Join Our Movement

Join Our Movement

What's at stake:

With this election, our lives, health, and rights to determine our future are on the line. 

Will you do your part and join us in mobilizing voters for what may be the most important election of our generation?

Here are THREE ways you can get involved:

1. Attend our Voter Forum

A vertical flyer featuring an image of a group of youth holding up signs that promote voting, superimposed on an orange gradient background. Text reads: “CA AAPI Progressives’ Voter Forum. Tuesday September 9th, 5:30-7:30pm. With this election, our lives, health, and rights to determine our future are on the line. Join our coalition of progressive AAPI organizations to discuss how civic engagement strategy can complement grassroots organizing and learn about the racial and economic justice initiatives that are on the California ballot this year.” Image includes organizational logos of Khmer Girls in Action, Chinese Progressive Association, Filipino Advocates for Justice, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund, API Equality-LA, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, Pilipino WOrkers Center, South Bay Youth Change Makers

This November, we have the chance to win some major structural and systemic changes through electoral work. As we’re living through a global pandemic, our communities are facing unsafe working conditions as essential workers, the threat of eviction, food insecurity, and so much more. We must vote to shape our future.

We’re teaming up with progressive AAPI organizations across the state to discuss how civic engagement strategy can complement grassroots organizing and to learn about the racial and economic justice initiatives that are on the California ballot this year. Some of the propositions on the ballot this year are historic opportunities to transform our state, built upon battles that our groups have been fighting for decades!

Tune in on Tuesday, September 29th, 5:30-7:30pm to learn more about these statewide initiatives, discuss local city + county initiatives in localized breakout rooms, and get plugged into opportunities to help our AAPI communities get out the vote!


2. Write postcards to infrequent AAPI voters

postcard that says "from: volunteer, to: infrequent AAPI Voter". Yellow banner reads: "Sign up to write postcards to infrequent AAPI voters!".

In November 2018, 36% of registered voters in California did not cast a vote. Every election, millions of registered voters opt out of the election for a variety of reasons. Although who or what you vote for is confidential, WHETHER OR NOT you vote is public record. We need YOUR help to contact registered voters who haven’t voted in a while and share why their vote matters.


Sign up to write to infrequent voters, and we’ll give you:

  • A list of registered voters who haven’t voted and their contact information
  • An invitation to a training and collective writing session to build community with other volunteers on October 5th, 6-7pm PST.
  • Postcards and envelopes to mail to your recipients (you’ll need to purchase your own stamps)
  • A few extra postcards with original artwork for you to keep for yourself or send to your loved ones
  • A chance to inspire voters!


Special thanks to Amplifier for providing the artwork featured on the postcards!

3. Call AAPI voters

Out of all the racial groups, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the LEAST LIKELY to be contacted about elections. Will you do your part in helping us change that?

We’re calling voters to educate them on Prop 15 (Schools and Communities First), a historic ballot initiative that will restore $12 billion to our schools and community programs by closing corporate property tax loopholes.

Join us and make calls to shape our future!

Podcast: Reclaiming the California Dream

Podcast: Reclaiming the California dream


Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 

Listen to the podcast trailer:


To stay up to date on our episode releases, follow Reclaiming the California Dream on Spotify here.

Reclaiming the California Dream – Episode 6: Mental Health Without Wealth

Reclaiming the California Dream

Episode 6 - Mental Health Without Wealth

Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 



Episode 5:

Sherwin Shabdar, a mental health researcher and a current medical student, discusses disparities in the mental health and medical field, and envisions a better future.


Raymond (00:09):

Hi, everyone. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California Dream. We’ll be hearing stories from some amazing individuals, and how much their community means to them. The Schools and Communities First Act, also known as Proposition 15, will restore $12 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks, and libraries; health clinics and trauma centers; local schools and colleges. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, find stability for our families, and build a future where all Californians have access to quality healthcare and the education we deserve. Today, I’ll be talking with Huanvy who sat down with a medical student, who shares some of the issues they faced based on the research that they’ve done. Enjoy.

Raymond (01:03):

Just gonna record… You might get a message on your end saying (in high-pitched voice) “You’re being recorded!” Hey Huanvy. So thanks for taking this call with me today. So you spoke with medical student Sherwin and they definitely gave a unique perspective when it comes to health services and its relation to the community. So could you just start with just your relationship with Sherwin?

Huanvy (01:27):

So Sherwin is my partner, so it was pretty convenient when for my internship they wanted a podcast with someone who worked in the healthcare industry.

Huanvy (01:39):

So I guess just to start off, can you introduce yourself with like name, pronouns if you want, and the work that you’ve done in the past in the general field of healthcare, and what you’re up to now?

Sherwin (01:55):

Hi, my name is Sherwin. My pronouns are they/them. I’m 24 years old and in undergrad did some mental health advocacy and like the undergrads here doing you know, campus events, things like that. And then after undergrad, I got a job for a couple of years doing schizophrenia research at Stanford with Dr. Jong Yoon, great guy, great medical school. So to say what we were doing we were looking at the mechanism of schizophrenia because although it’s a really debilitating, widespread mental illness, it’s responsible for something like 1-2% of—up to like 10% of hospital bedtime, despite being like 1-2% of the population at most. But we have no idea what causes it. And so our research was trying to figure out what does cause it, there could be like eight or nine different, good theories that seem plausible about what causes schizophrenia and our lab was looking into two of them. And my research focused on one of them.

Huanvy (02:47):

Can you also share a bit about your experience with mental health advocacy too?

Sherwin (02:55):

Yeah. The primary goal of the organization I worked with—this was at Pomona College in SoCal. It was called Mental Health Alliance, its original name when it was founded 10 years before I got there, it was just called We Should Talk About This. Because at the time, that was the problem was that no one was talking about mental health, and so the organization, our primary thing is we put on events. Our big one was called Student Speak where we have a panel of five students from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different races, ethnicities, gender, and sexualities, and so on. And they just tell their story in 10 minutes or so to tell the story of mental health and mental illness. And then eventually people would take questions, but we both saw it as a platform for people to like really share their story and own it. And also as a way to build awareness and community that, you know, someone who like is a good friend of yours, just someone you may not even know that well, but you see around, maybe have dealt with psychosis or dealt with, you know, something really difficult and they’re human. They’re just like you, they’re not someone who should be stigmatizing or looking down upon. And I really enjoyed those. Our other thing was advocating to the administration for changes to support students’ mental health, things like modifying hospitalization policies or improving resources at the school. That was harder and definitely less successful there because we’ve got a lot of administrative pushback. If we didn’t get all of the changes we made that we wanted, we at least, I think, inspired the next generation of students to keep up the fight and hopefully succeed where we failed.

Raymond (04:18):

So Huanvy, Sherwin talks about folks nowadays having a platform to share their stories about mental health. We often think about awareness being the prerequisite or precursor to change. And it seems like a lot of Sherwin’s work so far has brought about a lot of awareness, yet they mentioned that when it comes to hard-coded structural change, that’s when it seems to get exponentially harder.

Huanvy (04:45):

It’s a lot easier to talk about things and just to like raise awareness and then when it comes to actually implementing policy or like fighting for really tangible change, that’s when it gets really hard because you get a lot of that institutional pushback. And it’s because like actually implementing change requires things like funding and all the stakeholders to agree on like all the policy decisions. So I think I’m very lucky where I’ve been able to hear a lot about Sherwin’s experience with activism and mental health advocacy in undergrad.

Sherwin (05:20):

So college mental health is a really interesting thing because my observation of it was that a lot of college students have just made it to college by clamping down on whatever is going on with them. With that like “I just got to get to college, just got to get to college.” So just like pushing down whatever, like depression or anxiety, or like darker things that are troubling them. And they arrived at college and suddenly like you lose all of your, most of your support networks, you have to make new friends, your parents aren’t around. If that was a positive or a negative thing, everything in your life that told you this is who I am is pretty much gone. And it’s a time for a lot of reinvention and growth, but it’s also a time when there’s a lot of risk for mental health and mental illness, especially with things like college being difficult and it can be induced depression, lots of deadlines can induce anxiety, et cetera, et cetera. Dining halls are a fun trigger for eating disorders and so on and so forth.

Huanvy (06:13):

And I think that a lot of the times too, teenagers get dismissed when they’re trying to tell their parents or tell authority figures in their life about mental illness. I remember struggling a lot with depression since I was, I think middle school was when it started really becoming an issue for me. And I remember trying to tell my parents that, you know, there’s something going on and like, I literally feel like I don’t want to be alive. Can you share about what drew you to this field of healthcare?

Sherwin (06:48):

Yeah, this is difficult because part of the things that drew me to mental health, I didn’t know until a good like four years after the fact, but the main thing is my father and my mother both are immigrants to the United States. They both immigrated in like the late seventies after the revolution in Iran and the trauma of that immigration impacted them both in really deep and difficult ways. My father suffers from PTSD and my mother is also grappling with the trauma and the difficulty of being cut off from her family, thrust into a new country and trying to survive. And so I very much grew up in the shadow and being effected by mental illnesses, and their struggles and likewise other people close to me like my brother, at times myself, I’ve struggled with depression, have dealt with, you know, these difficult patterns of thought. And especially in early college, one really close friend of mine who I got to know pretty well for our first three months was like dealing with something that I didn’t fully know. And they eventually disclosed to me that they were had a pretty severe eating disorder. And we became really close. But I just like really wanted, they were a dear friend, I wanted them to live in a world and go to a school that was a good and a safe place for them and not a place that was harming them. And you know, the roommate was talking to them and so on and so forth. And yeah, and I saw how even little changes like they got a dog and that was the first emotional support animal on campus. And it really did have a huge effect on their mental health, even little changes like that really spirit, a huge change in quality of life. And I just thought like, this is what I would want to do. I wanted to help people to share their stories and help people understand themselves. I want to help them get access to resources and like put a very short—people who are harmed the most by societal systems have one of the least access to mental healthcare to alleviate the harm of the systems. And that to me is enormous injustice and something that I wanted to work to alleviate.

Huanvy (08:43):

Yeah. I think I would love to hear you talk more about that, about like these injustices that you see in the medical field, the ways that you’ve seen the system fail people, especially people of marginalized identities, coming from marginalized communities and like ways that you would like to see this field improve.

Sherwin (09:04):

Yeah. A few things come to mind. One was from college and one was from my work experience. So in college I had a friend who, they were the first in their family to go to college and they were, they were Latinx, most all of the therapists we had available were white therapists. You could go into town and find a therapist that cost a lot of money and your parents would see your insurance building. So a lot of students who couldn’t afford otherwise would go to the school therapists. And the issue people kept running into, including my friend was that a lot of mental health symptoms manifest differently by culture. I don’t want to go too much into my friends, like specific symptoms just for privacy sake, but basically they were dealing with a very, you know, common readily diagnosable mental illness. But the problem was that the particular manifestation of it was deeply tied to their cultural experience. And so the intrusive thoughts, they were getting to not match up with what the therapist was looking for. And so the therapist was just like, “Oh, you’re just, you know, you’re just having a bad time, but this isn’t a mental illness when it very much was.

Sherwin (10:03):

Second experience was, so there is a person who we’re working with relatively young, and their mother was an immigrant to the States in our schizophrenia study. And they participated in the study. They were a good participant. We were having to work with them, but they also asked for our help, they were making a little bit too much to qualify for Medicaid, but they weren’t making enough money to afford good healthcare because schizophrenia requires often very expensive drugs. And so they asked us for help and they ended up, you know, my boss was like, yeah, go for it. I spent some time researching, calling around trying to find, you know, a treatment option that was accessible to them. What I got was just like, every psychiatrist is full. There are like, no one is really free. There’s a county line that can get you to a psychiatrist, but it’s understaffed and difficult to reach. And so it was frustrating that after all this time and research, the best I could say was like, here’s the phone number that you’ve probably already called for the county hospital. They don’t have enough psychiatrists. They don’t have enough social workers. Here’s a phone number, I hope it helps. But that was the reality of it.

