January 16, 2020

Meet Liz OuYang, one of our trainers for our Norman Y. Mineta Leadership Institute training tour. Liz is a civil rights attorney and community advocate with decades of experience championing for the AANHPI community and organizing around the U.S. Census. [Interview has been edited for length, grammar, and clarity]

Q: Tell me a little about yourself

A: For 33 years, I have been a civil rights attorney and community advocate and for nearly 20 years, an educator at Columbia and New York Universities.  Under the New York Immigration Coalition, I coordinated the founding and growth of New York Counts 2020, the first and largest statewide coalition in New York State advocating for a fair and accurate Census. In this role, I led New York's advocacy efforts to successfully remove the citizenship questions from the 2020 Census.  I currently am overseeing APA VOICE's Complete Count Committee in New York City.   

Q: What made you get into working with the AANHPI community? 

A: My post-college years and activism was sparked by the killing of Vincent Chin and a longtime mentor, Regina Lee, a now-retired community lawyer and activist.  Volunteer activism turned into a career in civil rights law promoting civic engagement, combating hate crimes and police brutality, and advocating for the rights of APA's, including other marginalized groups, and persons with disabilities in Boston and New York City. 

Some of my greatest honors has been fighting for justice for Private Danny Chen, a 19-year-old fatal victim of military hazing and racial maltreatment, preventing a teenage, orphaned boy from Pakistan from being deported, helping to obtain a pardon from Governor Patterson for a Chinese lawful permanent resident with a minor criminal record, a case which led to the creation of New York State's Pardon Review Panel, and advocating for the successful passage of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act which led to bilingual voting information in various Asian languages. 

Q: How would you describe your experience as a NYMLI trainer? 

A: An eye-opening challenge to see the diversity, growth, and potential for AANHPI communities throughout the country. From the rooted Filipino community to the recent Hmong community in the Twin Cities, Minnesota; the succeeding generations stemming from a Vietnamese refugee resettlement in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the burgeoning wave of new immigrants from China in Miami, Florida; the mix of Cambodian, Pacific Islanders, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino in Tuscon, Arizona; the resilience of the APA community in St. Louis, Missouri; to the settled APA and NHPI communities in Orange County, CA, they all shared in common the desire to be included and treated fairly; to have their voices heard; to receive their fair share of resources.

It was rewarding to see them take the knowledge we shared on the importance of the 2020 Census and empower themselves to come up with an effective, localized strategy to ensure their communities are counted.

Q: Why is the census important? 

A: With Asian Americans being the fastest-growing minority group in the country, it's critical our numbers reflect this growth in the 2020 Census. Federal funding for critical programs our communities need like medicare, housing, education, bilingual assistance, and nutrition for our children are dictated by census results.

Population counts also determine power. The number of congressional House of Representatives seats and electoral votes each state will have and the drawing of federal, state, and city redistricting lines are determined by census responses. Businesses rely on Census data to determine what markets they want to tap into and where to hire and fire workers based on population increases and decreases. And the results of the Census last for 10 years.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

A: Education is a powerful tool. The NYMLI training program on the Census challenges and empowers APA communities to step up and be counted.  

Thanks, Liz for all your work. To see more of her work visit her website www.elizabethouyang.orgFor more information on our remaining trainings in 2020 and to see where we've been in 2019, visit apiavote.org/event/2019-nymli.