than the mainstream organizations, but the established groups actually have other resources for the smaller language communities (like Ilocano or Thai) that the mainstream groups cannot even begin to understand. But our groups are not interpreter agencies. And our value should not be limited to just filling in the gaps that the big groups don't want to accept are their responsibility too.

This is why most of our organizations should move from just direct service provision to both advocacy within service circles for full and equal community access, and organizing within our communities so that they can create their own solutions and raise their voices against business as usual in the nonprofit-industrial complex.


Anonymous said...

Whoa there my friend, you're talking about radically shifting the culture of the non-profit sector, and that would defeat its purpose of suppressing social movements. I'm being sarcastic of course, great post.

Rage said...

Ha - that's right. I'm getting a little too uppity for my own good... but you know, the world needs a shakeup. Thanks for dropping in!