A Week at the Chinese Progressive Assocation

“The Chinese Progressive Association is a grassroots community organization which works for full equality and empowerment of the Chinese community in the Greater Boston area and beyond. Our activities seek to improve the living and working conditions of Chinese Americans and to involve ordinary community members in making decisions that affect our lives.” [Mission].

I just finished my second week at the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), a non-profit based in Boston’s Chinatown. The Chinese Progressive Association has been playing a large role in the lives of Chinatown residents since 1977 when it was founded.  CPA wishes to create a grassroots movement, meaning a movement directly led and supported by residents of the community whose lives are affected by issues such as the need for jobs and education, freedom from discrimination, and a clean and safe living environment (click here for a short video on CPA).


CPA signs used at rallies supporting worker’s rights (Photo by Kelly Li)

The summer before my senior year of high school, I interned at another non-profit in the Chinatown area. During that time, I learned about the history of Chinatown and its need for affordable housing and the economic gap in terms of income between most of its residents compared to the median income of Boston residents. Having grown up in the suburbs, generally without much exposure to the Asian Pacific Islander (API) issues that Asian Americans face every day, I believe that summer helped me become more aware of myself as an Asian American in the context of society and sparked my interest in learning more about API issues and how to go about trying to seek social justice. Around then, I learned about the Chinese Progressive Association which promoted not only education on the rights of the Chinatown residents but community activism and action. I knew that getting involved in CPA would be the next step in engaging in these issues.

These last few days have been interesting ones. My first week, I accompanied my supervisor on a “canvassing” trip, which more or less meant knocking on people’s doors, talking to them about a petition. At the moment, CPA is working toward getting a question on the ballot for the next election in order to gauge voter reaction to potential changes in policies related to taxation of the wealthiest Americans, access to affordable housing, and the recent MBTA toll hikes. I also got to sit in on a staff meeting, which gave me a little insight into how a non-profit operates behind the scenes and how decisions are made. However, the most exciting moment of the week was getting to meet photographer Corky Lee and having a chance to sit down and interview him for CPA. Although I had never heard of Corky Lee before coming to CPA (CPA was showcasing a small gallery of his photographs), I found his story and experiences fascinating, not to mention inspiring. Decades ago, he had seen that Asian Americans were not prominent in the media or American history. Today, he is helping raise awareness of Asian Americans and their struggles, cultures, and daily lives through his photography.

I can’t wait to write the interview article!

Gallery of Corky Lee's Photographs in CPA (Photo by Kelly Li)

At the moment, I am in charge of gathering research about the Boston Public Library’s fiscal budget and new Compass Plan in order to help CPA and further their goal of creating a library in Chinatown as its residents have been without a library since the 1950s when urban renewal occurred, causing its demolition. I’ll also be helping CPA with their various summer projects such as the annual Chinatown Bike-A-Thon and their current voter outreach project.

It’s hard to say what I expect for the summer as I’m happy with learning and experiencing anything and everything that I can. I hope to get a better understanding of how non-profits operate as well as more knowledge of the Chinatown community. Besides that, I hope that I can make a meaningful contribution to CPA. I love the idea of being involved in a community that is always evolving and changing, seeing the development up close. I look forward to witnessing firsthand and playing a part in this progress over the next few weeks.

– Kelly Li ’15

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