Joseph Santos-Lyons and APANO
Joseph's career as an organizer started early. "I was always looking for a strong, empowered positive community of color to be engaged with," he says. Growing up in a mixed-race home in Clackamas County, he was motivated early on to organize and advocate for whole, healthy neighborhoods. His work as a young organizer took him all over the world and to divinity school before he landed back in Oregon and started volunteering with APANO, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, in 2008. APANO is a statewide grassroots organization that unites Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. They use their collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating with the API community. It was founded in 1996 by a diverse group of community leaders who envisioned an Oregon where the API community had political power and culturally appropriate social services.
And now, with Joseph's leadership as first a volunteer, then staff, and now ED, APANO is a key part of the growing Oregon Voice network, something he says is happening at just the right moment. "This feels like a real opportunity to organize and energize one of Oregon's fastest growing communities. We can really fill a need around civic engagement and policy advocacy," he says. From 2000 to 2012, the Pacific Islander population grew 68% while the Asian population grew 40%. APIs are the fastest-growing and second-largest community of color in Oregon, a state where people of color are increasingly a politically powerful part of the Rising American Electorate. And while 70% of APIs reside in the Portland-metro region, they have growing communities in Marion, Jackson, Lane and Benton counties.
Given these statistics, APANO wears many hats these days, and Joseph has a lot to be proud of. With a membership of over 2,000 and growing, they just underwent their first strategic planning process and are preparing to put forward the first legislative bill on which they've taken primary leadership: a law that would make more accurate the way the state counts and collects data from people of color. Meanwhile, APANO is also preparing to help lead the Health Kids, Healthy Portland campaign, a coalition effort to fluoridate Portland's water.
Joseph and APANO's relationship with the Oregon Voice network is one of mutual benefits, he says. "There are so many things we cannot do on our own, and we look to collaboratives that we can invest in and where we can get the kind of expertise that helps us achieve our goals." He points to the Oregon Voice legislative roundtable cohort, a group that meets monthly in the Capitol to strategize together and receive expert training from a seasoned lobbyist, as an example.
But anyone who has been to an Oregon Voice table meeting, or volunteered with one of many young APANO leaders at a naturalization ceremony with the New American Voters Project, will say that Oregon Voice gets just as much in return. Joseph is proud of what he and APANO can bring to the table and hopes that all of the Oregon Voice table partners continue to be energized by the work they can do together. "I think the table knows they have a ready partner in APANO, a partner who's willing to experiment with practices that reach the Rising American Electorate," he says. "We've got a lot of room to grow, and Oregon Voice is a place where we can really be inspired but also be challenged to improve."