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Meet Our Grantee Partner - Asian American Women's Political Initiative!

Asian American Women’s Political Initiative (AAWPI) is the country’s only political leadership organization for Asian American and Pacific Islander women. They work to ensure Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women have a voice in our democracy and have built an infrastructure to support low-income and immigrant AAPI women in Massachusetts interested in getting involved in government and politics.

We connected with AAWPI’s Chief Operating Officer, Darlene Vu (she/her), to learn about how AAWPI is boosting access to the political sphere for AAPI women and their plans to expand and engage 250,000 AAPI individuals nationwide by 2030!

Boston Women's Fund: What led you to take a leadership role with AAWPI? Can you tell us more about your connection to the work and the specific need you saw?

Darlene Vu: I returned to AAWPI in 2021 as a Chief Operating Officer after previously graduating from AAWPI’s Massachusetts State House Fellowship program in 2015. I was motivated to come back at the height of the pandemic, when there was an increase in hate and violence towards AAPI communities, as we tragically witnessed with the murder of six Asian women during the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings.  

I knew that AAWPI could help counter harmful, xenophobic narratives by building AAPI political power and creating safe spaces for AAPI women to find their voices and push for real, transformative change as leaders, organizers, and voters. To help push this critical work forward, I co-led AAWPI’s national expansion to Georgia, Pennsylvania, and additional critical states where AAPIs are the fastest-growing population and where our voices matter.

Born and raised in East Boston public housing by my single, immigrant father, I understand the importance of inclusive democracies and access to opportunity. AAWPI was the first organization to encourage me to take up space, see my lived experience as a superpower, and believe in myself as a leader. I am committed to supporting the next generation of AAPI women and gender-nonconforming changemakers in finding their voice and unlocking their leadership potential through AAWPI’s National Civic Impact Fellowship and Incubator Program.

Much like AAWPI, I am committed to building a multiracial democracy. Most recently, I was named a 40 Under 40 rising star by the National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs (NAAPPPA) for changing the face of politics and political leadership and excelling in a space where we are often invisible.

Can you share more about how AAWPI’s work is improving or expanding access for women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals in the communities you serve? 

AAWPI is creating what hasn’t existed: a first-of-its-kind national political pipeline to activate, mobilize, and elevate AAPI women. 

Our National Civic Impact Fellowship and Incubator Program (501c/3) is a six-month program that funds civic impact projects (at $10,000) led by low-income and immigrant AAPI women and gender-expansive individuals aimed to mobilize and create social change for our communities. 

We surround the fellows with political leadership training, progress check-ins, individualized coaching, and grassroots actions with our state partners: Chinese Progressive Association (Massachusetts), Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Atlanta (Georgia), and AAPI PA Power Caucus (Pennsylvania). In the last two years, we have engaged and activated over 25,000 AAPIs and AAPI women in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania through grassroots actions, voter registration, and fellows’ civic impact projects.

The civic impact projects build a self-sustaining pipeline and community, elevating AAPI women’s civic engagement — from voting to community organizing to running for office — towards more proportional elected representation and more equitable policy outcomes. 

What’s one thing people might not know about your organization?

Our over 100 AAWPI alumni represent diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and cultures. They are DREAMers, anti-foreclosure activists who have experienced foreclosure themselves, LGBTQ+ rights advocates, artists, and nonprofit entrepreneurs who have all found their political voice through AAWPI. Over 90% of our alumni have gone on to work on campaigns, become community organizers, or run for political office. 

What’s next for you? What project or goal is AAWPI working on right now?

I am co-leading efforts to expand AAWPI’s work to ten critical states where AAPIs are the fastest-growing population and where our votes can be the difference. AAWPI plans to mobilize 250,000 AAPIs and AAPI women across the country to join us in making our voices heard through civic engagement and voter activation by 2030. Our goal is to create an ecosystem of energized AAPI voters, organizers, and candidates in high-potential, targeted states in order to change the severe lack of representation of AAPI women in elected office and shift the face of political power. 

What does liberation look like to you? 

When I envision liberation, it looks like a multiracial democracy, one that is inclusive of women and women-identifying, AAPI, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ folks. It is a world that is free of white supremacist and misogynistic ideologies that seek to harm our communities, replaced by one fueled by radical love, joy, and belonging.


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