How Census Data Can Strengthen Communities and Inform Our Investments

How Census Data Can Strengthen Communities and Inform Our Investments

By Lynny Brown, Nidhi Pai, and Ronda Zakocs



APANO Communities United Fund is the educational, cultural, and economic development, companion organization with APANO. We need your support to bring social justice to Asian and Pacific Islander communities throughout the state. Help create concrete policy changes for a more equitable economical, educational, environmental, and healthcare-friendly Oregon for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Donate Here.

Did you know that someone’s zip code is a better predictor of their health outcomes than their genetic code? Around the world, having access to safe, healthy, and plentiful green spaces correlates with living longer, healthier lives. The Willamette Partnership Health & Outdoors Team is committed to making sure that every Oregonian has access to these healing spaces, improving community health equity throughout the state, and building a future where everyone from Ontario to Coos Bay shares the benefits of a healthy environment.

To learn more about our vision, check out our Strategic Plan 2021-2023

Part of our vision for stronger and healthier communities requires that we push for equitable distribution of money and resources. We can repair disproportionate environmental and health impacts on specific communities by directing investment flows to community work led by impacted communities.

In partnership with APANO and Insight for Action, we supported APANO Communities United Fund wield census data effectively and show the importance of investing in community-based organizations and leaders. Together, we developed tools, resources, and workshops to build local capacity to access census data. This allowed communities to tell their own stories in ways that can inform policy and investments that are most impactful to them. In April of 2022, the APANO Communities United Fund used our findings in their funders event Elevate + Disaggregate: Shining the Light on Asian and Pacific Islander Identities. In addition to local community leaders sharing stories, history, and knowledge, there were several calls to action for funders to support local initiatives in the community.

Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities are growing in Oregon.

The 2020 census data reflects the diversity of the Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities in Oregon which broadens our understanding of who they are, where they live, and the different challenges they face.

The various Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities in Oregon are diverse, resilient, and creative people, with strong networks and community assets. We are excited to share some of our key findings from the 2020 Census:

1. Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities are some of the fastest-growing groups across the nation and in Oregon. Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities have experienced significant growth from 2010 to 2020, highlighting the need for increased investment and support.

2. Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities live throughout the state, not only in the Portland metropolitan area. It’s important to focus efforts to serve Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities in areas where there is less access to resources or culturally-specific programs.

3. Asians, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith. Rather, these communities are made up of a diverse community with many different ethnicities, languages, backgrounds, and cultures.

4. Disaggregating data is crucial to deepen our understanding of the nuances of each community. It can help us uncover strengths, disparities, trends, and needs unique to each Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community in various regions across Oregon. This is central to supporting community groups equitably. 

5. We need to support community-based organizations that work with specific Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. They are trusted by community members, and are intentional and systematic in how they engage communities, hear their needs, and provide support.

“On a personal note, this project hit close to home. I am a biracial Thai-American woman who moved to the United States in middle school. I remember how uncomfortable I felt when asked for demographic data. Was I Asian? Was I “One or More Races?” I felt my personal experiences were stripped away and replaced by a generic term, Asian, a category that helped this new community categorize me. It wasn’t until 2020, during APANO’s Climate, Health, and Housing Institute, that I was asked to share how I identify without limits. I was able to hold my Asian identity, but also share my biracial, bicultural Thai identity with a room of people who were nodding in solidarity. That was powerful. Over the years, I’ve been on a learning journey to understand the power of Pan-Asian and Pacific Islander organizing, and also how grouping people for data purposes masks the true need of specific communities. Through this project, we hope that census data will be used by communities to tell their own stories and push for priorities that are important to them.” – Lynny Brown

Alongside Insight for Action and APANO, we will continue to encourage funders and healthcare providers to invest in community-based organizations and leaders. We believe that when communities are able to work on priorities that are most important to them, they will choose the most meaningful, impactful, and creative natural, built, and social infrastructure solutions. 

Vision for the Health Team at Willamette Partnership

When we think about the world we want future generations to inherit, we envision:

  • Stronger and healthier communities: To us that means communities drive solutions to issues that impact them, they have equitable access to clean air, water, and green spaces alongside affordable housing, transportation, childcare, and health care, and are resilient in the face of environmental disasters and a changing climate.
  • Thriving natural spaces: Nature and people are inextricably linked. Thriving natural spaces means healthy ecosystems and access to meaningful outdoor spaces and the benefits that they provide for all people.
  • Equitable distribution of money and resources: We can repair disproportionate environmental and health impacts on specific communities by directing investment flows to community work led by impacted communities.
  • Cross-sectoral solutions: We cannot talk about human health without talking about the health of the environment in which we are embedded. We seek multidisciplinary and intersecting solutions because we know that the environment is a key piece to health, housing, and transportation policies.

Five Principles at Insight for Action

Insight for Action imagines a world where all people have what they need to thrive – no matter what they look like, who they love, how much they earn, where they came from, or where they live. We work with purpose-driven organizations to strengthen their social impact by serving as a learning partner. In all that we do, five principles guide our work.

  • Equity-Focused. Numerous intersecting, reinforcing systems of privilege and oppression perpetuate inequities and prohibit many from realizing their full potential. We strive to integrate an equity lens into everything we do. We engage and compensate cultural advisers to elevate and honor diverse perspectives to ensure equitable processes.
  • Systems-Oriented. We apply holistic methods to identify root causes, critique the location and distribution of power, and track patterns of system behavior to understand what drives and restrains desired change.
  • Relationship-Centered. When groups forge strong, authentic relationships, they are better positioned to succeed. We experience great joy in building meaningful relationships grounded in the values of trust, transparency, empathy, gratitude, and mutual respect. We take constructive feedback to heart, take responsibility for missteps, and take action to make things right.
  • Inquiry-driven. Systematic inquiry grounds intuitive knowing and practice wisdom in concrete evidence. We embody the role of critical friend and thought partner by asking provocative and powerful questions and guide deep inquiry to test assumptions, discover possibilities, and prioritize.
  • Adaptive. Purpose-driven organizations operate in complex, emergent, and dynamic environments that require vigilant attention and constant recalibration to achieve desired change.
Lynny Brown (she/her) works to improve health by connecting people to the outdoors. Taking a strength-based and relationship-based approach to partnerships, Lynny works on projects that lie at the intersection of health and the environment. Over the past year, Lynny has worked with the Oregon Health & Outdoors Initiative on the Outdoor Preschool project.


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