Sherwin (11:04):

It was schizophrenia, you know, it’s just, it’s a very difficult condition. It’s very hard to take care of yourself living with schizophrenia. I know people who have done it. We had patients who did, were living good, well adjusted lives, but to get there almost always, you need really strong support. You need a sibling or a parent or a friend who’s going to be really there for you. We had stories of patients who were out on the streets for months at a time, and their parents found them, you know, unable to take care of themselves and able to feed themselves properly.

Sherwin (11:36):

We had stories of friends doing the same thing. It’s just like, if it wasn’t there I’d always wonder what would have happened to this person. There was no other social safety net. The county is already overstretched. They don’t have the money. They don’t have the funding to really take care of these folks who really, really need that care. In the first case, an immigrant mother who doesn’t know the U.S. healthcare system very well. In other cases, low-income folks who can’t afford medications or can’t afford good health insurance are the ones who are harmed the most by schizophrenia. And I think the same is true of most other severe mental illnesses, and even like non-severe mental illnesses. It was something that really, really impacted me. And I really just felt was a deep injustice of it. And we did our best to help. You know, we’re, we’re a small lab. We don’t have a lot of funding. We still tried to get people to resources.

Raymond (12:19):

Huanvy, what was your reaction when you heard about the case of the immigrant mother?

Huanvy (12:22):

It was so heartbreaking because there was literally like this group of medical researchers at Sherwin’s lab, trying to find resources like, you know, people who know the right words to look up and know the right resources to turn to. And they still couldn’t find accessible healthcare for this person.

Sherwin (12:42):

In research, maybe the tragedy of it is like, if you discover a really cool drug, you discover a really powerful treatment or, you know, a new way of thinking about the thing. You really, really need to hope it’s cheap because if it’s 300, 400, 500 dollars a treatment and they need a treatment every month, most people with schizophrenia, unless they have like very rich family members that are willing to pay for this, the reality is they can’t afford that. Most people with schizophrenia have difficulty maintaining an income, have difficulty like attaining employment until they’re stable, and to be stable, you need medication and you see the problem here alright, I’m sure. You don’t need medication, but it definitely helps. And more than just medication, having access to a psychiatrist who will work with you, we’ll try different medications, we’ll modify your doses. And that requires good healthcare. And so it’s this awful little trap of who gets harmed the most by schizophrenia.

Huanvy (13:34):

Yeah, definitely. What, like what do you see as the biggest needs of like the healthcare industry? Like especially the mental healthcare industry, and what would it mean to have those needs be met? Like what would that world look like?

Sherwin (13:53):

Yeah. I (laughs) am going to go with the regular answer and then I’m going to go into a somewhat spicier answer. So the regular answer is like with mental healthcare, especially on a societal level, we really need to stop criminalizing and harming and start caring about people who are suffering from mental illness. Cause right now, if you have schizophrenia, oftentimes, unless you’re very lucky your best hope of getting like a good warm place to sleep is to be thrown into jail. And the police are horrifically under equipped. They’re just not the right sort of people you want dealing with some of the severe mental illness, their tools are gun and nothing else. And what you’d really want to see is some kind of dedicated mental health first responder program. An example, when I was living at my house in the Bay, you know, it’s the San Francisco Bay, it’s one of the most resourced wealthy places in the country.

Sherwin (14:46):

And I was living in my house and outside my house, there was someone who was clearly having a mental health crisis. They were screaming, they were loud, they were clearly distressed. And we’re like, what do we do? Well, if you call the cops, that’ll make things worse. If we could—and our only other option, this is the best we had was a suicide hotline because that’s the only mental health resource easily accessible we could get. And that is not what someone like that needed. What they needed was the equivalent of a firefighter. You want to train first responders, someone who’s got a toolkit. Someone who has done this a lot. Someone who is employed by the city, who comes to them, who knows how to deal with these situations, calms them down, you know, helps them find a quiet place, you know, checks in with medications, checks if they’re dehydrated, see what things are exacerbating their condition, finds family members or loved ones who can help take care of them and resolves that situation.

Sherwin (15:35):

And you want it to be as easy as calling 911 saying, “911 What’s your emergency?” There’s someone having a psychiatric crisis, can you send someone to help right away?

Raymond (15:42):

So there’s definitely been a lot of talks across the country about police not being the best at handling every situation, especially when it comes to those who may be having an episode in public or some sort. So, you know, let’s say that there is a mental health first responder hotline. Wouldn’t that put the onus on the general public though, to be able to assess and call correctly the 311 number, let’s say if it was 311. Cause you know, I guess my concern would be that there would be mistakenly called 311 calls when maybe the person having an episode doesn’t want to be helped.

Huanvy (16:22):

I think that’s definitely a possibility and I think that’s something that would happen. But I think the difference is that, you know, these people don’t have guns on them. They’re not like trigger happy, like they’re not on like trigger happy power trips. Ideally these first responders would be trained in deescalation tactics because like deescalation is significantly more effective than a gun. And the consequences of mistakenly calling 311 on someone are significantly lower than mistakenly calling the cops on someone I think. And I think that’s the key difference.

Sherwin (16:57):

I think a shift in the attitude towards mental health care, from a stigma, from a harm-based thing to more trust and more care put in these patients. I was listening to a psychiatrist doc, about why they do their job and what they do. And they say a psychiatrist job is to go into a room with someone experiencing mental health crisis and be present with them. That’s the most important thing you can do is be present with someone. You’ve listened to them when no one else has listened to them. You care for them when no one else is caring for them. Everything else, the medications, the treatments, the diagnoses, that’s all extra. And that I think is really impactful.

Sherwin (17:30):

And now for the broader U.S. healthcare system, this is a similar space that you take. The U.S. spends a lot of money on healthcare, which is not a secret to anybody in the U.S. healthcare system. Yet we cannot really treat people the way they need treatments. The first thing is just that a lot of people do not have consistent access to health insurance or preventative healthcare. And so they put off treating things until they get really bad. And then they have to go to the emergency department. They have to have difficult procedures, they have to have surgeries. And if you had a regular access to a primary care physician to say like, “Hey, you know, your blood pressure is a little high.” Maybe it would be good to, you know, change up your diet a bit or, you know, put you on a blood pressure medication or even just change your work life so that you’re not working somewhere that stresses you out all the time. That would be really effective instead of, you know, going hundreds of thousands of dollars into med debt on post heart attack. And you know, the easiest way to do this is just to make healthcare free or affordable. And their efforts to do that in California has Medi-Cal, which is lovely. There’s, you know, statewide Medicare and Medicaid, there’s proposals to dramatically expand or even universalize Medicare and Medicaid. And a lot of policy wonks who are much smarter than me have been talking about how to—am I allowed to endorse political candidates on this podcast? (laughing)

Huanvy (18:52):

You know, I’m not sure? You can say whatever you want.

Sherwin (18:55):

I’ll just say then that there’s a taskforce of the folks from the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Joe Biden campaign, who have been working on trying to create a universal healthcare proposal that is cost effective, that doesn’t cause dramatic shock and damage to people who are currently on insurance, but the transitions to the U.S. towards a single payer system, or at least a public option, such that everyone has access to quality affordable healthcare.

Sherwin (19:21):

And now for the second, slightly spicier take. Americans don’t know how to die. Most money we spend on healthcare is something like 50% of the money we’ll spend in a lifetime. That’s just, it could be wrong, it could be higher, honestly. It’s spent in the last year or last two years of life, it’s spent on treatments that do not have very high efficacy because family members don’t want to be the one who pulled the plug on their grandparents, where people are lunging for these miracle cures. They’re like, it’s got a 10% chance to save me. It’ll cost 300 hundred thousand dollars, screw it, let’s do it. And I think it’s in large part because doctors don’t know how to talk to their patients about death. Again, there are much better proposals here than I can really throw at you. And end of life care is a huge, huge, hot button issue in medical care right now in the industry. But one of these big things is just helping patients accept that they’re dying so that they don’t spend tons and tons of money and take up tons and tons of physician time and hospital time on these low efficacy treatments that will provide you with very little in the way of quality of life anyways,

Raymond (20:25):

You know, when I heard Sherwin’s spicy take of Americans not knowing how to die, I really couldn’t help but think about how it’s sort of ingrained in American culture to live as long as possible. Right?

Huanvy (20:39):

Yeah. And yeah, I think it’s like very much a cultural thing. Like the way we treat death is very final. You know, it’s like this person’s gone forever. And I can think of a lot, a lot of other cultures where there is a lot of beliefs that address that, whether it’s like reincarnation or an afterlife or something. I think that there’s definitely shifts that can be made like some combination of like a cultural shift and making preventative healthcare more accessible. And I think people would be more okay with dying. If they had more access to preventable health, to preventative healthcare throughout their life.

Sherwin (21:15):

The first proposal, the broader access to healthcare is the more important one. And, you know, please fund more psychiatry things. We need the money, but I think the second thing is important to, so I’m saying it,.

Huanvy (21:29):

Thanks for saying that. That is definitely spicy, and—

Sherwin (21:32):

I would say it’s not that spicy in the medical community. It’s just something that, isn’t something that is really easy. Like it’s hard to tell the general public that, “Hey, you suck at dying. Please get better at that.” Like that’s not, no one is campaigning on that message.

Huanvy (21:47):


Sherwin (21:47):

Americans are so scared of the concept of death. There is no way that’s happening.

Huanvy (21:52):

But thank you for sharing that. I think that is a very important point to make. You know, if you imagine, and you touched on this already, too with when you were giving the example of that experience with the person near your old house who was having the, like going through a mental health crisis. And like also just as a side note, like I remember that, and I remember being there, and this was especially at the peak of when everyone on social media was sharing resources to like things to do other than call 911 during a mental health crisis or like alternatives to police. And people were posting a lot of local resources and this was like at the height of that. And even with all of that research, I remember spending like at least 30 minutes to an hour, trying to find just a hotline we could call. And there was not a single hotline we could call that was both relevant to the situation and like appropriate for the situation, and also did not involve police. And you talked about like what the ideal situation would have happened there, if there was a dedicated emergency crisis, like mental health crisis team that could respond. And I’d love to just hear more expanded version of that. Like, you know, if we had all the funding and the resources that we needed, and we weren’t grappling with all of this scarcity, like what would an ideal world look like?

Sherwin (23:30):

So when I was at Stanford, we had some medical students or like psychiatrists, psychiatric trainees come through, some psychologist trainees. And one of them was talking about, this is an MD-PhD, brilliant woman. And she was talking about the state of mental healthcare in California prisons. And as I’m sure you can guess, it’s not good. They do not have nearly the amount of resources they need. The primary emphasis of push on them is to sedate people rather than to heal people. The goal of the prison is just make sure they’re not wilding out or causing disturbances other than how do we help this person get better. Prisons are also a terrible place for people’s mental health in general with all this isolation. There’s lack of freedom. There’s all these, you know, there’s all of the, it’s really just a pressure cooker for making a mental illness worse.

Sherwin (24:20):

It’s very, very difficult. And so if I had unlimited resources, I would want more dedicated psychiatrists. I mean, really, I would want to change the entire prison system and get rid of it and replace it with something that was more functional. But if we’re sticking to medium sized goals, more psychiatrists and psychologists and therapists who work with people who are incarcerated, who give them access to treatments, who give them access to socialization and give them access to things like, you know, acting or art or music or sports or things that they can make their lives a bit better, because these are things that are preventative against mental illness. And then second would be, and this would hopefully avoid so many people who are just, who are mentally ill getting thrown into prison in the first place, would be that kind of mental health field responder program, where you have a dedicated system to help people who due to mental illness or having difficulty in some aspect of life, whether they’re like houseless or whether they’re just really having a rough time and, or someone’s in psychiatric crisis.

