Outreach has always been natural to me. I love learning about other people, discovering their needs, their stories, and connecting them to a larger movement or body of work in the community. As the Co-Chair of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum – Seattle Chapter and long time grassroots activist, I’ve had plenty of opportunity and experience outreaching into the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community.
In my most recent position as the creator and Campaign Director of Fearless Asians for Immigration Reform (FAIR!), a Seattle-based project that addresses the lack of services and support for undocumented APIs who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I have learned that outreaching to a community in hiding is like an up-mountain battle, with small wins and beautiful views but challenging throughout the way.
In the early stages of the work I found a common pattern. That even with the numerous resources I offer through the FAIR! campaign (i.e., access to free immigration attorneys, screenings, scholarships, financial assistance, interpreters, and social support), APIs were still reluctant to pass on our info or services to those who needed it. This was consistent regardless of the positive feedback I would receive, such as, “Wow! I can’t believe there is such a great a program and resource available” or “my (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt) really needs this kind of support.”
This was also consistent regardless of my various follow-up methods, which started with a polite and respectful request, “please pass my card and flyer along to your (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt).” This method produced zero inquiries (unsurprisingly).
I then tried a stronger approach, “I’m glad this resource is going to be useful to your (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt)! Could you provide me with their name and contact info so that I can reach out to them?” I reassured them that I was well intentioned and not looking to deport anyone. But this method, produced concerned looks, uneasiness, and the slow but steady backing away (also, unsurprisingly).
After numerous similar encounters, I noticed something significant. The people I was talking to recognized that they have just shared a deep family secret. For many, this secret was not supposed to be as widely spread. And while this family secret might be well known, it was rarely discussed. Therefore, the idea of bringing a stranger into this secret world would be nothing less than sabotage to their family.
So once again, my outreach methods evolved. Now when I’m within one degree of separation I ask folks for permission to contact them and follow-up about how I can help their (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt). This method has been far more successful, with nearly 95% of my requests being granted.
I thought I had found the solution! This was going to be it! I now was within a 1 degree separation of helping an undocumented API person and had the follow-up contact info I needed. Equipped with the right information, I made the follow-up phone calls, “Hello, this is Marissa Vichayapai, Director of the FAIR! Campaign. It was really nice talking to you about your (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt), who is undocumented. I just wanted to follow-up and see how I can help him/her/them.”
The responses I received were mixed.
There were those who really were willing to put themselves out there and advocate for their (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt). But overwhelmingly I received responses from those who wanted to advocate but couldn’t get past the initial barriers. From their anecdotes I heard,
“I’m not sure when I’ll see my (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt) again, but when I do I’ll try to mention it.”
“I’ll try to bring it up to my (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt), but I’m not sure.”
“There is no way my (friend/cousin/neighbor/aunt) will want to talk about the issue, sorry.”
This leaves me to wonder, how do I activate these intermediary people? Those who are within one degree of separation from an undocumented API person, how do I get them to bridge the gap? When I am so, so close… but still so, so far. I’m still searching for the right answer. For those allies who have experience and advice about how to reach hidden communities, please share your tips, techniques, and insights. And for others who are in a similar situation- I have so much gratitude and appreciation for the work you do. Please share your experience and inspirations.