Craig Valdez had to warn his parents: Don’t walk alone and go everywhere together.
With a rise in reported hate crimes targeting the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community as the pandemic started, he was concerned for his parents, both of whom immigrated from the Philippines.
Valdez can’t remember which hate crime incident in the news ignited the concern. There were too many. According to an August 2021 report from STOP AAPI Hate, 9,081 incidents were reported between March 19, 2020 and June 30, 2021. Most incidents happened outside of the home, often in public.
What Valdez knows is that when he made the call to his parents, it reaffirmed his commitment to his work in civic engagement and tolerance building.
Valdez, 25, is a UNLV School of Public Policy alumnus. This year, he became the chair of the Clark County Asian-American Pacific Islander Commission, a volunteer-based committee focusing on educating the Southern Nevada community about anti-Asian intolerance, equality, and the socio-economic needs of the growing AAPI population. The 2020 U.S. Census data show that 10 percent of people identify as Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiian or Pacific-Islander in Clark County.
In April, Valdez was part of a group working with the Clark County Commission to pass a resolution condemning and combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPI groups.
He’ll talk about his community-building work, ways to become an ally for AAPI groups, and bystander intervention methods at the in-person panel discussion We Need to Talk About AAPI Inclusion on Nov. 3 at UNLV’s Greenspun Hall. The series is co-sponsored by UNLV Libraries and the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.
“My parents told me either I had be a doctor or engineer if I wanted to be successful, both of which did not interest me because I was not interested in math or science, but one thing I was good at was arguing with my parents, so they said maybe I should be a lawyer,” Valdez jokes.
Valdez went on to earn his political science degree in 2017 and his master’s in public administration in 2019. He is collaborating with several advocacy, nonprofit, and government groups to implement change. He is the Southwest regional program manager at New American Leaders. The organization focuses on encouraging immigrants, new citizens, women, and underrepresented Americans to run for elected office.
Valdez says older generations of AAPI groups have endured prejudice. Their stories went untold and the elderly were accustomed to saying nothing about their painful experiences.
COVID-19, which originated in China, spurred anti-Asian sentiments both in person and online. The pandemic unearthed conversations about the decades-old discriminatory actions aimed at Asian-American groups and COVID-19 became another way to scapegoat Asian-Americans, Valdez said.
Now, newer generations are starting to realize their vote matters and their voice matters. Valdez encourages AAPI groups to recognize they have a voice and their concerns are valid.
Although it is difficult to have conversations about race and identity in the U.S., participation in educational and cultural programs helps people recognize how they can be allies to each other, he notes.
“There are tons of opportunities to volunteer and get involved and be civically engaged. Civic activism doesn't come from being front and center, it's bringing people along with you,” Valdez said. “Get involved, have conversations, and share those resources with folks.
“There are a lot of opportunities for Asian-Americans to be proud of where they come from and express their culture,” said Valdez, adding that he is learning more about his own Filipino heritage.
He envisions an AAPI cultural and history center in Las Vegas and he would like to see more resources available to reach AAPI populations such as voter registration campaigns, mental health awareness, translation, or even a U.S. citizenship test study group.
Kind of like the one-on-one study sessions he did with his own mother.
His advocacy work, he says, “stems from how I was raised and grew up, and what I value today.”