I met Diana Hwang in 2009 in Boston at a convening hosted by a local donor seeking to launch a “pipeline” for women of color to run for and win political office in Massachusetts. There were about 15 women of color in the room, most of us from community and political organizing. Diana was the only Asian American. She was young, and energetic as she explained to me that she was piloting AAWPI, the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative. At the time, AAWPI was the first and only political leadership organization for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women in the US, and it is still the only one today.

We sat in that room that day excited at the idea of creating a vehicle for building political power for women of color. We were shocked when the donor, a progressive white woman, introduced a small group of white women from UMass/Boston who were already slated to create such a vehicle for women of color. We were not invited to build our own pipeline, but to provide them the information they needed to build it for us. The room got quiet as the women of color looked around at each other, our eyes asking, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

After just a few minutes of this silent nonverbal organizing, a piece of paper was slipped to me across the table: “We have decided you should be the one to name what is going on.” I sighed but did as requested, and we asked the white women to step out of the room so that the women of color could openly discuss what would be needed to move forward.

We quickly agreed that we wanted to lead the project ourselves. Any project to increase the political power of women of color must do so in an aligned way from the start, building power at all levels. We spent the next two years designing and building this pipeline. US Rep Ayanna Pressley—then working as a legislative aide—was the first leader we approached to run for office.

Since then, it has become more common for women leaders of color to run for office and win—though what our pipeline contributed to this change is unclear. As Yawu Miller, Senior Editor of The Bay State Banner, the 57-year-old Boston-based Black newspaper, points out, “Black women have been elected at higher rates than Black men now for a few decades.”

The current mayor of Boston is Michelle Wu, the first Asian American and first woman to be elected to that office. However, AAPIs are underrepresented in politics in the US. Hwang notes that, “though the population of AAPIs in the US is 6.1 percent, 0.9 percent of all elected officials across the US are AAPIs. So, we would need over seven times as many to have equal representation, just base representation.”

Read the full article about AAPI women building political power by Cyndi Suarez at Nonprofit Quarterly.