United Way Reaches Out to Asians : Charity Opening Its Doors, Purse Strings to Minorities

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles area United Way will distribute $60 million to nearly 400 agencies this year, but only seven charities controlled by Asian-Americans will share in the proceeds, receiving $293,000 or less than .5% of United Way’s money.

But that may change soon because United Way Inc., has begun opening its top volunteer and staff positions--and its purse--to the rapidly growing numbers of Asian and Pacific Islands peoples in Los Angeles County, partly in the hope that they will become a significant new source of donations.

Growing Populations

In what President Francis X. McNamara Jr. called a “bold step,” United Way Inc., published a report this week documenting the diversity of the growing populations of Asian and Pacific Island peoples who live here.


Entrepreneur Lilly V. Lee, who sits on the United Way Inc., board and chairs its Asian Pacific Research and Development Council, and other council members said they hope the report will lead to United Way Inc. involving more Asian Pacific peoples, especially as top-level volunteers who can exercise power on behalf of their diverse communities’ needs.

They said they expect this will prompt more donations as a wider segment of the county’s populace feels it has a stake in United Way Inc. The Los Angeles area United Way, which is seeking $86 million for 1986, ranks first in total dollars raised among all United Ways, but among the 25 largest United Ways it is a distant 24th in funds raised per capita.

The Asian Pacific Resource and Development Council leaders said they also hope the report will prompt United Way Inc. and local corporations to significantly increase funding of nonprofit organizations controlled by Asian Pacific peoples. They characterized the current level of support as “token funding.”

Past United Way projects involving Asian Pacifics have run into serious difficulties, notably United Way’s creation of the Asian Voluntary Action Center. The center, which sparked friction with other Asian Pacific charities, folded when United Way withdrew its support two years ago.


But Wednesday night nearly 200 people, half of them Asian Pacifics, turned out for an upbeat reception to introduce the report. George F. Moody, the Security Pacific National Bank president who as a United Way Inc. director has been among those most supportive of involving a wider array of ethnic groups in the federated fund-raising organization, hosted the reception on the 53rd floor of his firm’s Bunker Hill skyscraper.

Based on extrapolations of the Census Bureau and other data, the chart-filled “Pacific Rim Profiles” and a 100-page technical report focus on the eight largest groups of Asian and Pacific Islands peoples in the county. The report estimates that as many as 792,000 Asian Pacifics live in Los Angeles County, more than triple the 238,000 counted in the 1970 census.

Lee said she believes the official data significantly undercount new immigrants and that today 14% of the county’s 8 million residents, about 1.1 million people, are Asian Pacifics.

While overall Asian Pacifics incomes and education levels are slightly higher than for the county as a whole, the study also identified serious mental health, social and economic problems among specific groups, notably recent immigrants and refugees.


Formal Education

One in four Vietnamese adults, for example, has less than eight years of formal education. Wife beating is culturally accepted among some Asian Pacific groups, the study said, and many immigrants and refugees who held professional positions in their native lands cannot get licensed here. The report said a serious shortage of adult English language classes prevents many new arrivals from acquiring language skills vital to obtaining good-paying jobs.

“Most people think we have money to burn,” said David Chen, a council member who directs the Diho Service Center for Asian immigrants in Monterey Park, “but for every Asian person you see with money to burn there is another in desperate need of help.”

“You can’t ignore the issues once the facts are documented in black and white,” said Leland Wong, the United Way planner who staffs the Asian Pacific Research and Development Council.


Lee and others praised Wong, saying that when United Way cracked open its door to Asian Pacifics, Wong took the initiative in recruiting leaders who would come into United Way as volunteers, opening the door wider for others.

“Now that the door is open we’re going to keep it open,” Lee said, “because it is very important to the well-being of this county that Asian Pacifics have access to United Way.

“There has been a huge flow of immigrants--Asians account for 48% of the legal immigration into the U.S.--and it will continue . . .,” Lee said.

“The long-term consequences of actively drawing immigrants and refugees into the mainstream, rather than allowing independent and isolated ethnic enclaves to develop, are worth everyone’s time and action today,” she said.


“The Asian community has been very critical of United Way and its policies, its spending . . . the Asian community has not had a lot of access to the corporate leaders who make decisions and who are at the top at United Way,” said Lee, a Beverly Hills businesswoman who grew up in Chinatown.

“I think most of the people involved with United Way are sensitive to the needs of the diverse Asian Pacifics, but they don’t know what to do,” Lee said. “This report should help them learn what to do.

Ethnic Groups

“I would like to see from this study that by the year 2000 there is not a racial separation in Los Angeles County, but we become like Hawaii, where people of many ethnic groups work together. I hope that we will become Hawaii II.”


“I joined the council because what I have seen tells me that the motives of United Way are really genuine,” said council member Ludy A. Ongkeko. She is a former political reporter in Manila who is now managing editor of Sociology and Social Research, a scholarly journal at USC.

