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Fellows Corner: APALA’s Convention Motivated and Inspired Me to Stay Connected and Engaged

By September 8, 2023October 26th, 2023No Comments

Bridget Keaveney

One year has passed since my participation in the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)’s border tour of San Diego, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico. The program was conducted in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles’ Labor Center, led by professor and activist Kent Wong.

As I wrote in an article that appeared in the Pacific Citizen last year, the experience left me charged and eager to expand my involvement in the immigrant rights movement. It was a transformational experience that propelled me into a year full of partnered advocacy with groups such as Tsuru for Solidarity and Value Our Families, as well as the Congregation Action Network in Washington, D.C.

I owe so much of what I now know to the teachers and mentors I connected with in spaces that are created and sustained by organizations such as APALA. Due to that experience and my growing affinity for the organization, I became interested in attending APALA’s 17th biennial convention program in Seattle, which was held Aug. 3-6.

JACL and APALA members (from left) Cheyenne Cheng, Stan Shikuma, Sheldon Arakaki and Bridget Keaveney gather for a group photo. (Photo: Courtesy of Bridget Keaveney)

This year’s convention theme was “Workers Rising Together,” and it was centered on celebrating AAPI labor history and developing strategies toward collective liberation.

JACL and APALA members Stan Shikuma (center) and Bridget Keaveney (in white hat) march alongside activists, fellow APALA members and hotel workers in the UNITE HERE Local 8 Hospitality Workers march on Aug. 4. (Photo: Courtesy of Bridget Keaveney)

While the idea of attending a second convention less than two weeks after JACL’s own National Convention seemed initially overwhelming, I was desperate to meet with activists who I knew would provide me with the resources and tools needed to build worker solidarity and fight oppressive systems. I was overcome with gratitude when I was awarded a scholarship to attend APALA’s convention.

As someone who hails from the Pacific Northwest, the idea of returning home and partaking in something as special as APALA’s convention was all I could have wanted and more!

The scholarship required awardees to volunteer their time toward the convention. I was very fortunate to share this experience with my colleague and dear friend, Cheyenne Cheng, who also received a scholarship. The two of us couldn’t help but laugh when we learned that the bulk of the convention’s programming and our very own hotel placement was to be at Seattle’s Westin Hotel, the very same hotel chain where the JACL convention had just been held in Little Tokyo.

It was APALA, after all, who recommended we go with the Westin Bonaventure, given their contract status. I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with someone with whom I look up to. Both APALA and JACL have become a foundational part of our relationship, and I look forward to continuing to be involved in community with Cheyenne in the years to come.

My overall experience at APALA’s convention was excellent. I left feeling inspired and motivated to stay connected and engaged on the issues that were presented, which ranged from gender justice to intergenerational movement building. The following three memorable events most impressed me: The workshop entitled, “Did You Eat Yet? Empowering a New Generation of Undocumented Asian and Pacific Islander Immigrants,” the march with UNITE HERE Local 8 Hospitality Workers and my first experience acting as a voting delegate.

The workshop I listed was facilitated by Empowering API, which received APALA’s John Delloro Trailblazer Award this year for its work in uplifting and equipping undocumented Asian and Pacific Islanders in reclaiming their agency and histories. The workshop was programmed around the group’s published storytelling zine called, “Did You Eat Yet? Stories of Undocumented Asians: The Differences That Shape Us & The Experiences That Unite Us.”

The zine in question was gifted to all those who attended and was used as a point of reference throughout the duration of the session as a means of eliciting conversation surrounding how to best advance undocumented-led initiatives and mobilize support for undocumented APIs.

I was completely taken by the stories, poems and artworks that were featured and carefully crafted by the contributors to the zine. I highly recommend that all those who are interested in reading the zine to purchase a copy using the following URL link: According to Empowering API, all proceeds will help raise funds to produce a second edition of the zine in 2024 and create more resources and visibility for all undocumented immigrants such as scholarships, training, webinars, etc.

The march in which APALA convention delegates and guests participated was organized and led by UNITE HERE Local 8 Hospitality Workers, which aims to “transform thousands of traditionally low-wage jobs into good, family-sustaining, middle-class jobs.” The march began with a protest at the Embassy Suite in Pioneer Square, where APALA members and hospitality workers alike came together to demand living wages, job security, respect in the workplace and a fair contract.

The protest was quickly followed by a march to Hing Hay Park, which is located in Seattle’s historic International District. Once gathered in that location, activists, APALA members and hotel workers alike advocated for more sustainable, inclusive, fair tourism industry practices.

According to KIRO 7 NOW of Seattle, the weekend of Taylor Swift’s concert and the Toronto Blue Jays game in late July generated more than $7 million in room revenue, which is “$2 million more than profits generated in any single day in Seattle’s history” (KIRO 7 News Seattle). As overheard during the protest, it’s only fair that the very people working to keep the business alive share in that prosperity and are properly recognized for their labor.

Finally, my participation as a voting delegate alongside my fellow APALA D.C. chapter members was extremely special and memorable. Having attended the JACL National Convention as a staff member for the last three years, I have never had the opportunity to participate in National Council.

I always wondered what the process of strategizing with my fellow chapter members would be like and how it would feel to enthusiastically raise my voting card for a resolution that I was passionate about. I feel a deep affinity for my chapter and its members, as it is made up largely of friends I have made through my time partnering and working with other AANHPI organizations in D.C.

To be able to share in the experience with those whom I am endlessly inspired by, in a city and region of the U.S. that holds a special place in my heart, meant a great deal to me. I will forever look back on this moment with great fondness and admiration for those campaigning for workers, immigrants and civil rights.

Bridget Keaveney is the JACL Norman Y. Mineta fellow. She is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.