APAICS: Tell us about your role as ED of NCAPA:
Gregg Orton: As National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, I get to be a part of the important work of bringing together all of the diverse communities within the AA and NHPI community. We have 35 member organizations whose networks span across the country and all of them are leading the fight for AAPI civil rights. We work at the federal level to represent our communities in immigration, civil rights, health, education and housing policy debates; while also creating a convening space to discuss how to harness the civic engagement power of our growing population.
APAICS: Your personal hero/ who inspired you to work as a public servant?
GO: One personal (s)hero who truly influenced my career path is the late Jacqueline Ellis. She was Chief of Staff for Congressman Al Green (D-TX), and I had the pleasure of working and learning under her for many years, and eventually succeeding her as Chief of Staff. Jacqui was a true trailblazer on Capitol Hill and I was always amazed at her willingness to mentor countless staffers on the Hill. She was an unapologetic and inspiring advocate for the black community; but the advice she gave that I will always remember, is that when building a congressional team, she wanted the people in the office to reflect the world around her. Her and Congressman Green’s support of me to climb into a senior role is a demonstration of a commitment to diversity that I will always remember.
APAICS: Why is it important to unite AAPI orgs under the umbrella of NCAPA?
GO: We’ve all heard the statistic before: AAPIs are the fastest growing demographic group in the country—but what does that really mean? Our community’s civic power, the ability to be taken more seriously by decision makers, hinges on our ability to come together and build a truly unified AAPI movement. For decades, we have been fighting for a seat at the table, only to be largely ignored because our population numbers haven’t been large enough. That will eventually change, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to build a movement. Far too much is at stake for us to wait decades longer, we at NCAPA believe the time is now, and we invite all AAPIs to join us in coming together.
APAICS: Favorite vacation spot?
GO: Anywhere I can scuba dive. (I just finished a 100+ mile hike through France, Italy and the Swiss Alps, and while wonderful, I need a beach.)
APAICS: What does coalition building mean to you?
GO: The future. I genuinely believe we are in a time where a more unified AAPI movement can be built. The progress we wish to see hinges on our ability to embrace all of our diverse communities, and that means changing the narrative and public perception of what it means to be “AAPI.” We are so much more than just East Asians; and unless we can do a better job of uplifting South Asian, Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander voices, we cannot claim to be fully committed to racial justice and diversity.
APAICS: What drives you?
GO: The potential and promise of building a strong and diverse AAPI movement. It feels like we’re close, and we’ve certainly had some amazing victories to celebrate in AAPI representation, but I genuinely believe we can do more.
APAICS: What is your morning routine to get your ready for the day?
GO: Answer emails from bed, think about working out (nope), shower, contemplate life and work on the metro ride in, probably skip breakfast (bad), get started on the day in the office.
APAICS: What was your experience as an APAICS Hill Fellow like?
GO: Overwhelming, formative, and amazing! I started my fellowship just as the financial crisis of 2008 peaked and Congressman Green sat on the House Financial Services Committee, which was the primary committee of jurisdiction for both the immediate response to the crisis and the eventual Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law that was passed. I was completely unprepared for the pace of work and demands that came with it, but the experience also helped me realize that I was capable of cutting it on Capitol Hill. I learned so much in that one year, that I became addicted and didn’t want to leave until I had learned more. Congressman Green deserves a lot of credit as well, since he pushed me to be a substantive policy fellow and not just one that sat in the back office answering phones and pushing paper.
APAICS: Favorite book?
GO: The entire Drizzt series by R.A. Salvatore will forever be my favorites. (My other passion is advocating for Dungeons and Dragons to become a thing.)
APAICS: Message for someone seeking to work in public service?
GO: If your passion is to be an advocate for the AAPI community, spending time working on Capitol Hill will be invaluable. Understanding how institutions work/don’t work gives you a perspective on effective advocacy that we need to truly understand how to influence the long game of policy change.
APAICS: What is your favorite memory from working on the Hill?
GO: Helping craft language to establish an Office of Civil Rights at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act deliberations. While many people had a hand in making this become law, Congressman Green’s office was directly involved, and that was the first time I saw work that had my fingerprints get embedded into something that would eventually become law.
APAICS: How has the APAICS Alumni network helped you navigate the political space?
GO: In DC, there’s a difference between knowing people and having friends; and then there’s an even bigger difference between having friends and having family. My DC family starts with APAICS and I think my wife and I are still either the only, or one of the few APAICS couples.
APAICS: What direction do you hope to take NCAPA?
GO: Grow the coalition. There are so many great AAPI groups out there, and for so long, NCAPA has traditionally been focused on policy advocacy. While this work will remain a central focus, I believe we should create convening spaces for other parts of the community. This includes in the arts, culture and media space, as well as the academic and research spaces too. If we are to build a broader AAPI movement, it is my hope that NCAPA can help lead the way.