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Press Release

NEA recognizes APALA for its work to advance workers’ rights

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is awarded NEA’s Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award.
Published: 07/01/2018


Minneapolis - During his life, American astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka encouraged students to dream big, set lofty goals, break barriers and literally reach for the stars. In that same spirit APALA, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO, has removed barriers and inspired communities as they fight for worker rights, human rights, educational equity and advanced labor and Asian community partnerships. Because of his profound legacy, today NEA is honoring APALA with the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award.

“The human and civil rights champions we honor tonight are the epitome of the fierce urgency of now that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about in his ‘I have a Dream speech,’” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Through their deeds and actions, they have demonstrated remarkable courage and conviction to stand up for racial and social justice. They have shown an unrelenting resolve and ferocity to make a real difference for public education, students, and our nation’s future. They are shining examples of social justice activism, fighting against injustices every day, and making sure that our great nation lives up to its promise.”

NEA honored the work of 12 outstanding social justice heroes at its 2018 NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards, which took place on Sunday, July 1, in Minneapolis, Minn. The merger of the National Education Association and the American Teachers Association in 1966 produced the annual NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards. Since the merger, NEA has recognized and honored educators, individuals, community partners, and organizations that are advancing the mantle for human and civil rights.

“APALA is honored to receive this award - we are proud of our history fighting for the rights and dignity of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community - that includes the right to a great public education for every student,” said Alvina Yeh, APALA executive director. “We're energized for the fights ahead as we work with partners like NEA to advocate for working families!”

Over its 25-year history, APALA, the first and only national organization of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) workers, was one of the first organizations within the American labor movement to advocate for immigrant rights and advance the organizing of immigrant workers. APALA has been at the forefront of supporting undocumented immigrant students, demanding access to higher education and lifting up the leadership of API undocumented youth.

APALA has brought together over a dozen API ethnic communities under one umbrella organization. Chinese garment workers, Japanese teachers, Filipino nurses, Vietnamese home care workers, Pacific Island construction workers, and South Asian government workers, have all have worked together in APALA to collaborate and fight for civil rights and economic justice. Together, they resist, organize, and fight.

APALA also has been influential in positioning the labor movement to support legalization for undocumented immigrants, understanding that worker’s rights are advanced when all workers have rights, no matter their country of birth or immigration status.

APALA was among the dozen individuals and organization, including the Know Your Rights Camp, founded by professional quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, the NEA recognized for continuing the quest for human and civil rights in America.

To view a list of their bios and achievements, please click here. See a video of APALA in action here.

Follow the conversation on Twitter #NEARA18 #EdJustice2018 @NEAMedia

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.