AAPI Equity Alliance HOPE Program Launches in LA County to Help Asian American Communities Heal From Racism, Racial Trauma

LOS ANGELES – A pilot program in Los Angeles County aims to heal racial trauma experienced by local Asian American communities by providing healing spaces and reducing isolation. The  HOPE (Healing Our People through Engagement) Program is led by AAPI Equity Alliance (AAPI Equity) in partnership with community organizations.

Michelle Sewrathan Wong, Managing Director of Programs for AAPI Equity, said the HOPE Program is vital after the racism local AAPI communities have experienced since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

“At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Asian American community endured episodes of brutality on a scale not seen for generations in this country,” Wong said. “They were scapegoated by politicians for transmission of COVID-19, targeted for violent physical attacks, made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own communities, and bullied and ridiculed by neighbors and strangers alike.”

The HOPE Program is funded by a grant from the California Department of Social Services. Researchers say the program will help heal racial trauma, which can lead to anxiety and depression. This is especially important for Asian American communities that tend to underutilize mental health services, in part due to stigma and the lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate resources.

The HOPE Program is based on the Psychology of Radical Healing Framework, which promotes healing, rather than merely coping, with the traumatic impacts of racism on communities of color, said Dr. Anne Saw,  an associate professor of psychology at DePaul University and past Vice President of the Asian American Psychological Association.

“Radical healing is about becoming whole in the face of ongoing racism through connecting with others in our community, drawing strength from our community and culture, and engaging in individual and community actions that promote our collective well-being, resilience, and positive change,” Saw said.

Within that framework, partner organizations are facilitating HOPE healing spaces in Los Angeles County to encourage “honest connections around the pains of racism,” Saw said. “Although these spaces are not easy, they are necessary to promote healing and address the feeling of loneliness and invisibility Asian Americans may feel due to racism.”

Wong said early feedback from participants is hopeful. 

“Although just in the beginning stages of our work, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, providing community members with a space where they can feel safe, supported and heard,” she said.

Since 2020, more than 11,000 stories of AAPI hate have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization co-founded by AAPI Equity.

“We knew the devastating toll this was taking on our community,” Wong said. “Not only were there physical wounds, but we knew from our reporting and data that deep emotional and mental suffering had occurred. The more stories I heard from community members, regardless of age or gender or ethnic identity, the more apparent it became that our community was suffering an epidemic of isolation, anxiety and depression. The loneliness felt when they were spit on on a bus, called a racial slur in the grocery store, or refused service in a restaurant and no one intervened.”

The HOPE Program has launched in five Los Angeles Asian American communities (Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Korean) in partnership with Little Tokyo Service Center, SSG-Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Centers, KoreaTown Youth + Community Center, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans and Pacific Asian Counseling Services.

Yu Wang, HOPE Program facilitator and Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the SSG-Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center, said her Chinese-American participants often internalize traumatic experiences. 

“Our culture traditionally does not emphasize sharing feelings and vulnerabilities, making it difficult to talk about experiences related to racism,” Wang said. “Many of us lack the language to express our negative emotions, which exacerbates feelings of isolation and fear.”

Through the HOPE Program, Wang said participants are learning to be proud of their Asian identities and to support each other in sharing their experiences and stories. 

“They are learning the importance of understanding each other and working together for change,” she added.

Wang said she was profoundly moved after witnessing a participant transform from distrust to a sense of belonging. 

“She initially expressed distrust and hopelessness. After seeing how others shared their stories she felt encouraged to share her own story and said it was the first time she felt accepted in a group,” Yu said.

For participants from the Korean and Korean American community, freedom of expression without attempts to problem-solve proved to be a powerful way to cultivate a culture of non-judgement and acceptance. 

“A first generation immigrant participant was able to reveal an incredible amount of pain that she was expressing for the very first time,” said Joann Won, HOPE Program facilitator and Counselor for Koreatown Youth + Community Center. “Tears were shed as she shared how the microaggressions she faced — being outcast and made fun of for her cultural differences and her accent — affected her mental health.”   

Xueyou Wang, HOPE Program facilitator and the Social Services Program Assistant at Little Tokyo Service Center, said her participants revealed varying generational experiences of racism within the Japanese American community. 

“A big concern for fourth and fifth Japanese American generations was a loss of history,” Wang said. “One of the participants shared how their grandparents survived the internment camps and she fears the loss of that history because it is not being…passed on.” 

Through her participants’ storytelling, Wang said she witnessed them finding common ground and holding space for each other as they shared their concerns and experiences. 

AAPI Equity is gathering feedback from initial HOPE facilitators and participants to refine and strengthen the pilot for a second cohort in 2025, with the goal of tailoring it for, and expanding to, other Asian American communities in the future. 

Until the cultural and systemic barriers surrounding mental health are eradicated, AAPI Equity Alliance remains committed to learning what healing looks like so AAPIs can thrive in safe, healthy and strong communities.

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About AAPI Equity Alliance

AAPI Equity Alliance (AAPI Equity) is a coalition of over 40 community based organizations serving the diverse needs of the 1.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County and beyond. It is dedicated to improving the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through civic engagement, capacity building, and policy advocacy.