Sherwin (25:18):

I, something that was actually kind of wild to me leaving the research world was just that most people don’t know how to deal with someone who is in psychiatric crisis at all. And I’m currently at the age, you know, 22 to 23, 24, when psychiatric crisis, psychotic breaks are really common among young folks. In the last year, I’ve had maybe three or four different people ask me like, “Hey, someone I know is having a psychiatric, a psychotic break, do you know what to do?” And I’d be like, I actually do, but that really, we shouldn’t be reliant on, you know, two years out of college research assistants do the reservoirs of that knowledge and the public. We should have dedicated resources, trained first responders whose primary work is dealing with these kinds of situations, because this kind of work and this kind of resource—putting money there helps with keeping people out of prisons. It helps with keeping people from being stuck in a cycle of houselessness, and it makes the community a better place to live where people know that when things are hard for you, there are people that are there to care for you. You’re not going to be pushed down. You’re not going to be hurt.

Raymond (26:25):

So Huanvy, I think I certainly understand the benefits of these services that you and Sherwin mentioned when it comes to having the resources and funding to provide it. However, I guess I’m wondering on the, “How” Part of it, like walk me through, on some of the changes that would need to be made.

Huanvy (26:43):

I think it’s like at every level, you know, it’s like you got to build the literal infrastructure, like the building of where the clinic’s going to be housed, and then you can hire more people. And with that, you can have more people working more hours, because without being like totally overstretched and with more capacity, it means more access. Maybe then people won’t have to wait seven months just to get a diagnosis.

Sherwin (27:10):

On a societal level. That’s such an important thing to be able to say, this is a community that cares after people who are hurting. This is a community that cares for people who are at their lowest points.

Huanvy (27:20):

Wow. I think that was a really beautiful way to like wrap this all up. And I don’t know, I’m like a little bit speechless at how well you put that.

Sherwin (27:31):

Aw, thank you so much. That’s very flattering.

Huanvy (27:31):

But I am in complete agreement with all of it. And also you are so incredibly well-spoken and probably more well-spoken than someone two years out of college should have to be about these issues.

Sherwin (27:46):

That’s very kind of you to say.

Huanvy (27:47):

Yeah. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I’m gonna stop the recording now.

Raymond (27:54):

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at and Thanks for listening. Ad paid for by Chinese Progressive Association, nonprofit 501(c)(3). Committee Major Funding by Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco Foundation.


Reclaiming the California Dream – Episode 5: The Struggle to Create “Community” in Community College

Reclaiming the California Dream

Episode 5 - The Struggle to Create "Community" in Community College

Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 


Episode 5:

A student at Ohlone Community College in Fremont, California shares his vision for how to improve the community college experience.


Raymond (00:00):

Hey everyone. Raymond Luu here, would you mind if I tell you about a special event that we’re planning? Of course you don’t, kind of have no choice by listening. Anyways, join Project by Project and AAPI FORCE on Sunday, October 11th at 7:00 PM for a night of covering this year’s critical election. We’ll be covering important ballot measures and positions that impact our community the most. To register for the event, go to Again, that’s We’ll see you there. Hey everyone. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California Dream. We’ll be hearing stories from some amazing individuals and how much their community means to them. The Schools and Communities First Act, also known as Proposition 15, will restore $12 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks and libraries; health clinics and trauma centers; local schools and colleges. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, fight stability for our families, and build a future where all Californians have access to quality healthcare, and the education we deserve. Today’s episode is a conversation between Andrew, who’s one of our volunteers, and an Ohlone College student who wishes to remain anonymous. The student talks about attending college in an all virtual classroom where both the students and the instructors have some struggles adjusting to the new environment. The student also describes how a community college doesn’t actually feel like a community because of the campus culture due to its lack of funding towards student clubs and groups. Enjoy the episode.

Andrew (01:56):

My first question is, could you introduce yourself?

Ohlone College Student (02:00):

I’m 19 years old, and I go to Ohlone College, and I live in Newark, California.

Andrew (02:06):

Could you share what you study and how long you’ve gone there?

Ohlone College Student (02:10):

So I’ve been at Ohlone College for about a year. I’ll be starting my second year this fall, and I’m currently an economics major.

Andrew (02:18):

What would you say are some of the benefits of going to Ohlone College?

Ohlone College Student (02:22):

So I’d say some of the benefits of community college would be the pricing and just the the flexibility of it I would say, cause you’re paying significantly less for classes that you would take otherwise at like a four-year university like UC Davis, UC, Berkeley, or wherever you go. And at the same time, you’re also living probably at home most likely. And you could be working at the same time and just really just building yourself up I would say, like in a more contained environment. Because most likely if you’re attending community college, you’re going to be probably somewhere that you’re really familiar with. So yeah, I’d say that’s like kind of like the biggest benefit is just the cost and the familiarity of it.

Andrew (03:10):

Yeah, definitely. What has been your favorite part of your community college experience so far? I know you mentioned like some of the benefits, but is there like something that like stands out to you particularly?

Ohlone College Student (03:20):

I guess my favorite part is just meeting some of the professors, like, it’s kind of weird because I usually just think that like the community college professors were just like these random hired professors, but it turns out some of them teach at—like UC Berkeley professors that come down and teach at Ohlone and stuff like that, which I thought was pretty cool. And I just didn’t know that and when I met them and stuff, I was like, oh okay! Like I’m kind of getting that like UC Berkeley class here. Not really, but you know what I mean?

Andrew (03:49):

Yeah, no, that’s super cool. I didn’t know that either. Thank you for sharing that. Do you think there are some challenges that you’ve faced going to a community college that you wish had more funding? Like are there certain facilities or programs that you wish just had more funding that you think could really benefit your education?

Ohlone College Student (04:08):

I would say, I feel like clubs could get more funding. I feel like when it comes to community college, the biggest issue is the identity of a community college. Because a lot of people don’t associate with their community college as much as people from like four-years do. I think it has to go down with the fact that a lot of people are just there just to get their education and leave. And I feel like with proper club funding and like more activities of like all these clubs and just extracurriculars, it’d be easier to foster a community, hence the name community college. Because of like, let me tell you, it does not feel like a community sometimes. It’s just, you just go to class and if you have no other classes you most likely will just end up leaving, going home and then you have the rest of the day to yourself. Like it’s just people go to Ohlone to just go to class and leave. There’s not as many people that are involved, and I feel like when it comes to club funding and just allocating funds to clubs and like letting them have the ability to do grander things, it’ll allow for people, more people to get involved and more people to feel like a sense of community at Ohlone College.

Andrew (05:22):

I see. Are there any examples you can think of? Like, are there any club activities or just, I guess things related to clubs in general that you think could use more funding, could really help build that sense of community that you were talking about?

Ohlone College Student (05:37):

When I was trying to get involved, all this COVID stuff happened and like everything’s kind of on shutdown right now.

Andrew (05:43):

Mmhm. I completely empathize, like COVID has definitely shaken things up. How has the transition to online learning been for you? How has that worked out?

Ohlone College Student (05:52):

It’s been really awkward. Like, I mean I’m well adjusted into it now, but in the beginning it happened in the middle of spring semester, I believe? And it was just really awkward because we had to adjust to the new, like Zoom online format. And at the same time, if we had a big test coming up, this is for my Calc 101B class, and we had this big test coming up and we had all these like things to do, but there was no standardized way to do it online. Because you know, when you think of school, you’d think of in-person and taking tests like on paper and pen, but now everything has changed, so our teacher had a lot of difficulty getting that situated and I know people cheated on the test. I know people like went off into other different tabs and stuff and started doing their own thing. It became really hard to focus and pay attention, especially from a home setting. But I think that just required repetition just to adjust to it over time. But as far as the transition to that, like it was, it was difficult, but it’s, I think it’s something that gets easier with time. And in terms of like classes being taught like that, I think the only, like the really hard part is just keeping your attention on the class because when you’re surrounded in a room, surrounded by people it’s different as opposed to being like home, sitting at your desk, I guess in an internet setting, with other people that are also like at their house or whatever. And it’s just like, it’s a different dynamic. Because I feel way more self conscious about speaking because people can hear my voice clearly now. They can hear like the very subtle, like crack that will come out of my voice. And that makes me super self conscious about speaking and just like, I never participate in my online classes because I get so scared that like, I’m going to say a wrong answer and everyone’s going to be like “Oh, he’s so dumb.” That’s been the most difficult thing with myself I would say. Yeah, it’s just participating. And so, it’s so much harder for some reason when it shouldn’t be.

Andrew (07:59):

Yeah. I completely get that. Like during my transition to online learning too, I can really relate to that just because I know what you’re talking about. Like when your little screen like lights up and like everyone knows you’re talking and all the attention’s on you. Do you think the school could’ve done anything to improve this experience?

Ohlone College Student (08:19):

Probably like an ethernet cable to all of the professors or something. There have been like a number of my classes where professors have like lost connection to the internet. And I completely understand that, but like at the same time, like I feel like it all could have been avoided had they had a wired connection or something? Because a lot of them were like running their stuff on WiFi and then they would have to leave and come back. And then that would like waste like 5, 10 minutes with that happening. And the next thing you know, like we missed out something super important in the lecture that we could’ve covered and had done.

Andrew (08:50):

Right. So the reason I asked a lot of questions just about like funding, like how like more funding could help your college experience was because Schools and Communities First, also known as Proposition 15, will be on the ballot this November. We’re trying to make sure that they pay their fair share of property taxes. And what that will do is it’ll reinvest around $12 billion back directly into public schools and local communities and of that $12 billion, 40% will go into public education and of that 40%, 11% will go to community colleges. So like if I did my math correctly, that means community colleges statewide could potentially get $528 million more in funding, which would be, which I think yeah, like just hearing about your experiences with like the difficulty of like building a community on campus and like the transition to online learning with like the internet connections and everything. Do you think it seems like that money could really help?

Ohlone College Student (09:56):

Oh yeah, definitely. I feel like I’m Ohlone or just any community college could invest in like maybe a different type of software that is better suited for online learning. Maybe they can give out something to all of the teachers or professors or students or faculty or staff and make it more accessible, hire more people so that more people have tutors that they can talk to and stuff like that, and just make it more adjustable for COVID-19 because it’s not just school that’s affected. People are like, like they have different work schedules now and all that stuff. So I feel like there’s a lot of things that more funding could do to allow people more flexibility and more customization in terms of like, if they need a tutor, if they need extra help, or anything like that.

Andrew (10:47):

Right. Are you guys going back in the fall or are you still continuing on with online learning?

Ohlone College Student (10:55):

Yeah, we’re still continuing with the online learning.

Andrew (10:57):

Are there any students who work for the school who could, like, who could benefit from like the increase in funding?

Ohlone College Student (11:05):

Specifically, I don’t know anybody that works at the school. But I do know that there are job positions, like at the bookstore available, probably other jobs that—oh, there’s the peer mentoring. They get paid. I had a friend who was in there and I don’t know if she’s still with it. It’s like that. I think they like grade tests and stuff and oh no—proctoring exams. Sorry, that’s what I meant. Yeah. So they do things like that and I believe they were the ones who kind of like plan the orientation for freshmen and stuff like that. And yeah, I think with the more funding they could probably do more, hire more people, so everything like there’s more smoother transitions throughout the orientation. And yeah, I feel like the more funding could also like possibly allow for like some sort of benefit for the people who want it to work, but they can’t. Like the people at the bookstore—I think our bookstore is currently closed because of the COVID-19 going on. So maybe the people were relying on that job could get some sort of like important benefit from the money that we can receive from Prop 15.

Andrew (12:16):

That part about your friend’s work with like the orientation team sticks out to me. Because it sounds like them potentially receiving more funding could also lead to more of a community, I guess? Like what you were talking about earlier, just like helping students get oriented onto campus.

