Cate represents San Diego’s City Council District 6 and lives in Mira Mesa.
On Feb. 4, 2012, a 22-year-old Taiwanese American point guard for the New York Knicks named Jeremy Lin had his breakout game. “Linsanity” was the lead story for weeks on “SportsCenter,” and for me, the fervor around Linsanity hit me hard. I remember buying a shirt that had printed across the front, “I love Jeremy Lin because he looks like me.” I realized that day I needed to step up my involvement in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
As a mestizo, both of Filipino and Caucasian descent, my childhood was one in which my understanding of Filipino culture was lacking. My desire to learn about my own background and the roles, history and impact of the AAPI community didn’t emerge until I had already graduated from college and started my professional career. In 2013, I traveled to the Philippines for the first time to see the town where my family lived and to better understand the culture that shapes who I am as a Filipino American. I immediately became a “born-again Filipino.”
While my experience is my own, I know my story is similar to others in which representation is a motivator to become active and engaged. Representation, working in tandem with efforts in leadership development and cultivation in the public sector, generates success.
As May marks Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, there needs to be a spotlight on a community that continues to make tremendous strides in pop culture, film, media, literature and the beauty and culinary industries.
The AAPI community continues to be the fastest growing population in the U.S., according to the latest census data. Based on the 2020 census, San Diego County’s AAPI population has increased by more than 20 percent, with members of our AAPI community comprising over 400,000 individuals.
Chances are you have visited the Convoy District, where you may have enjoyed some boba tea, savored a piping hot bowl of pho or visited one of the many specialty grocery stores. All together, these dining and shopping experiences have resulted in AAPI-owned businesses being some of the most dynamic and fastest-growing enterprises in the United States. Based on a recent survey conducted by the Asian Business Association of San Diego, over 9,000 AAPI-owned businesses and nearly 25,000 self-employed AAPI residents generated $5 billion in economic impact in the San Diego region in 2021.
Over the past eight years as the City Council member representing San Diego’s first Asian-influenced council district, I have worked to generate increased civic engagement and political activity on the part of our community. Today, we have more AAPI appointments to numerous boards and commissions, including on the city of San Diego’s Planning Commission, Park and Recreation Board, and Arts and Culture Commission. We are in the midst of establishing Convoy as the “Pan Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District.”
Unprecedented participation in the redistricting process has led to an increase in the AAPI population in San Diego City Council District 6 to over 40 percent, which in turn led to the disbursement of nearly $2 million in COVID-relief dollars to AAPI-owned businesses impacted by the pandemic.
While this is all positive, there is more we can all do. In recent years, we have seen a staggering increase of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes. It’s unfortunate and disappointing to see continued acts of stereotyping and what is no less than the “othering” of members of the AAPI-community writ large.
These acts have come from leaders in other government agencies, like the superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District recently making presumptive and offensive comments about the financial standing of Chinese immigrant students, and even from within our own community, as tragically witnessed on May 15 when a Chinese immigrant shot at the Taiwanese congregation in a Laguna Woods church, took a life and wounded four others.
In the same way it’s difficult to neatly categorize any racial group, the AAPI community cannot and should not be stereotyped. We are parents, business owners, students, artists, public servants, media personalities, teachers and so much more. And, of course, we are all San Diegans.
Just like my Linsanity moment, which served as a much-needed wake-up call to explore my Asian heritage, we as a society can use this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to become stronger allies to the AAPI community. Certainly, food may be the primary way most San Diegans intersect with AAPI cultures, but I hope this month will inspire you to move beyond your plate and develop a deeper understanding of our diasporic community and celebrate how far we’ve come as Americans.