Finding a Home in Asian Pacific America
Hari Adhikari’s Journey from Refugee to Asian Pacific American Advocate
The first time Hari Adhikari rode on a plane was not only across the globe, but it was a one-way ticket.
Hari’s family was forced to relocate from Southern Bhutan as refugees during the 1990s due to harsh discrimination. Hari’s family spent seventeen years living in refugee camps where resources were always in short supply.
“Being in the camps was tumultuous to say the least,” Hari recalled. “The local Nepalese treated the refugees pretty badly and you did not get equal treatment. These stories can be pretty painful to tell sometimes.”
By the time Hari boarded his flight to the United States for resettlement in Tucson, Arizona, he had spent a majority of his life in refugee camps.
As a 17-year-old immigrant, he faced significant challenges when he arrived in the United States. Though he attended an American school, no one was on hand to explain to him where Asian Americans fit in the United States. And the part-time job he took to help provide for his family left little time for self-exploration.
OCA changed his course
It wasn’t until Hari’s family discovered OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA) and he began engaging with their programs that he was able to grasp a part of this picture.
OCA is a national network of advocates dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans. This is done through leadership training as well as the work of local chapters and grassroots advocacy at a national level.
Hari’s father first attended board meetings to help volunteer for the census. But after Hari attended a meeting he realized this was a community he wanted to be a part of and give back to. So he deepened his involvement by becoming the Tucson Chapter’s Secretary.
Hari is a part of a new generation of Asian Americans that doesn’t fit into the East Asian categories like Japanese or Chinese. Both of which tend to dominate the common perception of Asian Americans.
For many individuals like Hari, OCA serves as a place where they can connect to the larger Asian American and Pacific Islander community. A community that can be divided in their everyday experiences by generation, nationality, or immigration status.
“Getting involved in OCA was a big stepping stone for me. I learned what it means to be an immigrant in the United States and the kind of things I need to be aware of as an Asian American,” Hari recounted.
Paying it forward
Hari’s first experience with an OCA program was planning one of the organization’s signature youth programs, Asian Pacific American - Youth Advocate (APA-Y). Tucson is home to a large refugee community. Hari helped bring basic education of Asian American history and advocacy to students struggling with culture shock.
“APA-Y teaches young leaders about advocacy and what we can do in our community to help each other out. Immigration, education, and mental health are all things that the Asian American community needs to be actively engaged in,” shared Hari.
Hari’s journey with OCA did not end there. He was selected to attend the annual Japanese American Citizens League/OCA Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. This program focuses on training leaders to affect change in their community through advocacy with government officials.
“I never before got to see the lobbying process here in America and I got to see how Congress works first-hand,” said Hari. “I learned things are not as easy as you think; that our voices need to be heard.”
“OCA has helped put me in a position where I must speak up,” explains Hari. “Going through all these State Farm programs was an eye-opener, and I did not know a lot of the things I know today.”
The journey isn’t over
Hari’s journey, like the journey of the thousands of individuals who have benefitted from OCA programs over the years is not over. OCA has inspired him to continue doing work that will go on to benefit his community and individuals like him.
Each year, State Farm makes the training of more than 750 Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders possible through their sponsorship of OCA programs. These important programs open the door for full participation in America’s social, political, and legal circles that Asian Americans like Hari are so often left out of.
As Hari will tell you, “These programs have made me a more aware citizen and a more aware member of the Asian American community.”