Ohlone College Student (12:33):

Yes. Any, any college you go to freshman year is like super weird and like, especially the orientation day, it’s just like all these random people your age that are there. And it’s just like, oh, like first time at college and stuff. So yeah. I definitely think that it could foster more of a community. Definitely.

Andrew (12:51):

Shifting back to online learning specifically., is there like a specific resource you think that could really help you like make this transit—I guess we are still making this transition to online learning, like, do you think there’s something like the college could provide for students specifically that you think could really just improve your learning experience online?

Ohlone College Student (13:13):

I haven’t really thought about that. Like I haven’t really thought about like what the college could just like provide for the students. I want to say that there’s students out there that probably don’t have a reliable internet connection or a reliable way to access the internet, like a computer or something like that. So I feel like the college could definitely rent out equipment or something and give it to these students. Like for this semester for the time being they can base it off of like whether or not they’ve applied for FAFSA and depending on their like family income and all that stuff, they can kind of give out kind of like Chromebooks or something that could help the students access the internet a little bit easier or something like that.

Andrew (13:56):

Yeah. That sounds like it could be really like useful, especially just like right now. Yeah, in my online learning experiences too, we’ve had a lot of students who haven’t had like stable internet connections or like a stable way to consistently access the class. So I think universally, I think that’s what I feel like colleges could really help students with this transition by providing like essential resources if like the student needs them.

Ohlone College Student (14:24):

Yeah, definitely. And like even really funds and stuff like that for students who might be like living in an apartment, they don’t have enough money. And I know with the COVID like the relief bill packages in the Senate and the house right now, it’s like not tailored to 18-25 year olds, I believe. So we’re not really getting a lot of money.

Andrew (14:45):

I heard a lot of college students were cut off from that too.

Ohlone College Student (14:48):

Yeah. So like, I feel like that’s a big problem because if you’re out living in like 200 miles away from your home or 2000 miles away from your home and you’re like in an apartment, you don’t have money for it, and you’ve been like laid off for work or whatever, or they’re just like not open, then it becomes a problem. So I feel like definitely community colleges could send out more like relief packages and relief bills and stuff like that.

Andrew (15:11):

Yeah, it’s just a terrible situation. Just cause students are like really getting effected by this and people just graduated too. It feels like colleges could really help like support those students who just graduated and are entering into a very uncertain world right now. And like everything you mentioned about like people living on their own and like apartments and everything and like them having to like still deal with rent evictions, which seems pretty crazy to me.

Ohlone College Student (15:37):

Yeah. Because I have like a friend who goes to community college in Arizona and he’s like, he’s from here. So he’s living in an apartment over there and it’s just like, he had an eviction notice because his job over there, like they closed because of the COVID stuff. So, you know, like, like how are you going to provide for yourself and how are you going to like live if you can’t, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have a means to make the money.

Andrew (16:00):

Yeah. Hopefully Prop 15, if it does get passed, could really help with that issue just cause that’s like a huge amount of funding for community colleges.

Ohlone College Student (16:10):

Oh definitely. If this does pass, it just ends up being the community college’s responsibility to allocate the funds in the best way possible, yeah. Cause we’ve had issues like that where they weren’t allocated properly. But I think we’ve, we’ve worked on that a lot.

Andrew (16:24):

Is there like student representation, student involvement in like how the funds are allocated?

Ohlone College Student (16:29):

Yeah, now there is. It used to be very—the president was kind of like this authoritarian, but the ASOC fought really diligently to kind of get rid of that power for them and really have like the student body have a say in the allocations of funding and stuff like that.

Andrew (16:46):

So I just wanted to ask one final question. What are your next steps after community college? Like what are you thinking of going into?

Ohlone College Student (16:52):

Well, community college was never my first thing that I wanted to go to. I always saw myself going to a four year, but when I got accepted to the four-years that I wanted to go to and I saw that tuition and housing combined, I just like—I can’t do that. Like that’s so much debt and so much money and just, it just felt like bad and or like not good to go through with that. So I decided to go to community college and moving forward, I definitely want to apply to other places and just see where if I get into them, I can maybe go there. But yeah, as of now, like I’m looking at like UC Davis or UC Santa Barbara and just going over there cause they have like kind of pretty decent majors and like, I guess you could say support for what I’m going into the future.

Andrew (17:48):

Is Davis like close to where you live?

Ohlone College Student (17:50):

Yeah. It’s like, I think about two hours drive from where I live. It’s like right before Sacramento. So yeah, something like that.

Andrew (17:57):

I really hope that works out for you, it seems like you’re like a very diligent student. Yeah, really enjoyed this conversation. I just wanted to thank you for your time.

Ohlone College Student (18:07):

Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me on.

Raymond (18:10):

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at and Thanks for listening. Ad paid for by Chinese Progressive Association, nonprofit 501(c)(3). Committee Major Funding by Chinese Progressive Association, the San Francisco Foundation.


Reclaiming the California Dream – Episode 4: Parenting in Tough Times

Reclaiming the California Dream

Episode 4 - Parenting in Tough Times

Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 


Episode 4:

Kathee Nguyen makes tough decisions as a parent, and explains how her child’s school must depend on parent volunteers.



Raymond (00:00):

Hey, did you know that there’s going to be 12 statewide ballot propositions in this upcoming election? Yeah, there’s more to vote for other than who’s going to be our next president. So join Project by Project and AAPI FORCE on Sunday, October 11th at 7:00 PM for a night of covering this year’s critical election. We’ll be covering the California ballot measures and positions that impact our community the most. To register for the event, go to Again, that’s

Raymond (00:42):

Hey everyone. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California Dream. We’ll be hearing stories from some amazing individuals and how much their community means to them. The Schools and Communities First Act, also known as Proposition 15, will restore $12 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks, and libraries; health clinics and trauma centers; local schools and colleges. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, find stability for our families, and build a future where all Californians have access to quality healthcare and the education we deserve. Today, I’m talking with Kathee Nguyen, who’s a long-time Bay Area resident, and as a child of Vietnamese refugees, she shares her experiences being one of two Asian kids in her classroom. Kathee is a proud mother of two, and she discusses how being a young parent has changed her entire perspective, ensuring she does all that she can to provide the best education and opportunity for her children. She finds the amount of reliance of parent volunteers concerning at her son’s school, and talks about the struggle that the school has to deal with regarding funding. Today, Kathee understands the importance of civic engagement and education as a way to secure a future that not only supports her and her family, but for all folks in her community. Enjoy.

Raymond (02:04):

Hello! So let’s get started. Something really easy If you want to just go ahead and introduce yourself, your name and where you currently live.

Kathee (02:12):

Sure. My name is Kathee. I live in San Jose. I was born in SoCal, but moved up here about a month after I was born. So pretty much raised here my whole life.

Raymond (02:23):

Nice. What’s your earliest memories, and how do you feel connected since you were growing up in San Jose?

Kathee (02:29):

So I actually, so I grew up in Campbell actually. I currently live in San Jose. But my earliest memories of Campbell are school. I went to a Catholic school called St. Lucy’s, and I did a lot of activities at the Campbell Community Center, like basketball and camps and stuff as a kid. So a lot of fond memories.

Raymond (02:49):

How often, or how long did you participate in those community events?

Kathee (02:54):

So I started, I think as early as eight years old doing team basketball, and I probably did that for a few years until I was eligible to do sports through my own school program, which I think started around fifth grade.

Raymond (03:12):

If you could recall, could you kind of try to think about the ethnic makeup, if you recall in that young age, was it a pretty diverse community, not that much minorities? Kind of give me a picture of kind of the environment that you were in.

Kathee (03:28):

Yeah. This is a great question. I was just chatting about this with one of my colleagues the other day. She grew up on the East side of San Jose, whereas I was in Campbell, which I think is a lot more diverse now, but growing up, I don’t think it was very diverse at all, actually. So I think I was one of two Asian kids in my class. So I think that shaped my experience as an Asian child, a child of immigrants, you know, growing up and going to school and just being around kids that didn’t look like me or didn’t have the same cultural background as I did. So, I think I was very aware of that actually at a very young age too. I knew that I was different, you know, by the way that I looked, the food that I ate, my name, my maiden name is Nguyen. So I just remember, you know, being in class or being called on and having to pronounce my name because it was just so foreign to everybody. I had an awareness very early on.

Raymond (04:30):

Did you ever get kind of teased or people more gave a sense of like, they just didn’t know because you were the one of two Asian kids, but no one ever had malintent towards you or anything like that right.

Kathee (04:44):

I actually, I can recall several instances. I remember being very self conscious about the way I looked growing up. You know, there were instances where people would make fun of me for having smaller eyes or for my nose being a little bit flatter, not quite as tall. And then I think that Vietnamese was just not a known ethnicity. I think it was just like a lot of times, you know, we would learn about, for example, like Lunar New Year, like Chinese New Year, everybody would look to me like, because I was representative of what, you know, [what] the holiday was.

Raymond (05:25):

Right. They’re always like, you’re Chinese, right? You’re like, no I’m not Chinese. Could you talk about your family history, kind of how your parents immigrated here, if you’re first-generation, second-generation kind of a little bit about your family history?

Kathee (05:41):

Yeah. So my parents immigrated from Vietnam and so they were refugees escaping the war. So our experiences obviously growing up are completely different. They escaped for a better life and wanted to give us a better life. And so yeah, we’re very fortunate that my parents decided to come over here.

Raymond (06:03):

And in that time of them coming over and immigrating here to the States, do they ever kind of talk about some of the struggles that they’ve had?

Kathee (06:14):

So stories of their upbringing in Vietnam are very, like, they’re very sporadic. They tell us little bits and pieces here and then they share very small bits and pieces of their experience going through the war. I think it’s just a really difficult thing to talk about. Now that I think about it, actually, my mom did share a lot with me about her childhood and like her early teen years. So she went away from home to get an education and growing up, she was one of like, I want to say 10 siblings, 10 or 11. And so she had [to] share in like the childcare duties and things like that. And so education was important, but at the same time she had all of these other obligations. And so I think for us, growing up, you know, they wanted us to be able to focus on education and bettering our lives and having opportunities and a lot of things that they didn’t have growing up. But, yeah, I mean, I know my parents worked hard, they worked really long hours, you know, like all the time that they spent looking, and all of the money that they would make, they would invest back into my sister and I, so that was, you know, through our education, through extracurricular activities, always making sure that we didn’t feel like we were without, I guess you could say.

Raymond (07:35):

Yeah. Now you growing up here in the South Bay, Bay Area—just in general being connected, are you aware of the fact that maybe in some neighborhoods, you know, just in San Jose too where there are some neighborhoods that benefit from more money coming into the neighborhoods and their schools. On the other side of it, maybe not so much, right. There is somewhat, somewhat of a divide. Tell me about your thoughts on that and you know, if you’ve had any kind of experience.

Kathee (08:04):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s really interesting for me because I grew up going to a private school, and the reason my parents chose to move to Campbell when I was growing up was because at the time it was a nice neighborhood to be in, the school district was great, and so if we had to utilize the public school system, we would be able to be at a better, a better school I guess you could say. So now that I’m a parent and I have a son that is going to be entering first grade in a week or so, all of this has become really, really apparent to me. And at the time we were living in South San Jose when he started kindergarten. So the school that we were zoned for, if you go and check out all the ratings and stuff was, I believe like a 3 out of 10.

Kathee (08:55):

And so I was just like, wow, how is this that a school can be rated so poorly, that the kids are not performing, you know, in all of the different subject areas that they should be. And so I realized, okay, it’s one a matter of funding, like the amount of money that goes into this school and the community. Attendance, for example, that’s another big thing that determines how schools are funded and just, I think the general makeup of like the students. So kids who come from low-income families or like working-class families, a lot of times parents don’t have the time or the resources to further invest in education. And so even if programs are available, they’re not being utilized. And so, we actually transferred to a different school district, and ended up moving into the neighborhood, or the area where we’re zoned for, for the school that Tyler does go to now. And it’s a little bit better, but even so I still feel like they’re sorely lacking, you know, in resources and community outreach and just education within the community.

