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RACIAL INCLUSION OR ACCOMMODATION?: Expanding Community Boundaries among Asian American Organizations

  • Dina Okamoto (a1) and Melanie Jones Gast (a2)

In this paper, we examine how community-based organizations (CBOs) and their leaders negotiate and expand the boundaries of the communities they serve and represent. Drawing upon interviews with organizational leaders and documentary data from Asian American CBOs in the San Francisco Bay Area, we find that nearly all of the organizations in our sample engaged in cross-racial work, incorporating other racial groups into their programs, campaigns, and partnerships. However, leaders varied in how they understood this work as tied to maintaining or expanding their community of focus. The majority of the leaders in our sample discussed cross-racial work as a way to accommodate other racial groups while maintaining a focus on Asian Americans or Asian-ethnics. Other leaders included other racial groups, mainly Latinos and African Americans, in expanded missions and goals, broadening not only resources and collective action efforts, but also community boundaries through racial inclusion. We argue that pressures and incentives related to funding, shared interests, and organizational survival may encourage CBOs to engage in cross-racial work, but these factors do not necessarily sustain racial inclusion over time. Instead, how leaders identify and construct a sense of expanded group boundaries for the community that they serve and represent helps an organization to commit to racial inclusion.

Corresponding author
Dina Okamoto, Department of Sociology, University of California-Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616. E-mail:
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