CAPM Picnic participants, from left, Emma Corrie, an MnDOT Operations Business Division manager; Ed Ehlinger, an MDH Commissioner; Adeel Lair, CAPM Liaison; Ilene Her, executive director, CAPM; Matthew Collie, MDH Legislative Liaison; and Jeanne Ayers, MDH Assistant Commissioner. (AAP photo by Mary Tan)
By MARY TAN
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (June 20, 2011) – It was a sunny and hot day in front of the Vietnam Memorial near the State Capitol, where more than 20 supporters of the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans gathered to celebrate summer. The traditional Asian potluck was full of delicacies including lo mein noodles and shrimp spring rolls from near-by University Avenue restaurants. Other aromatic dishes were homemade by event-goers themselves.
As the group of Asian Americans lunched, the topic quickly spread to the topic of the government shutdown, which at the time was looming.
“We don’t know if we’re coming to work tomorrow. I am a thrifty person so I am prepared but it’s still very concerning,” said Brian Kao, a research analyst with CAPM. “I hope a government shutdown doesn’t last too long.”
Ilene Her, executive director, CAPM, chose to speak with pride about what her organization has accomplished over the past year. She didn’t want the negativity of a shutdown to dampen the mood.
“Sometimes we’re so busy bringing bread to the table, we don’t take a moment to celebrate community,” said Her, adding that she is extremely proud of the advocacy work CAPM has done in the areas of public school funding and health issues.
“The majority of South East Asian refugees attend public schools,” she added. “We worked hard to stress to the Governor and state legislators that de-investing in public education has a serious impact on our students. We have an achievement gap that needs to be addressed. We were also outspoken about the rising health costs for many in the Asian American community.”
Ed Ehlinger, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, was one of a handful of state leaders who attended the event to show his support of the Council.
“We support the work of minority groups like the CAPM,” said Ehlinger. “We appreciate their dedication and hard work. They tell us the stories that we, as policy makers, need to hear. We need to know the health issues of our diverse populations.”
Her said that she wishes more Minnesotans of Asian American descent would take an active role in her organization. “Our community doesn’t understand that government falls into each and every crack of life. When we join together, we’re an active and louder voice.”
Adeel Lari is a former CAPM board member and a past president. He is now an advocate and liaison to CAPM and led work on representing minority communities in testifying to the State Legislature on the impact of some redistricting efforts on communities. He has also led the Asian Cultural Center project.
Lari said he agrees with Her, in that the state budget cuts and the government shutdown should not affect the determination of members.
“There is a lot of work to be done shutdown or no shutdown,” said Lari. “We need to be more politically astute.”
The CAPM has an annual budget of $270,000 per year, which includes everything from the very small staff to operating expenses. Her says she isn’t sure what the legislature will fund in the future but realistically she expects at least a 20 percent reduction. She says board members will continue their work by relying even more on volunteers and doing more with less.
While CAPM staff are currently not working officially, they still have a fun upcoming event to lift their spirits. The annual Dragon Festival is July 9 and 10 at Lake Phalen in Saint Paul.
“We hope everyone will come as a show of support. Shutdown or no shutdown, the festival will brighten the doom and gloom of state government budget woes.”