Raymond (10:03):

Yeah. That’s really interesting because where you originally were living, and you as a parent, of course, number one priority is that you want your child to have the best possible opportunity and education available to them. And I’m assuming it’s just by location, you know, whatever the closest schools are, I’m guessing.

Raymond (10:24):

And because you’re kind of driven by wanting the best opportunity for your son, you know, you want it to kind of transfer out and even then where you were transferring, wasn’t like drastically better, you know, but was there any difficulties that you have experienced and kind of some troubles in that process where you’re talking, you know, amongst yourselves, as parents who say, what do we do? Do we enroll Tyler into this school? If not, are we gonna have to move?

Kathee (10:55):

Yeah. So when it came time to enroll, I did not feel that sending him to the school that we were zoned for at the time would be beneficial. I just, you know, if he were to go to a school where the level of learning and where it’s so varied or where it’s below, you know, where he’s at, it just doesn’t seem like he’s going to thrive. So we knew obviously we had to do something and so it was do we stay here, do we look into private schools, or do we try to transfer him to another district? And it wasn’t a difficult process. And I think every parent wants the best for their child. And so you’ll explore all the options available to you. For us, private school currently, for elementary is just not an option. It’s just too expensive.

Kathee (11:45):

So the next best option for us was just to find another school and doing intra district transfer, so transfer out of district to another school. There was almost sort of a feeling of guilt transferring him out of our district, the one that we were zoned for, because taking one student away means one less attendee and less funding for that district. And so, I’m going to do what’s best for my child, obviously, and his education, but at the same time, I do have, you know, a little bit of guilt feeling like I’m divesting from the community and from the kids who go to school in that district.

Raymond (12:23):

Yeah. I don’t think anyone would hold that against you saying like, no, you have to keep your, your child here in this district. Like you said, you have to do what’s best for your child. And every parent is doing that, honestly. Have you attended some parent teacher conferences and those kinds of meetings?

Kathee (12:41):

So early on, I think in the first few months of school, there were several emails sent about the school, looking into leasing some of their property as a way to generate more revenue and funds for the school. And so just reading that, I mean, I knew already that schools were lacking in funding and resources, but that made it even more apparent to me that, you know, they’re in dire need of funds,

Raymond (13:08):

You as a parent, does that concern you of Tyler’s education just in general? Obviously you’re not there in class but everyday—

Kathee (13:16):

So I actually, was in his classroom every week volunteering to do reading groups and my husband was doing, I think it was every Monday was volunteering to help out PE. And so, it was actually really interesting to me that the school relied so much on parent volunteers. Just because they didn’t have enough manpower to, you know, basically run all of these daily activities and things, but kids do like PE and reading. And—

Raymond (13:48):

Is there a lot of other parents that are there with you? Like what’s the—

Kathee (13:52):

No. So I actually, there was one more parent, but for the most part, I think there were a handful of other parent volunteers, and because I have a more flexible work schedule, I was able to volunteer more consistently, but I think the majority of parents are working parents like outside of the home and unable to, you know, designate time to be in the classroom. And so for me, one, I enjoyed being in the classroom with Tyler, but at the same time, I also felt like I had an obligation to do so, because of my flexibility. And I just thought that, you know, like his education does hinge on my—not a 100 percent—but on my participation, yes. Like, you know, parent participation is important, but I just felt like the kids would be at a disadvantage and would be missing out on a lot of enriching activities and things like that without our participation. And I think it’s a great experience for both parents and students to share in the education experience for parents to be in the classroom, but when the school’s having to depend on parents, you know, in order to run PE class, or in order to have small reading groups or art projects and things like that, it just seems like that’s kind of problematic.

Raymond (15:07):

Right. And I just don’t think that’s sustainable because who knows, not every parent may have a flexible schedule. I want to touch upon COVID-19 in terms of how things have changed from the parent’s perspective. And I’ve always been curious because I spoke with the teacher and they have struggles in terms of needing the resources. But now, what’s your experience like in terms of needing to shift. I’m assuming that, you know, Tyler’s at home and he’s not at school, but what’s kind of been changed, what’s been the updates and the general direction from the school.

Kathee (15:45):

So initially, I think it was in March that shelter-in-place happened. And the school pivoted pretty quickly in terms of shifting the way that, you know, kids are doing learning, so to virtual learning. And I think at first, everybody was really on board and it was like, you know, this is novel and fun and cool, but I don’t think it’s sustainable. And I think it obviously was like the only option that’s safe right now, but it’s presented a lot of challenges for us as working parents. And just for Tyler, you know, as just a young kid, like nothing can replace, I think, social and human interaction, but yeah, it’s been a struggle. It’s definitely presented its challenges and we’re starting school again in like a week or two. And it’s like four hours of distance learning every day.

Raymond (16:36):

Have you noticed, or had to cover some of the resources that the school normally would, but I guess you now do because they’re at home,

Kathee (16:46):

I’ve been chatting with other parents and trying to figure out how to come up with these small learning pods. And so kind of trying to supplement their learning with a private tutor or, you know, other activities like outdoor distance activities, just to, I don’t know, break up the day or like boost what they’re getting through distance learning. It’s definitely not the same as in class learning. And so, yeah, we, we are going to have to supplement it in some way.

Raymond (17:17):

You mentioned that you wanted to be more civically engaged and socially active, and I want to also tie in with that question is one, where does that come from and two, how does that look for you from the perspective of being a fairly new parent?

Kathee (17:35):

So I think almost everything that I do now is through the lens of a parent and, you know, like how my decisions and everything are going to affect my kids and their outlook on things and their future. And I think in light of the upcoming election—presidential election—all of the things that have been going on in recent months with the health crisis, Black Lives Matter, just all of that has just made me sit back and think a lot more about, you know, like what the world will be like in 10, 20 years, and what my children will be like. And one, I always say like education, yes is super, super important, but just empathy and just like an understanding of, you know, the world and the people around you is really important. And so I think I’ve kind of been quiet on a lot of these issues and never really voiced a strong opinion or position one way or another, but just all of these recent events have made me feel a lot more, I don’t know, awakened, I guess, and wanting to contribute to positive change.

Raymond (18:42):

Yeah. I’m really happy to see a lot more people starting to be aware and open to learning, because I think that’s the, that’s the key thing. So that’s really, that’s really good. Glad to hear that kind of mindset that you have.

Kathee (18:58):

Yeah. I mean, I think I grew up pretty privileged, you know, I think I had a lot of opportunities and my parents sacrificed a lot so that I would have those opportunities. And now as a parent, I’m doing everything I can to give my kids those opportunities too, but I want them to be aware and to know that they don’t live in this bubble of opportunity, you know, where everything is available to them and that there are so many other children out there, and so many people in the world that don’t have all of these opportunities and that they have to look outside of this little bubble that we live in, and realize how privileged they are and what they have and what so many other people do not have.

Raymond (19:39):

Yeah. So last question I have is, so if Schools and Communities First gets passed, it’ll be a win for us. What does that future kind of look like for you in terms of the community that you want for Tyler?

Kathee (19:53):

I think it’s, you know, even though we’re not going to see an immediate impact, like it’s going to get passed and things might not necessarily change tomorrow, like you were saying. But I think it’s important to continue doing the work because we’re here to, like, our parents came over here to make a better life for us. And in turn, we need to shape the future, and make it better for future generations. And so I have been talking a lot about like how I think it’s important to recognize that there is a huge disparity between, you know, different groups in the community and working to better and close that gap, I guess, so that there’s a more even playing field for everybody is super important. And as I was reading the narrative that you sent over to me about how we need to kind of shift the thinking from, you know, like pulling yourself up from your bootstraps kind of mentality, to like investing in the whole community and making sure that resources are available to all is super important. And I think that old bootstraps mentality is super misguided. And part of that, I feel like makes people resistant to wanting to put money into the community.

Raymond (21:06):

Well, thank you so much, Kathee, for your time. I think the conversation was very enlightening and quite enjoyable for me.

Kathee (21:14):

Well, thank you for having me!

Raymond (21:17):

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at and Thanks for listening. Ad paid for by Chinese Progressive Association, nonprofit 501c3. Committee major funding from Chinese Progressive Association.



Reclaiming the California Dream – Episode 3: The Racism Behind California’s Tax Revolt

Reclaiming the California Dream

Episode 3 - The Racism Behind California's Tax Revolt

Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 


Episode 3:

Policy researcher EJ Toppin breaks down how California politicians have used taxation policy as a veil to perpetuate racial inequality.



Raymond (00:00):

Hey everyone. If you’re curious on what’s going to be on this year’s upcoming election join Project by Project and AAPI FORCE on Sunday, October 11th at 7:00 PM. We’ll be covering this year’s critical election. We’ll be talking about important ballot measures and the positions that impact our community the most. To register for the event, go to Again, that’s project by

Raymond (00:39):

Hey everyone. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California Dream. We’ll be hearing stories from some amazing individuals and how much their community means to them. The Schools and Communities First Act also known as Proposition 15 will restore $12 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks and libraries, health clinics, and trauma centers, local schools and colleges. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, find stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality healthcare and the education you deserve. And today’s episode Lan talks with EJ Toppin, a researcher at the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. EJ explains how certain historical economic policies were designed to keep marginalized communities oppressed and created long sustaining inequalities that we’re dealing with today. By presenting these findings, he and his team hope to educate California voters to make informed decisions when they go to vote in the upcoming November election.

Lan (01:46):

Can you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself, start off with introducing yourself what you do and your upbringing, what brought you to what you’re doing right now.

EJ (01:59):

So my name is EJ Toppin, and thank you for having me participate in this conversation. I really appreciate it. And this was a very important topic to be discussing right now. I am a researcher at the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, the Institute formerly known as the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, and we’re an organization that focuses on social and racial justice issues, broadly economic inequality, housing issues, health disparities, and systemic barriers that present challenges to the most marginalized and oppressed communities of our society. And we use our research to look into, find, and elevate different policies and practices that would remove these barriers so that all in society, particularly the most marginalized will be able to thrive and live the lives that they desire to live.

EJ (03:06):

And our analysis is really rooted in systems and structures. We firmly believe that it’s the design of society that, you know, limits opportunity and creates burdens for different populations. So we focus our work on how to restructure society, to really create conditions where people can live their most full lives. I came to Othering and Belonging Institute through graduate school. I was a student at the Goldman School of Public Policy doing a Master’s in Public Policy. My focus was really to center my education on racial justice issues. Before going to grad school, I had been working in the U S Senate. And while there I worked on environment, energy policy, transportation, climate change, and I really loved the issues I worked on and they were very important to me, but I really felt that I needed to devote my life to fighting racial injustices and make that the center of the work I was doing.

EJ (04:13):

And while the work I was doing in Congress was really important, racial justice wasn’t the center of that work. So I took grad school to really reorient myself to that work. So I ended up at UC Berkeley for grad school and was very fortunate that an institute like Othering and Belonging was there. I started working with them as a student. A lot of my work focuses on housing issues. What are the issues, particularly in California that are causing extraordinary housing unaffordability, what’s leading to widespread gentrification and displacement of communities, particularly communities of color who have been longtime residents in places where they’re now being displaced from what are the forces that are causing that and what are the policy solutions to prevent those things from happening.

Lan (05:04):

Thank you for sharing that. Can you tell me a little bit about the research that you’ve done on California’s Proposition 13?

