Some of the most influential Asian American business leaders are mounting an ambitious plan to challenge anti-Asian discrimination, rewrite school curriculums to reflect the role of Asian Americans in history and collect data to guide policymakers.
The group has pledged $125 million to a new initiative, the Asian American Foundation. The foundation has raised another $125 million from organizations like Walmart, Bank of America, the Ford Foundation and the National Basketball Association.
It is the single largest philanthropic gift devoted to Asian Americans, who make up about 6% of the U.S. population but receive less than 1% of philanthropic funding.
The effort comes amid a surge in violence against Asian Americans. Over the past year, hate crime against Asian Americans has jumped 169%, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which tracks the crimes in 15 major American cities. In New York City, hate crimes have risen even more, by 223%.
The donors to the foundation include Joseph Bae, a co-president of the private equity firm KKR; Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the founder of the caregiver marketplace Care.com; Li Lu, the founder and chairman of the hedge fund Himalaya Capital; Joseph Tsai, a co-founder and the executive vice chairman of the Chinese technology giant Alibaba; Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo; and Peng Zhao, the chief executive of the market maker Citadel Securities. The group’s advisory committee includes Indra Nooyi, a former chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo; the professional basketball player Jeremy Lin; and the journalist Fareed Zakaria.
Donors to the new foundation say Asian Americans face discrimination and challenges that policymakers and philanthropists have long ignored.
Asian Americans are often stereotyped as successful and wealthy. This “persistent and powerful model minority myth” reveals “a lack of understanding of the disparities that exist,” said Sonal Shah, the president of the Asian American Foundation.
While Asian Americans are 12% of the U.S. workforce, they make up only 1.5% of Fortune 500 corporate officers. Among all ethnic and racial groups in the United States, Asians have the biggest income gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10%, according to Pew Research. Asian Americans hold only 3% of congressional seats.
The donors behind the new initiative are taking a page from a recent effort by prominent Black executives, who mounted a campaign against voting bills in Georgia and elsewhere that disproportionately harm Black voters, pushing much of corporate America to join them.
“They feel the urgency of now, because they realize that racism transcends class and success in America,” said Darren Walker, the chief executive of the Ford Foundation.
If the new initiative backs political candidates or legislative proposals that align with its mission, it may have to contend with the political diversity of Asian Americans. And the current makeup of wealthy executives spearheading the plan appears to tilt heavily toward East Asian males, which might dampen enthusiasm from groups such as Hmong Americans or Vietnamese Americans, who aren’t always included in conversations around Asian American identity.
Asian Americans were once a reliable Republican voting bloc, but that has shifted in recent years. Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden in the presidential election, according to exit polls. But a closer look reveals differences among groups.
Biden was favored by about two-thirds of Indian Americans going into the vote, according to the Asian American Voter Survey. Chinese Americans favored Biden at 56%, but as many as 23% said they were undecided. Vietnamese Americans preferred Donald Trump by 48% to 36% for Biden, with the remaining undecided.
Another part of the initiative’s mission will be to reshape the public’s understanding of the unique challenges that Asian Americans have faced throughout the nation’s history. The new foundation has contributed to the Asian American Education Project, which is working with PBS on the series “Asian Americans” and developing lesson plans for K-12 teachers that highlight the experiences of the group.
“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are part of American history and culture,” Shah said. “It’s about time our story was synonymous with the story of America.”