ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — In the last 10 years, Rochester’s Asian American population has exploded by 40 percent, according to the Asian American Federation and census data. Local leaders in the AAPI community say they haven’t always seen themselves and their families reflected here.

“The representation hasn’t been that good, to be honest with you,” says John Ra, chairman of APAPA Rochester.

“However, I will say in the last two years or so I have seen some changes to hope things are really coming around,” he goes on to say.

The AAF on Friday invited non-profit groups, community organizations, and elected leaders from across Western New York to learn about who is here in the Flower City and what they need. Their analysis shows even though there are more Asian American and Pacific Islanders here than ever before, the population struggles with language barriers, citizenship, and education.

Many still struggle to combat Asian hate, as the FBI confirms reported hate crimes against Asian Americans went up 77% in 2020.

“People think oh you’re Asian-serving, therefore, you only serve Asians. That’s not true. We are Asian-lead, Asian-serving, but our member organizations and all these nonprofits serve everybody that walks through the door,” says Asian American Federation Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo.

“From African-American groups to Latino groups to any other groups, we are here and we want to work with everyone,” adds Ra.

The first half of Friday’s program focused on empowering the local AAPI business community, as well as civic engagement.

“There are new immigrants here, there are lots of older immigrants who have been here for many generations, there are Asian Americans here who may not understand the civic engagement process,” says Yoo.

“Civic engagement is also more than just voting–although we do want people to be active and involved in that–it’s also letting people know what resources are around them and making sure there is language representation as well,” she further explains.

The second half encouraged more mental health awareness, which is a topic which has proved historically challenging.

“Imagine not being able to do that in the language that is most comfortable for you. Imagine not being able to do that and see someone who at least shares some of your culture and experiences in life,” says Senator Samra Brouk, who also chairs the NYS Mental Health committee.

“How do we start to break down those barriers to be able to normalize having conversations about really hard things that have been so detrimental to our community,” adds Yoo.

In short, these leaders hope AAPI people in Rochester can feel proud to be here and to be part of the larger fabric of New York State.