EJ (05:13):

Certainly. So my research sort of has to do with housing injustice, unaffordability, with the strong lens of racial justice. Within that scope, I work on a number of projects and other projects that I’m working on has to do with the proliferation of corporate ownership of residential housing and the racial imbalances and discrepancies that play out within that trend, that growing trend, but really my work on Prop 13 came out of our Institute really believing that there was a need for a different perspective and a need to push a different narrative into this conversation around Prop 13 reform, as we’re getting closer to the 2020 election. And particularly that issue of Proposition 15 that’s on the ballot. A lot of the analysis out there in ways pointed to racial disparities, but it didn’t take racial justice as its main lens in critiquing Prop 13. So I, and the team that I worked with at Othering and Belonging decided to dig into the impact that Prop 13 had on the state of California and particularly communities of color and other marginalized communities to see what was the literature out there.

EJ (06:39):

What had people written about, but also what was under examined. And could we look into this research into the literature that’s out there and fill in the gaps or pull out certain, maybe buried threads that actually speak strongly to racial injustice and racial disparities that were the result of Prop 13 and bring people’s attention to that so that when they go to, when they go to vote in the November election in 2020, that they are equipped with just a broader understanding of the issue and its impact. And so they can bring that information to bear as they make, whatever decision they make as they’re voting…we are a nonprofit organization, so we can’t advocate one way or the other for certain ballot measures. But our goal is to present information, research and data, and put that out into the public discourse to inform people about certain decisions that they may make at the ballot.

Lan (07:39):

What you were saying really reminded me of this quote by what’s his nameAtwater. Lee Atwater. Are you familiar with Lee Atwater? He has this quote. I just pulled it up. He says “You started out in 1954 by saying N-word, N-word, N-word, by 1968, you can’t say N-word that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing states’ rights and all that stuff. And you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things. And a by-product of them is Blacks get hurt worse than whites and subconsciously maybe that’s a part of it. I’m not saying that, but I’m not saying that if it’s getting that abstract and that coded that we’re getting away with the racial problem one way or another.” So it’s just like…he was saying this around the time when, when Prop 13 popped up. So for our listeners, can you talk a little bit more about why Prop 13 be blunt — racist, and why people don’t realize that? I think nowadays we see people loving Prop 13 and fighting for the protection of Prop 13 and they refuse to even acknowledge the racial ties that it had.

EJ (09:04):

Yeah. So that’s a really telling and infamous quote that you just cited by Lee Atwater, who was a Republican consultant advisor. And I actually use this quote or have used this quote in explaining how our economy is racialized. I, in addition to my work at Othering and Belonging, also, co-teach a critical race theory class at the public policy school at Berkeley. So it really illustrates in clear terms that although we think of our economy as neutral and objective, if you have the wealth that you have, it’s hard earned, any market exchange is free from any value, judgment or biases. That’s the predominant view of how our economy works, but it’s not that simple. So historic patterns and instances of discrimination really contributed to creating disparities and inequities between racial groups earlier. I was mentioning that some of my work that I do focuses on gentrification and displacement, a lot of the mainstream economic analysis of gentrification displacement will say, look, these are just market forces playing out.

EJ (10:31):

Sometimes certain populations will end up having to relocate, but that’s just how the market works. What that view completely ignores is the history of, of racial discrimination. While other areas, whiter areas were invested in, where assets were able to increase, particularly the asset of the home, those same populations who were invested in take advantage of that value mismatch and migrate back to cities that were under-invested where property values are low. And then as they do that, drive up those values and displace people who were disinvested from by the state. So that’s not in any way what people would describe as people’s prevailing perception of the free market. So the same thing is true around Proposition 13, which passed in 1978 and locked in property values of that time, locked in those low tax rates at a time that the landscape of home ownership was skewed towards white people because of these discriminatory practices.

EJ (11:44):

So at Othering and Belonging, we have report called Roots of Race In Place that goes through the history of racial discrimination housing in California, where it talks about red lining and urban renewal where communities of color were destroyed and raised, and people were displaced of racial covenants, whereas written into the deeds of homes that those properties couldn’t be sold to Black people or to LatinX people or to Asian people. You have after World War II, where Japanese Americans were interned during the war and lost their property in significant numbers, trying to return to their communities and find a place to live again. But were faced with these same racial covenants that said this property won’t be sold to anybody of Asian descent at the same time because communities of color were deprived of homeownership. A lot of them were in situations where they’re renting.

EJ (12:47):

And as we’ve seen in recent years, rents are skyrocketing. A lot of times, these populations are more dependent on public assistance. And the safety net that government provides, what Prop 13 did was reduce the amount that California could take in to provide those services. So communities of color, their services that they depended on were reduced as they were locked out of home ownership. This was by design. Securing white racial advantage played a large part of public policy decision making. And of course, hearkening back to the Lee Atwater quotation. A lot of this can be communicated in terms that never refer to race at all, but underlying that is the history that built the conditions that we live under, which are mostly to do with racialized history of structuring the conditions that we live under today.

Lan (13:45):

Thank you for that. I think you did a really powerful job of breaking down how race plays into the conversation and how the politicians did such a phenomenal job at hiding race. But I think another thing I wanted to discuss is in addition to race, it’s also like Prop 13 is framed as this middle class benefit, right? Like Prop 13 protects middle-class homeowners. It was framed as like keeping grandma in her home. So even if we take the race discussion out of it, I think another thing that’s left out is the fact that most of the tax benefits are not going to homeowners; they’re going to corporations. So can you talk a little bit about that? Like what’s happening there? Why is it that this issue that really benefits corporate property owners is framed as benefiting everyday middle class families,

EJ (14:41):

Right. So when we’re having a discussion about how race plays into public policy and the consequences of policy decisions, it’s important to know that it’s impossible to de-link race from class, that you can’t talk about one without the other, really any, any arena or format a lot of times, and you’ll see this across different policy issues in order to protect something that’s benefiting large corporations or the wealthiest is to frame it as, you know, if we were to undo this, it would hurt middle-class people of color. It’s important to realize that a significant portion of the benefits that Prop 13 generates is on the commercial side of properties. And so just to back up a second, Prop 13 applied to both residential and commercial properties, and this is what proposition 15 is about. It’s called a split role provision because it separates the residential from the commercial, the parameters for the conditions of Prop 13. Provisions of Prop 13 will remain in place for the residential side.

EJ (15:57):

What’s changing is how properties are assessed and taxed on the commercial side. It’s important to, to realize that there are estimates right now that place the addition or the return of revenue by implementing the split roll provision back to the public coffers between $8 to $12 billion. So that’s money that can be reinvested back into communities that have suffered as a result of this Prop 13 regime. And I’m trying to remember the exact figures, but I believe that it’s of the revenue that will return to the public coffers. This is really about holding corporations, commercial sector accountable to paying their fair share toward the flourishing of society at large, the country at large has been dealing with immense levels of economic inequality. This issue at large, a lot of a huge part of it has to do with the fact that corporate entities, commercial entities have not been contributing to investing in society. A lot of times they’ve been investing back into their own shares and investing in their, in their profits, the returns to executives and to their shareholders at the expense of the public. It’s really the public that generates a good deal of, of their wealth.

Lan (17:32):

Yeah. That makes me want to ask, can you dive a little bit deeper into how Prop 13 specifically harmed communities of color? I think earlier we had talked a lot about how Prop 13 really only only benefits the white middle class and wealthy, but how does it actively harm our communities of color?

EJ (17:56):

So after Prop 13 passed the amount of money that the state was able to bring in through taxes, dropped significantly. The legislative analyst office estimates that the year after Prop 13 passed, tax payments dropped by 60%. And to address this enormous fall in revenue, a lot of that was pulled from, from education dollars. California went from spending about a thousand dollars per pupil more than the national average to falling to 41st in the country. Another issue is that a lot of the larger, more densely populated and urban parts of the state spent a lot more on public services and had much higher percentage of their population being communities of color. And after Prop 13, the amount of money that they could spend on those social services drastically declined. Whereas white and wealthy areas, people were privately wealthy. So they’d already didn’t spend a lot on public services.

EJ (19:17):

So this created a disproportionate impact where places that had poor communities of color, and again, because of historic discriminatory practices, those communities were less well off. This is also true of education funding. Prop 13 can be framed as a backlash to California Supreme court mandate to equalize education funding across the state between wealthy districts, between whiter districts and their poor counterparts. And also the counterparts that have more students of color as a result, whereas wealthy and whiter communities could use private dollars to fill in the gaps where Prop 13 might have taken away public funding for schools, communities of color didn’t have the same luxury and their public education dollars were cut across the board. I believe I recently recently saw a statistic that said Oakland Unified School District is facing a $35 million budget deficit, this coming year. Another outcome, the government facilitated healthcare that the state oversaw, the state took control of the government funded healthcare and particularly mental health services.

EJ (20:44):

The amount of funding that could go towards these services was caught if they could, in any way, tangentially tie this to a mental health issue would do so, so that they wouldn’t be paying for that care; the state would be. So let’s put a strain on mental health services. At the same time healthcare workers were let go. Attrition happened across the board. And as we know, COVID is disproportionately affecting communities of color because these communities are disproportionately frontline workers, essential workers, people who don’t have the luxury of working from home. Another outcome of the constricting of mental health services, that a lot of people, instead of being able to get treatment were pushed into the carceral system, which contributed to a rise and explosion in incarceration rates. We know how racialized the incarceration system is. So racial disparities play out in a number of ways as a result of Prop 13.

Lan (21:58):

After hearing that, it just feels like everything is connected to Prop 13, which it very well might be. So as you are aware, we have a coalition of a lot of different people who are fighting to win Prop 15 and to reform Prop 13 in the name of racial justice. We have housing organizers. We have healthcare providers. We have teacher unions, grassroots organizers, just far and wide people coming together to reform Prop 13 and make California what it should be. You know, like we have the biggest economy out of any state in the country, yet our students, our communities, our lived experiences, aren’t reflecting that, but our opposition has a lot of money. They have a lot of corporate backers and just a lot of money to fuel their opposition campaign. So in your opinion, what do, what does our movement of folks who are fighting to win Prop 15, what do these folks need to do in order to win?

EJ (23:05):

One part of the strategy that’s essential, which as you described, they’re already doing, is forming a broad based coalition that brings together a number of interests, brings people together across racial groups and across class. And as we’ve discussed in this conversation, Prop 13 touches a number of policy areas. So right there, you have communities of people who are actively working on each of these issues. And as pernicious as Prop 13 has been, working to reform it really has the potential to unite people working across issue areas. It’s going to take this sort of united effort to address it and to start to close widespread and growing inequality in the state. This is one way to begin that effort to turn the tide, to really change the narrative and to change how policy making occurs in the state and reorient that toward people in communities.

EJ (24:14):

So that’s another really key thing. While Prop 15 is one small component, one piece of the puzzle, it can be talked about and organized around as a way to really begin to shift on a broad scale, how policy is conducted and who is at the center of policymaking, which is putting, the goal is to put communities and people first. And that can be a rallying point for people in this movement is that, you know, the fight doesn’t stop after election day and I believe beyond. The movement’s on the right path in being so broad based and cross coalitional, if that’s a word but I think the movement’s on the right path and its work only expands its efforts around uniting people behind the common purpose.

Lan (25:04):

Thank you for sharing all of that. I think you just shared a very beautiful vision for what we hope will happen and continue what we hope will happen in November and what we hope will continue to happen after November. I feel like I learned a lot from this conversation, even though I had already read your very well researched op-ed. So thank you so much for sharing your time with us. Is there anything else that you wanted to add or discuss?

EJ (25:35):

No. I think that was pretty full detailed conversation. And thank you for your pointed and important questions that really highlighted some of the most important issues around Prop 13 and the Prop 15 reform effort, you know, again, thanks for the work that your organization is doing toward this initiative, but just civic empowerment broadly and yeah. Thanks for a great conversation.

Lan (26:04):

Wonderful. Thank you as well.

Raymond  (26:07):

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at and Thanks for listening. Ad paid for by Chinese Progressive Association, nonprofit 501(c)3. Committee Major Funding from Chinese Progressive Association.



