Smiling people at the Asian Family Center

Grantee Stories – New Mexico Asian Family Center

Smiling people at the Asian Family Center

The New Mexico Asian Family Center (NMAFC) didn’t have it easy in 2022, according to its Executive Director Sachi Watase. “The last two years revealed increasingly dangerous threats to the communities we serve, in addition to the continual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Following an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. throughout the pandemic, the violence hit close to home in early 2022 when two Chinese women were murdered within four weeks of each other in Albuquerque. Unsure of what the motives were, it nevertheless put the staff of the NMAFC on edge, said Watase. “It affected the organization emotionally, especially when we found out there was gender and racial motivation to the crimes. Ninety percent of our staff are women and of Asian descent and we are all in one place, so we were, of course, afraid for our safety.”

As the largest and most comprehensive social services provider for the Asian, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian (APINH) population in the state of New Mexico, the center felt these losses acutely — and was thrust into action while they were still grieving.

“We essentially had to take over and help represent the family throughout this process. NMAFC not only provided services to those directly and indirectly impacted by the racist and misogynistic crimes, but our staff was also asked and expected to interpret for homicide detectives, plan memorial services, respond to the media and allies, and be the first to receive the wave of fear that permeated throughout the community,” said Watase.

Later that summer, another Chinese woman was murdered in Albuquerque, then three South Asian Muslim men and then an Afghan man were murdered in November 2022. Watase recalls they had barely emerged from the chaos of the previous murders when it happened again, and again. “We had connections with every victim as an agency. The murders really framed a lot of our year,” she said.

The organization’s unprecedented work in supporting the community in the aftermath of these tragic events led to national recognition. President Biden’s deputy assistant came to Albuquerque to meet with center staff and to build connections with the presidential cabinet. “It was important to bring that attention to our state and to the Asian population because we don’t always get seen,” said Watase.

Watase describes the organization as a much-needed service provider to the city’s Asian community — mainly immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other newcomers to the country, most of whom don’t speak English or are limited in their English proficiency. The center provides free case management, individual and family counseling, legal consultation and representation, general navigation services, youth and community leadership programs, financial education workshops, tea talks for women and LGBTQ+ community members, yoga and body work for survivors, and referrals to trusted agencies. It also engages in cross-racial movement building and civic engagement.

More recently, it’s also been finding ways to support its staff with wellness programs, bonding activities and paid mental health days.

“Being on the front lines of supporting a traumatized and hurting community has been extremely taxing on our staff and agency,” said Watase. “As well as mental health days and other meaningful ways to protect the mental, emotional and physical safety and well-being of our staff, we’ve started doing things like going to the rock-climbing gym or the aquarium together. Just spending time as a group and having that connection together. 2022 was the first time we had a fully paid two-week summer break. We were excited to offer this in addition to our two-week winter break.”

NMAFC has existed since 2006 and provides culturally tailored services in 15 different Asian languages.