CAPA was founded in 1984 by a group of Americans of Chinese ethnicity. The founders were motivated by an incident that involved their efforts to develop a retirement community in the Contra Costa County. The county approved their rezoning application, but rejected their development plans. Strong racial overtones were heard during the numerous public hearings held on the project. This group of Chinese Americans sought the advice of many friends who were involved in the community, including some local public officials. They were advised to form a grass-roots organization that would prevent this type of mistreatment from happening again; thus was born the Chinese American Political Association (CAPA). It was registered under the IRS tax code as a 527 political organization. Its mission is to provide a political voice for the Asian community. It is non-partisan, actively engages with local public officials, and help lobby for issues that promote fairness and diversity in our society. The organization has since grown and inspired the formation of many similar organizations within their local Asian communities.
In 1997, CAPA formed CAPA Community Education Fund, a separate 501c3 nonprofit organization. Donations to CAPA CEF are tax deductible and it organizes educational activities that actively promote the awareness and participation of Asian Americans in political and community affairs. It served originally as a vehicle to attract donations and funds to support the long-term vision of CAPA. Over the years, the identities and roles of the two organizations slowly evolved.
One change is the name of the organizations. While the membership pools of the two organizations continue to be predominantly Americans of Chinese decent, the Board of Directors understand that the long term goals of both organizations are better served if we aim to champion the cause of Asian Americans, not just Chinese Americans. The Boards understand that substantive change to attract a broader pool of members to the organizations will take many years, but there are several small steps we can start to reach out to the broader Asian community. To reflect this changing view, the Boards decided to keep the acronym CAPA, but not to spell out the full name. When asked what CAPA stands for, our answer is that “it stands for an organization whose mission is to advance the participation and leadership of Asian Americans in public affairs.”
A second significant change is a clearer clarification of the distinct roles between CAPA and CAPA CEF and that the latter is more than just a mechanism to attract donations. The founders of CAPA recognized from the outset that Chinese and Asian communities need to be educated and encouraged to participate in the political process. Over the years, CAPA has come to realize the enormous challenge of this task because for many Asian cultures, the barriers to involvement in politics is not just a matter of awareness or a language issue but has roots in our cultures. Asians must first be comfortable to be involved with the community in general before we can take the bigger step of becoming involved politically. The Boards have now steered CAPA to become politically focused and CAPA CEF to become community focused.
While CAPA and CAPA CEF operated as two separate organizations for many years – different by-laws, Board of Directors, and budgets – we have not forgotten that we came from one root.
But CAPA CEF continues on with it’s mission to advocate and encourage participation of Asian Americans in public affairs through our internship program, our bi-annual Fall Forums to showcase the top campaigns during election years and continued partnerships with our sister organizations such as APAPA.
Watch the video presented at the 25th Anniversary of CAPA.