Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Bien ushering in change at CISC
By Staff

Northwest Asian Weekly

Chinese Information and Service Center has come a long way since its founding nearly 35 years ago by energetic high school and college students who noticed a lack of services and support for Chinese immigrants in Seattle.

At first, CISC was staffed entirely by young part-time volunteers who used their bilingual skills to help immigrants obtain government programs and services. Having grown steadily over the decades, CISC now has 30 full-time staff members and serves more than 5,000 people a year. Its services include job training, senior day care, English instruction, youth activities and cultural orientation.

Today, its executive director, Alaric Bien, is ushering the agency towards a milestone: a move from its cramped headquarters inside the Bush Hotel to the office space that once housed Eileen of China in Chinatown/International District. The move will increase CISC’s working space by 50 percent.

Bien has been at the helm of this agency since July 2001. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is the son of Chinese immigrants. Despite warnings from his mother, who for many years worked in Oakland’s Chinatown, he developed an interest in social service.

Here, Bien answers a few questions from the Northwest Asian Weekly:

Q: What are the top challenges of serving Chinese immigrants today?

A: I think I would have to say that it’s the diversity within the Chinese community. The Chinese community is not homogeneous. We often suffer from the stereotype of the model minority. Yes, there are many successful, well-to-do, acculturated Chinese Americans in our community. But what gets lost is the fact that there are a significant number of others who do not fit this stereotype. They may be undereducated, unskilled, limited-English-speaking and struggling just to survive. Many of the clients we serve look no different than immigrants in other communities.

But because of the stereotype, sometimes funders and policymakers put a lower priority on our community, not realizing that there are significant needs amongst our population too. It is our job to help people understand that, for example, just because Chinese students on average do quite well academically, the population we serve is struggling and in need of support just like any other newly arrived, limited-English-speaking student in the public schools.

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