APA Spotlight: Wayne Ho, Executive Director, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

Wayne Ho is the executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF). He is responsible for leading the nation’s only pan-Asian children’s advocacy organization by overseeing agency administration, program oversight, board relations, staff supervision, community partnerships, and fund-raising to improve the health and well-being of Asian Pacific American children and families.

He serves on the board of directors of Coro New York Leadership Center, Human Services Council, New York Foundation, and Partnership for After School Education. To ensure that Asian Pacific American needs are being represented, Wayne is a member of the NYS Governor’s Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board, NYS Office of Children and Family Services’ Internal Review Board, NYC Citizen Review Panel, and Immigration Advisory Board of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services.

He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business of New York University.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Wayne founded several volunteer-based programs to empower youth of color to pursue higher education and to become community advocates. Wayne received his bachelor degree from UC Berkeley and his Master in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He also completed the New American Leaders Fellowship Program of the Coro New York Leadership Center and New York Immigration Coalition. Wayne has received the Making a Difference Award from the Family Health Project, the Commissioner’s Child Advocacy Award from the NYC Administration for Children’s Services, the Community Champion Award from the Korean American Family Service Center, and the Community Service Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, New York Chapter.

The Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, the nation’s only pan-Asian children’s advocacy organization, aims to improve the health and well-being of Asian Pacific American children and families in New York City. CACF challenges stereotypes of Asian Pacific Americans as a “model minority” and advocates on behalf of underserved families in our community, especially immigrants struggling with poverty and limited English skills. CACF promotes better policies, funding, and services to ensure that children of all backgrounds have an equal opportunity to grow up healthy and safe.

What is the mission statement of your life?

There is a Native American saying, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” There is also a Chinese saying, “When you see injustice, protest.” I try to live my life according to these two sayings. I also really like, “Work hard, play hard.”

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

My family emigrated from Singapore to the United States when I was less than a year old, and we lived in a nice neighborhood in San Jose, California. I went to public school and went to college at UC Berkeley. As a college student, I got involved in campus and community organizing. Each year that I was in college, California voters passed bad propositions, including ones that prevented undocumented immigrants from accessing public services, eliminated affirmative action for people of color and women, and eliminated bilingual education. I realized that I had lots of opportunities which other young people did not and that policies were being passed which had negative effects on marginalized communities. I learned how race – as well as gender, class, immigration status, and sexual orientation – plays a major role in the United States, so I sought a career where I could promote social justice. After working at UC Berkeley’s public service center and San Francisco public schools, I went to Harvard’s master in public policy program because I wanted to learn how to effect policy change. In my second year of grad school, I met a board member of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF), and he encouraged me to apply to be the executive director because he knew that I wanted to live and work in New York City. I became the CACF executive director in August 2004 and have been proud of our accomplishments as a pan-Asian children’s advocacy organization. I am fortunate to be at a community based organization that has progressive values and to work with a team of dedicated, thoughtful, and strategic people. CACF deals with three things that I’m passionate about – structural change, racial justice, and children’s rights. I love my job!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

Ken Watanabe. My friends say that he’s my doppelganger. It must be the shaved head and goatee. He sported that look in The Last Samurai.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?

Drop by the CACF office in Lower Manhattan. Follow us on www.cacf.org, www.facebook.com/CACFnyc, or www.twitter.com/cacf to learn how we’re advocating for children and families. Join the Action Council, a group of young professionals who volunteer, fundraise, and hold events for CACF.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

The APIA community would no longer be seen as the “model minority” or the “perpetual foreigner.” We would be a more unified community, where APIAs from different ethnicities, language groups, immigration histories, and socioeconomic backgrounds would see our well-being tied to one another. We would stand in solidarity with other communities of color, and vice versa. Overall, APIAs would gain more visibility and power and would promote social justice.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young professionals? Would you give different advice for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?

Get involved in your community and other communities. Volunteer regularly, not just during the holidays. Donate to local organizations. Join a board of directors of a community based organization. Get your family, friends, and coworkers involved too.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?

Dim sum. When I was a kid, my family used to drive an hour from San Jose to San Francisco at least once a month to have dim sum in Chinatown. McDonald’s. I love the Big Mac and their fries. Bringing back the McRib, even for a short time, was wonderful!

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

Comic books. I have over 30,000 of them, and it’s hard to find storage space in New York City!

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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