Reclaiming the California Dream – Episode 2: Teaching Through Budget Crises

Reclaiming the California Dream

Episode 2 - Teaching Through Budget Crises

Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 


Episode 2:

As a 5th grade teacher, Eunice Buenaflor balances teaching, curriculum development, and budgeting as she faces increasing budget cuts every year.


Raymond (00:00):

Hey everyone. If you’re curious on what’s going to be on this year’s upcoming election join Project by Project and AAPI FORCE on Sunday, October 11th, at 7:00 PM, where we will be covering this year’s critical election. We’ll be talking about important ballot measures and the positions that impact our community the most. To register for the event, go to Again, that’s project by

Raymond (00:39):

Hey everyone, I’m your host. Raymond Luu. Welcome to our limited podcast series, Reclaiming the California dream. We’ll be hearing stories from some amazing individuals and how much their community means to them. Schools and Communities First act, also known as Proposition 15 will restore 1$2 billion a year in funding for our roads, parks and libraries, health clinics, and trauma centers, local schools, and community colleges. By working together to pass Schools and Communities First, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families, and build a future where all Californians have access to quality, healthcare, and education we deserve. Today. We’ll be talking with Eunice Buenaflor. As a Fifth grade teacher, she shares some of her struggles she’s had to deal with regarding budget cuts teaching during a pandemic, and why she’s concerned about education since it’s always the first to make sacrifices during a financial crisis. Hello, Eunice. Let’s go ahead and start with something easy and go ahead and introduce yourself.

Eunice (01:43):

Yeah, so my name is Eunice Buenaflor, and I’m 28 and I live in Corona, California. I’m a general ed teacher for fifth grade. This is my second year going into my third year, actually. So this past distance learning was my second year and now I’m moving into my third year.

Raymond (02:02):

And where did you grow up?

Eunice (02:04):

So I grew up in the East Bay area of the Bay area and you know, lived there until 2016 and then I moved to Southern California.

Raymond (02:16):

And you mentioned what really kind of got you into teaching?

Eunice (02:21):

So I’ve always had, I need, this is very cliche and a lot of educators. Do you say this, but they’ve always, I’ve always had that passion to work with students. And you know, this passion kind of grew with my time at Boys and Girls Club and different times where I’ve, you know, been exposed to children and how wonderful and magnificent that can be and being able to kind of push for better teachers because growing up, I, you know, it was either a hit or miss. So I knew that my personality would have been a good fit. And, it was really a drive that just wouldn’t go away. So I answered that call. I started out as business, economics, and I really answered that call to, you know, what, what makes you happy and that kind of fit into the education world.

Raymond (03:08):

Let’s kind of talk about your upbringing here in the Bay Area. And if you could share with me just a little bit about your own family history.

Eunice (03:16):

So I was born in Berkeley, California, born and raised in the Bay Area. My parents, my mom and dad were both from the Philippines. And they came over here. Of course like your typical immigrant story, they came here for a better life. And what happened was my dad was petitioned by his oldest sister and then married my mother and my mother soon followed to the United States. They were very lucky in this situation. They were in bought a house when it was still fair market prices then and you know, really wanted that American Dream.

Raymond (03:50):

Hmm. Now I can imagine given your family background that and where you grew up, you had the opportunity to being exposed to different cultures and backgrounds. Could you share with me maybe some of the benefits that you experienced growing up in that type of environment and also share what it was like in a school setting,

Eunice (04:16):

Being able to grow up in that has a lot of, a lot of benefits. And in the school that I was in, I had the ability to explore those different things. In terms of school districts, I was supposed to go to a district that was not as well off in their education and my mom didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My mom was a breadwinner. So in her… In hindsight, you know, I want to give my child’s a better education. That’s why they came to America. So she really put her brides in there and really worked multiple jobs in order to send me to a better school. And you know, with that sacrifice, I was able like you know, to have those privileges, for example, one-on-one techno…, Well, not one on one technology to technology in general, back in the two thousands, we didn’t really have that concept of one-on-one yet because technology was still a new thing growing up.

Eunice (05:12):

I had the ability to really go into career day that school and, you know, see how the community came in and volunteered their time to share what their job was like and being able to see, wow, like, you know, these are the steps that they took and not all schools have that ability to have those career days. But I was very thankful for that. And it wasn’t until going into, I say this all the time, it wasn’t into going into general education in a public school setting that you really see the inequities that happen. And, you know, I want to be able to have that for all children. Cause I, I believe that, you know, depending on your zip code, it shouldn’t dictate what your future looks like. Right. So being able to see that compare and contrast was very, very eye opening.

Raymond (06:01):

So having a public education system is essential to communities primarily because it’s available to the public. However, that also means it’s held to a public budget, which fully does go through cuts time from time. Do you have any firsthand experience of a school program or resource being a victim of budget cuts?

Eunice (06:28):

I think early on and while I was still a student a lot of our older students who pass our grade or like those grades above us, went to the summer camp and they all had that ability to have that experience while when I came in, budgets were cut and I wasn’t able to experience that. And of course, as a child, you don’t really know the implications or the heartaches, you know, but now I’m very much aware of like the school budget. And what does that look like? And now going into schools now like we are given a certain budget as a teacher and it is not the biggest budget. You know, because you have to fund multiple grade levels and each grade level has multiple teachers. So, you know, we’re given an X amount of money and that is completely, you know, dissipated or disappeared in like a week or two, because we fund supplies, we fund classroom materials, reading curriculum, supplementary curriculum, and that money though, it’s, it’s a good amount of money.

Eunice (07:34):

It disappears. And after that, we’re kind of stuck with, how do we supplement? Do we get parent donations? Do we have a Donors Choose set up to you know, fill in those gaps? Right. So last year I actually got a decrease in my budget about a hundred dollars. And you know, I see a hundred dollars as, you know, class set of books or I see a hundred dollars as art materials because we don’t have an art teacher or I see those as materials that I can use as a steam project. Right. So I have to be very careful with that and I have to plan ahead and how to reallocate what I buy and what I don’t.

Raymond (08:17):

I mean, excuse my ignorance, but I mean, you just listed a long list of things you have to think about on top of the core curriculum that you have to teach to your students. I’m just curious, how do you maintain some level of I mean, sanity when you’re teaching,

Eunice (08:36):

Right. You know, as a teacher, you kind of… The mood of your class really is from the energy that you put in. So if you seem distraught, the kids are…like they know right away. And you know, they say like, “Oh, you know, last year I had XYZ this year, I don’t have XYZ.” So in terms of that, you know, we have to really reach out to our parents. And like I said, parent teacher associations are vastly different in different school districts. Sometimes you get, you know, really gung ho parents and they want to participate. They want to be active. They want to put on all of these, you know events for children like the current district that I’m in. But those also do come with challenges. And then you have the other side where, you know, the parents are working full time jobs and they don’t have time to spend with their kids.

Eunice (09:28):

And you know, as you know, the current distance learning, that was a very big challenge for our parents. So it really depends on how well off your community is. And it shows with the amount of funding you get from those parents. I can get, you know, a lot of donations at one school, but I remember previously as a student teacher, I didn’t get anything right. So when I don’t get anything, of course I have to supplement. And I like to say that I am a very frugal person because a lot of my money goes towards funding those supplies. And it’s just because that’s just how it is. And you don’t complain about it because that’s just kind of the, I guess, frontier that you decided to take as a teacher. That’s something that, you know, that you have to do.

Raymond (10:20):

How has COVID-19 impacted you as an educator?

Eunice (10:24):

It’s, it’s hard to plan. And in terms of teaching, it’s all about planning ahead. And you know, when you’re given weeks of information and, you know, information that constantly changes within the minutes sometimes it’s really hard to understand what the next school year is going to look like. A lot of our teachers are very adaptable but a lot of them, you know, draw that line of, I want to be able to know what’s going to happen. I want to be able to know what I can expect, what safety looks like for parents, teachers, and staff. So it’s very difficult. I can’t, you know, divulge or say much about what our personal school’s doing. But it is unprecedented times. And you know, of course we wish it was another way,

Raymond (11:17):

Learning more about Schools and Communities First, you know, Proposition 15, about reclaiming 12 billion a year. So we can reinvest in, in our public school system, our public health system, critical local services by closing corporate tax loopholes. All that, I imagine given kind of what you’ve explained to me so far is the need to lean in, on distance learning. So, I mean, I gotta assume that the demand for technology is going to be even greater and the resources for that is going to be greater. Right?

Eunice (11:50):

Right. So technology is a big thing in distance learning. Not every child has internet capability. Being able to provide hotspots for our children, and even with hotspots, you know, there’s internet that is unreliable. And sometimes they’re not able to put in information or their assignments in on time. And devices in general devices are very expensive and to move curriculum into an online base is very, very unfair for many students who only have maybe one or not, you know, before it was simple to get away with it with libraries and public libraries that you can do, but it doesn’t have the ability to have one-to-one for students, which is ideal, right. If you’re going to have an online program, you’re going to have a way to access online programs. And that’s not the case for a lot of our families. So that resource really is going to go towards how can we supply our children with the adequate amount of technology that they need, charges that they need. And with families, you know, who have upwards of three kids, two kids, one kid, you know, it’s hard, especially if they’re sharing one family computer with different grade levels.

Raymond (13:01):

So I think about how some schools have adequate funding and perhaps another school in another neighborhood, not too far away does not. Why and how some schools are chosen to receive more funding than others is probably a whole list of things that, you know, we don’t have to kind of get to right now, but what did you say having more money to go around more revenue flowing into our communities could quite possibly remedy some of those issues.

Eunice (13:30):

Yeah. So, you know, I worked at the school district, San Jose actually, and it, the different schools were very different, even if they were part of the same district with the funds. I think we could give students a very good curriculum, updated textbooks, updated online resources. I dunno if you know, there’s a bunch of educational resources out there that are amazing. Some that are on the top of my head is Nearpod Brain Pop, all of those technology based things that provide students with virtual field trips. So being able to fund stuff like that will make education so much more exciting and give our students any student… Regardless of, you know, their tax bracket, whether their parents make, it gives them a fighting chance. You know, there’s a situation where, you know, students can only have textbooks or only get the bare minimum versus schools that are able to provide those, you know, trips to Washington, DC trips to New York trips to camp or museums. Right. So being able to give that fighting chance is something that I’m so passionate about because every child deserves that chance. You know, because it’s, when you’re born into a poor neighborhood, it’s very hard to get out of it if you don’t have those resources available.

Raymond (14:59):

You know I’d like to kind of get your perspective on why community is really important, especially for children of a young age.

Eunice (15:10):

So as an educator, from my perspective, I think community is so, so important because you don’t know what a child’s home life is. You don’t know how consistent, how you know, they run their day to day. Sometimes our kids are babysitting their own little siblings or they don’t have their parents to help them. So being able to have a sense of community is sometimes the only sense of consistency that they have. And with kids, consistency is so important. I cannot stress that enough. If a child is able to follow a consistent schedule, a consistent place where they have to be, which is why distance learning is so criticized, because it doesn’t have that consistency for them. So the sense of community has a sense of belonging and has a sense of self or that student, we practice a lot of social, emotional learning.

Eunice (16:00):

And one of that is how can our community help our children gain social, emotional health or strengthen their social, emotional learning. Right. So you know, I had students who, I can’t say the name and whatnot, but I’ve had students who didn’t have a consistent schedule and coming into a new school, that student was, was very much a student that no one really wanted to be around, but later on building that community, which is a very slow process, but a process that is very important, you can see the drastic change. Like it was like, like different person in general at the end of the year, right? So that was something that I knew community worked for this person,

Raymond (16:47):

Something I’d like to get your thoughts on California currently ranks as the fifth biggest economy in the world. We have Silicon Valley, the entertainment industry, agriculture, some of the top higher education schools here, lots and lots of money flowing through our state and really some of the brightest minds ever to kind of come out of here yet for K through 12 education, California ranks, 37th in the US. Why do you think that is?

