The Asia Pacific Cultural Center is celebrating 20 years in the community with a new 390,000 square foot facility on Pierce County’s developing Point Ruston waterfront.
The facility will offer a space for the APCC’s average 6,000 monthly visitors to gather and multiply. With new jobs, housing units, cultural suites, a grocery store, food courts, a gift shop, and a library, this new facility is expected to now attract 400,000 visitors annually.
Since 1996, the APCC has worked toward their mission to bridge the gap between the Asian Pacific cultures and the greater Tacoma community.
“In America we are identified as ‘Asians,’ and actually we don’t even know each other,” APCC Founder/President Patsy Surh O’Connell said. Twenty years ago, Surh O’Connell and a group of six Asian Pacific community members decided to create a space to share their cultures and learn from each other.
Currently, the APCC organizes various youth programs, monthly gatherings, community education classes, and an annual Asian New Year Celebration at the Tacoma Dome.
The nonprofit nearly came to an end in 2010 due to a lack of funding that made finding a replacement executive director challenging. But then Lua Pritchard, one of the APCC’s founding board members, took the reigns as executive director in May of that year.
“I couldn’t watch it go away knowing that I was available and that I could do something about it,” Pritchard said.
Since 2010, Pritchard has worked with Surh O’Connell to move the organization through offices, literally the size of a closet, to the 10,500-square-foot space the organization occupies now.
Beyond its community outreach programs, the APCC offers Asian Pacific individuals the opportunity to find their identities in their native culture.
“Some people actually cry when they get here for the first time,” Pritchard said. “They actually have tears, they say: ‘I can’t believe there’s a place that looks like me.’”
One thousand jobs at the APCC’s new facility will be intended for students, including jobs for students to perform their culture’s traditional dances and songs.
The community between cultures is growing, too. In one given day, Pritchard said, up to five different cultural groups could be meeting in different rooms at the APCC.
“They’re all co-mingling, they’re all getting to know each other,” said Pritchard. “It’s a community. It’s a real community.”
The APCC’s new facility will offer 47 cultural rooms, one for each of the organization’s represented Pacific Rim nations to display art and cultural artifacts.
School-aged kids around Pierce County receive hands-on education about an Asian Pacific nation through the APCC’s Treasure Trunk program. At any teacher’s request, the APCC sends a nation’s cultural expert and a trunk filled with its artifacts into the classroom to educate students about the culture’s traditions, history, and customs.
Cultural workshops hosted by the APCC also allow government agencies to receive cultural education. Particularly, the APCC works with Joint Base Lewis-McChord to train deploying soldiers on the cultures they will encounter abroad. In a workshop, 30 to 50 soldiers spend up to five hours learning about a nation’s history, current issues, greetings, customs, cuisine, language and dress to help bridge the cultural gap.
Cultural classrooms in the Point Ruston facility will host such cultural workshops for both soldiers and community groups beyond.
The APCC’s Promise Leaders of Tomorrow youth program works closely with at-risk Tacoma high school students working toward earning their high school diplomas. Efforts include holding students accountable for attendance, ensuring that students have the language skills necessary for success, and keeping students’ parents involved.
Promise Leaders of Tomorrow has done so well that it is attracting students beyond the Asian Pacific community, Pritchard said.
“African-American kids, Hispanic kids, are being attracted over to our program because we treat them like we’re their family,” Pritchard said. “We accept everyone. We can’t say no.”
The Point Ruston property, in its huge expanse, will only help to further the APCC’s mission. Half of the facility’s 200 housing units will be reserved for low income seniors. Rooms for cooking demonstrations will host the organization’s monthly Taste of Asia cuisine-sharing events.
The new facility, projected to cost some $87 million, will be funded by a combination of state, federal, and private contributions.
Pritchard said that with that much space, she would never run out of things to do, and that virtually every program will be expanded. Surh O’Connell predicts the new building will be bustling with visitors. The organization plans to break ground in 2018, and be open to the public by 2020.
Moving forward with a new facility and 20 years to celebrate, Pritchard has high hopes for the APCC’s future.
“I foresee someone from the UN will seek out APCC,” Pritchard said. The UN might want to know how the APCC brings 47 countries together, she said, because “if it’s working here, they gotta know why and how.”