Another council member and United Way Inc. board member, Col. Young Kim, who when he retired 14 years ago was the highest ranking Korean-American in the U.S. Army, said “what is very important about this document is that it is being published by United Way. That means it has credibility and that community leaders in business, government and education will read it and believe it.

“I think 80% of what’s in here will not be news to the Koreans or the other groups,” Kim said, “but the decision makers are not intimately aware of these things, although they may be vaguely aware . . . .

“I think this also shows that the United Way leaders have looked around and realize that they need more Asians, they need more Hispanics, more of all minorities, than they have and have had at the top,” Kim said.


A similar council to involve more Latinos has also been created by United Way, which drew on Latino middle managers of major corporations for most of its members. That council has no plans to produce a report on the variety of Latino ethnic groups and their different needs and interests, senior United Way officials said.

United Way is a key source of funding for some black-run charities, but its relations with blacks are such that a competing organization, the Brotherhood Crusade/Black Unified Fund, has become the largest of 16 “black United Ways” in the country. The Crusade will collect more than $1 million this year even though it is limited to soliciting payroll deductions from workers employed by governments and one private employer, Boys Markets.

Since its creation in 1963, only white males have been chairmen or campaign chairmen of United Way Inc., although signs of change can be seen in the United Way professional staff, which was once overwhelmingly white. When Alice McHugh, the senior vice president for planning and resource development, met with her planners on Monday they talked about how the majority of those present were non-Anglo, Wong said.

Not all Asian Pacific leaders share the enthusiasm of Lee and her fellow Asian Pacific council members for the report and what they believe may be the first successful steps toward significantly broadening the mix of people and interests who wield power at United Way Inc. Bill Watanabe, executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, which unsuccessfully sought United Way funding several years ago, said, “United Way has been doing reports and studies since 1975. There’s been a lot of energy expended on reports, but the action part has been very piecemeal.”


Breakdown of Funding

He noted that before 1980 only one charity controlled by Asian-Americans, the Chinatown Service Center, got United Way funding. This year it will get $100,181, more than one-third of all the money that United Way allocates to agencies controlled by Asian Pacifics.

In the last five years United Way Inc. has admitted 73 new agencies, six of them controlled by Asian-Americans.

Asian-American Drug Abuse Program will get $29,095 this year, the Center for the Pacific Asian Family will get $28,156, the Japanese Community Pioneer Center will get $33,544, the Korean Youth Center will get $48,270, the United Cambodian Community will get $25,037 and the Search to Involve Filipino-Americans will get $29,118.


United Way allocated $100,000 to the Asian Pacific Research and Development Council to recruit and develop leaders, to conduct studies, to make three grants of $1,500 each to Asian-American charities and for other work. The council also persuaded the United Way corporate board to put up $37,000 over the past two years for the Coro Foundation to start a public affairs training program for Asian Pacifics. Lee and others say the Coro program, which has trained 26 people, is crucial to developing leaders, as is another project called Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics.

In 1970, the report shows, about three-fourths of the Asian-Americans in Los Angeles County were of Japanese or Chinese ancestry and few were immigrants.

Today, Japanese are still the largest Asian Pacific group in the county with a population of 117,200. But Filipinos are second at 100,040, followed by 94,200 Chinese, 64,500 Koreans, 26,040 Vietnamese, 17,720 Asian Indians, 7,440 Samoans, 6,220 Hawaiians, 3,596 Guamanians and 20,000 “other Asians.” Filipinos are expected to become the largest group by the end of the century, with Chinese second and Vietnamese third, Lee said.

Paul Louie, a county human relations specialist and member of the United Way council that prepared the report, said the estimates significantly understate the numbers of Koreans and Samoans living in the county. Lee said when Wong recruited her as a United Way volunteer in 1983 “the first thing I did was change the name of the committee to ‘research and development council’ from ‘support committee’ because I asked ‘support what? The United Way wasn’t supporting the Asian community.’ ” Lee said the logical process was to do research and development first in order to build support both for United Way and from it.


Other leaders of the various Asian-American communities said United Way has faltered in several previous attempts to involve Asian Pacifics.

“The history is that in the early ‘70s there was nothing going on at United Way about Asian-Americans,” said Ted Tanaka, a second-generation Japanese-American who serves on the United Way Inc. corporate board.

“In the late ‘70s the issue was brought to United Way’s attention and in the early ‘80s there was some initial testing, largely through funding of AVAC,” the Asian Voluntary Action Center, said Tanaka, an international businessman.

That center, funded almost entirely by United Way and with Tanaka as its board chairman, created friction among many of the nonprofit organizations controlled by various Asian-American ethnic groups, Tanaka and others said.


“It was a new agency, young, and its job was to teach other agencies and it’s kind of hard to be the teacher when you are young and not so mature,” Tanaka said of the now-defunct agency.

Much Research

Lee said she expects the Asian Pacific Research and Development Council to dissolve within four years.

By then, she said, the council will have done enough research to make others aware of the issues and it will have developed enough Asian Pacific leaders that they can wield influence within United Way Inc. without a separate organization.