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"NAKASEC,"

by Chung-Wha Hong May/June 1999 issue of Poverty & Race

The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) seeks to empower the Korean American community through education, advocacy and organizing around immigrant rights, civil rights and other issues that affect the Asian Pacific American community.

Some examples of our recent and current work and accomplishments include the following:

1) Immigrant Rights Organizing
The welfare reform law and immigration laws passed in 1996 sent shock waves throughout the immigrant communities in their discriminatory and harsh anti-immigrant provisions. These laws targeted the most vulnerable members of the immigrant community, elderly, disabled, poor, recent immigrants, non-English speakers and non-citizens.

When the safety net benefits were completely eliminated for the elderly and low-income immigrants, it threatened the very subsistence of these groups. The Asian American and Korean American community were severely impacted and started to organize for change. NAKASEC joined with other immigrants in launching an aggressive campaign to restore SSI (cash assistance for low-income elderly and the disabled) and Food Stamps. Korean elderly immigrants went from suicidal dejection to writing letters to members of Congress for the first time in their lives.

NAKASEC translated their letters and facilitated meetings where they told their stories to lawmakers. NAKASEC volunteers went door to door in senior apartments, visited Korean churches, set up tables at the Korean markets to educate and mobilize the community by the thousands. We held community meetings and volunteer meetings to plan our strategy. We launched a dollar-a-person campaign to raise over $55,000 from the community in the summer of 1995. Korean Americans signed and sent over 5,000 paper plates with messages, “More children are going hungry each day. Please restore Food Stamps to immigrants.” The paper plates symbolized empty plates for immigrant families who lost their Food Stamp benefits.

The outcome of the organizing efforts in the Korean American community was two-fold. First, together with other immigrants, we won policy changes that partially restored the SSI elderly benefits and Food Stamps. Second, a new informed constituency was created within the Korean American community, which experienced civic participation and community activism in the United States for the first time. In short, we not only won concrete benefits but in the process, also politicized the community so that immigrant rights activism became an indelible part of the Korean American identity and history.

2) Advocating for Immigrant Students in New York
The 1990 Census found that 6.3 million youth between the ages of 5-17 speak languages other than English. In the Asian Pacific American community, the number of Asian Pacific American school-age children grew sixfold, from 212,900 to almost 1.3 million between 1960 and 1990. By the year 2020, it is estimated that there will be 4.4 million Asian American children between the ages of 5 and 17. Because the majority of Asian Americans are foreign-born, estimates are that by the year 2000, 75% of Asian Pacific American school-age children will be foreign-born or the children of recent immigrants. For these reasons, bilingual education and other programs geared toward English Language Learner (ELL) students have a disproportionate impact on Asian American children.

ELL student education is in a state of emergency in New York. Particularly with passage of the new Regents standards and the high school graduation requirements, the future of many disadvantaged and poor immigrant students receiving high school diplomas is bleaker than ever.

The new Regents requirements have presented one of the most difficult challenges to the education advocacy community, school system, students and parents. The new standards are a disastrous combination of more difficult tests, particularly those required for graduation, hasty implementation and no allocation of resources for students and teachers to prepare for the standards. The hasty implementation of the standards and the new testing requirements will penalize ELL students and will increase dropout rates of ELLs if other measures are not taken. The new standards require that in order to graduate, even ESL (English as a Second Language) students — who have a curriculum very different from the ELL students — must pass the English Language Arts exam designed to test native English speakers. Many other shortcomings in the school system’s treatment of ELL students aggravate the situation and make it difficult for students to succeed academically.

In response, NAKASEC has started to work with the Korean American and other immigrant communities to advocate for the rights of immigrant students through rallies, events and trainings. We hope to actively involve parents, students and community groups in developing community strategies to promote quality education for immigrant students.

3) The Asian Pacific American (APA)Curriculum Project
The APA Curriculum Project is designed to address the virtual absence of education about Asian Pacific Americans in New York City’s secondary schools. A survey of students from five high schools in Queens showed that even schools with as much as 25% - 40% Asian Pacific American student population did not expose their students to any substantive Asian American issues.

The Project has started to meet with administrators and teachers at a number of schools to form partnerships where selected schools will pilot curriculum materials provided by NAKASEC. The resource packet includes background materials on the Asian Pacific American community, sample lessons on Asian Pacific American history and current issues, audio-visual aids and a bibliography of relevant books and materials. The materials will assist teachers to integrate Asian Pacific American issues into their existing curriculum. In the long term, the Project seeks to develop a model for effective school-community partnerships that will enrich the curriculum with community input and enable teachers to bridge the gap between what is taught in the classroom and what is happening on the community level.

Notes:

For more information about the above and other NAKASEC programs, please contact us at 50-16 Parsons Blvd., #100, Flushing, NY 11355, 718/445-3939.

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