Eunice (17:18):

Because we don’t have equitable resources at all. So it…being an educator and seeing different types of districts, I think I’ve been into about four districts. I’ve worked for very well off districts and seen the ability that they have and various, yes, low economic or low social economic districts, that there was barely scraping by. So if we are able to focus on K through 12 education, we can definitely change the lives of students that, you know, otherwise would have had to go to work right away, not ability to have that higher education in which I’m not saying, you know, you can’t, you don’t have to be a college graduate to be very successful, but it definitely helps for some kids to have that … That possibility, you know, to have that higher education. So I think it boils down to, we need to get more computers. We need to get more resources, books, updated curriculum to all students, regardless of their zip code or socioeconomic standing.

Raymond (18:30):

So I recently read an op-ed to the San Francisco Chronicle where they talk about the 2008 economic crisis and how we need to lean into education instead of taking money out of it. Certainly we’re heading into another financial crisis with the coronavirus…if you were standing in front of a public official or state legislator, lawmaker thinking about possibly, but budget cutting education, what would you say to them?

Eunice (18:59):

It’s really hard because education is always the first we cut, taking those hits after hits, after hits. It’s like, well, what else, what do we have left, right? Is it laying off teachers or, you know, with, with class sizes, getting higher in order to fit that need you know, I want to tell them that it is very difficult as an educator to provide a good education for my kids when I don’t have any, and to continue to pull from that. It’s like, we’ve been hit many times already. So if we are continuing to be hit, what is left over, right. So it’s very difficult to provide that for kids if we continue to get hit like that.

Raymond (19:50):

Last question, Eunice, if Schools and Communities First passed, how would you personally like to see those resources used?

Eunice (19:58):

So I’m a, I’m an avid person who believes that students should have a wide range of books to read. We share books and my school class sets. And that’s something that I wish we didn’t have to do. Because I think every child should be able to read a book in school without any idea of where it’s going to come from, because books are expensive, especially for 30, a class of 30. I want my kids to know that they have the devices, technology devices that are readily available to them. We don’t have to think twice about what brands we need to put. A lot of teachers use Donors Choose where they have to type up a whole spiel of why they need to be funded. And something I didn’t touch upon is how we can better accommodate for our IEP.

Eunice (20:45):

And I have a four students are students with special needs and special accommodations. So not being able to think twice of where I need to get these things that are needed for students like timers, so they can time themselves of what they need to work on bouncy balls that they need, or for them to be able to take a break. Those are all expensive. Those are all very, very much funded by teachers or by grants, right? So I want to be able to not think about where I’m going to get my resources or do I have to think if, you know, Joey needs school supplies, cause I I’m going to need to buy school supplies for Joey. So that’s something that I want to do is have the ability to not know where my supplies come from, just to know that we have them

Raymond (21:35):

Well, Eunice again, thank you so much for taking the time out to go ahead and speak with me today. And I want to say thank you again for the work that you do for our community and how important you are.

Eunice (21:48):

Thank you. Alright, bye.

Raymond (21:53):

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund and Project by Project San Francisco. If you’d like to learn more about us, visit our website at and ad. Paid for by Chinese progressive association, nonprofit 501c3. Committee major funding from Chinese Progressive Association.


Reclaiming the California Dream – Episode 1: Why Are We Here?

Reclaiming the California Dream

Episode 1 - Why Are We Here?

Reclaiming the California Dream is a limited podcast series featuring amazing stories from deeply rooted California community members and what their community means to them. By working together to pass the Schools and Communities First Act, we can sustain our culture, provide stability for our families and build a future where all Californians have access to quality health care and education we deserve.

Reclaiming the California Dream is brought to you by AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund ( and Project by Project San Francisco (

Produced by Raymond Luu. 


Episode 1:

An introduction by Raymond Luu, National Program Manager for Project by Project SF and Lan Nguyen, Communications Manager for AAPIs for Civic Empowerment. They talk about how this show came to be, what to know about Schools and Communities First, and why it’s important to be an empowered voter for the upcoming election. Brought to you by Project by Project San Francisco & AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund. Produced by Raymond Luu. Music:


Raymond (00:00):

Welcome everyone to the… Aw I already messed up. Welcome everyone to the Reclaiming the California Dream podcast series. I wanted to introduce you to the organizations that made this show possible. We have Lan Nguyen with AAPI FORCE and I’m Raymond Luu from Project by Project. So Lan, if you want to start by introducing yourself and the organization.

Lan (00:35):

Yeah, for sure. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Lan. I use she/her pronouns and I am the communications manager at AAPI FORCE; that stands for AAPIs for Civc Empowerment. And we are a statewide organization that seeks to build working class Asian American and Pacific Islander political power across California. We advocate for progressive issues and empower working class AAPI communities to be civically engaged. And with the upcoming election this November, we are making sure that folks are not only voting for who is going to be our next president of the United States, but making sure that folks are going to be involved in voting down the ballot, voting for initiatives that are going to impact communities every day in the state of California. And some of these issues include Prop 15, which is what this podcast is about. As well as affirmative action.

Lan (01:26):

We also have some criminal justice issues on the ballot. So there’s a lot of things at stake, this election for folks to really vote towards change in our community. So we want to make sure that folks are civically engaged and also encouraging folks to take the leap and join us in our movement. And really, to me, it’s the goal isn’t necessarily to persuade people, to join my side or to believe in the same things I believe in, but to empower people, to give them the opportunity, to learn more about the issue on their own, you know, like some of these folks may not have voted down the ballot. They may have stopped at the top or maybe they would have sat out the election. So I think really the key thing that I get out of these conversations is empowering people to make their own decisions and also building relationships too is so meaningful.

Raymond (02:14):

Cool. Again, Lan, glad to have you on here again, part of this project. So I’m Raymond Luu, again, as I mentioned at the start, I’m a national program manager for Project by Project and the producer of the show. Our organization has been around since 1998, and we currently operate out of three chapters, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and I’m based here in SF. So every year PbP champions, a different theme and each chapter with their local nonprofit organization that specializes in that theme. And in tackling that issue, we empower our steering committee members to support our beneficiary partners by ways like fundraising, community outreach, volunteer mobilization, and it’s through this work. And we also focus our efforts on internal leadership development, really by giving our members opportunities to flex their knowledge and skills, to create initiatives that help their communities and networks, and also the organization, our organization.

Raymond (03:15):

We also host an annual tasting benefit called Plate by Plate in each city. Not sure if any of you happen to go to one, but basically the, the event features some of our best and local restaurant and beverage binders for all of our attendees to enjoy. The money that we raise, go to support our beneficiary partners and the amazing work that they do for the community. So this year we’re focusing on civic and political engagement. Don’t really have to say much in terms of why that’s important this year, but we also try to frame it as voter empowerment. You know we really want to try to educate our members and their networks on where to find resources, to ensure they’re equipped with the proper information so they can make an educated decision at the ballot box.

Lan (04:03):

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the racial group that is least likely to be contacted about the elections out of all the racial groups. So we are hoping to change that. So I hope that folks who are listening will consider joining us in our movement to contact voters.

Raymond (04:21):

And so why we started the show I met Lan in one of the workshops that AAPI FORCE was hosting and one of their initiatives in terms of trying to educate people of what Schools and Communities First/Prop 15 was, is really telling the stories and highlighting stories of folks who are part of the community key players in the community key community members. And we’re talking teachers, students park workers, public workers, pretty much anyone in your neighborhood that you can think of where we wanted to encapsulate the feel of why their community was so important and necessarily more importantly, why resources going into those communities are super important. And so I came to Lan to say, Hey, you know, why don’t we basically tell stories in an audio format and create like this limited podcast series where we interview people, capture their stories, really capture the feel of why their community is important to them.

Lan (05:27):

We are so grateful that we have come to know you and have you in our community of volunteers and our community of AAPI FORCE members. And it was just such a wonderful gift of you to produce this podcast for us. And I think it’s going to be, it’s going to do a lot of good. It’s not just going to be put out there for folks to listen to and learn more about Schools and Communities First. But I also think that it allowed us to form connections with the folks who are interviewed. I think a lot of the folks who were interviewed didn’t know about Prop 15 and, you know, we reach out to them. We tell them a little bit about prop 15 and just ask them to tell their story. And in telling their story, they’re making these connections of like, you know, like I went through these experiences, these are the challenges that I have, and this is how it …

Lan (06:15):

It connects to Prop 15. So they’re making those connections on their own, through their own storytelling. And I think that’s what organizing is. Organizing isn’t about telling people what to think or what to do, but having, like helping people and encouraging people to reflect on their own experiences and make their own political decisions. I don’t think the conversations that we had were too different from the conversations that I’ve had in phone bank sessions, obviously phone making sessions are a lot shorter, but I would say that they’re really similar. And it’s just about connecting with people and getting to know their stories. Yeah.

Raymond (06:49):

Then since we’ve been talking about it, can you just kind of briefly describe what Schools and Communities first Act is, or proposition 15, basically the summary of it.

Lan (07:00):

Yes. Schools and CommunitiesFirst, also known as Prop 15 is going to be on the November ballot. It is a California statewide initiative that aims to bring back $12 billion to our schools and community programs by closing a property tax loophole for corporations. So due to proposition 13, that was passed in 1978 homeowners as well as corporations benefited from this proposition that basically capped property taxes. And as a result of that, our schools and our community programs that rely on tax dollars have been severely underfunded. So Prop 15 is going to keep that protection for homeowners and not touch homeowner taxes, but it will be asking for corporations to be paying market rate on property taxes.

Raymond (07:52):

I want to kind of close it out here in terms of the importance of why civic and political engagement is important this time around. I think it’s always been important, but if we take in, if we’re looking at the lens from the time 2016 elections happened to where we are today, why civic and political engagement is so important today?

Lan (08:13):

I would say it’s the landscape is so different, not just for AAPI communities, but for all communities. We have so many things that have happened that have led to people of all races coming to this awakening of the issues in our country. We have, COVID-19 showing everyone in this country how we don’t have an infrastructure set up for disaster preparedness. We don’t have a safety net and in place for when our hospitals run out of supplies or when everyone loses their jobs and they’re not able to pay rent, we don’t have anything set in place for that. We’re also seeing a public cry for police reform and abolition coming from folks who are directly impacted by violence from police. And we’re seeing civil unrest in people. And we’re also seeing dramatic change in a really big direction. We’re seeing city councils voting to defund the police and to cut police budgets, to spend on schools and other programs are really beneficial for communities.

Lan (09:18):

So I think in this moment, we’re seeing a lot of people realize the deep rooted structures in our society that aren’t serving us, aren’t, aren’t doing as good, but, and we’re also seeing hope. We’re seeing that when people rise up and they are engaged in whatever way, they want to be engaged, whether it’s voting, whether it’s through the streets, whether it’s calling their representatives, that leads to change. So I think to answer your question, we’re seeing both an obvious need for change. And we’re also seeing that when people fight back, we win change. There’s a lot of hope as well as the realization of the problem.

Raymond (09:57):

Definitely I am wholeheartedly onboard with that. I personally have learned in this whole process of this show is that it’s about listening. It’s about understanding where they’re coming from. How do we highlight those stories? And so I’m really excited for the show. And if you want to learn more about our organizations, go to

Lan (10:20):

And to follow AAPI FORCE, please go to

Raymond (10:29):

Thanks everyone.

Raymond (10:33):

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram, if you just search Project by Project San Francisco and AAPI FORCE. So if you’re really interested in our show and can’t wait to hear about the stories that we have to tell, share, follow our show, to stay updated on the weekly releases.

Raymond (10:58):

Ad paid for by Chinese Progressive Association, nonprofit 501(c)3 Committee Major funding from Chinese Progressive Association.