Long-term Impact: Coalition of Asian American Leaders
Bo Thao-Urabe envisions a better Minnesota for everyone. That’s why, in 2013, she joined forces with two other local leaders to lay the groundwork for what would become the Coalition of Asian American Leaders.
“There was a sense that the Asian American community felt invisible and excluded from a lot of different efforts,” says Thao-Urabe, the group’s executive and network director. “Those conversations really prompted the founding of the coalition.”
St. Paul-based CAAL plays an important role in stemming a tide of anti-Asian sentiment across the state. The coalition worked with the Minnesota Department of Justice to set up a hotline for people who have witnessed or experienced incidents of discrimination during the pandemic. In 2020, the coalition raised more than $400,000 to support both Asian Minnesotan organizations and BIPOC leaders. As of early March, CAAL had distributed $240,000 of that to 19 projects.
Thao-Urabe emphasizes that Asian Americans in Minnesota comprise a diverse set of more than 40 different ethnic groups.
“We can’t assume that just because we say ‘Asian American’ that everyone is served,” Thao-Urabe says. “There are language and cultural considerations.” Roughly 60 percent of Minnesota’s Asian American population are foreign-born, she says. In February, CAAL launched an online map designed to help communities access immigration-related services.
CAAL also focuses much of its energy on supporting often-overlooked businesses, such as nail salons and ethnic grocery stores—the small, service-oriented businesses that needed quick financial assistance when the pandemic hit.
“We really pushed for more relief grants and not loans,” Thao-Urabe says. “One of the things we heard was these were such small businesses that they couldn’t afford to take on more loans because they weren’t sure they would recover.”
Bilal Alkatout, senior program manager at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, which has provided funding for some of CAAL’s anti-racism initiatives, applauds the organization’s hands-on efforts. The coalition’s overall approach to community service, he says, is “grounded in the belief that our democracy thrives when people are visible, included, and actively engaged in shaping decisions that impact their lives.”