By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
Pradeepta Upadhyay feels she has been blessed in her career path. She has a long history of advocacy work, which started in rural Nepal. She immigrated to the United States, where she continued her work in Los Angeles. Now in Seattle, she serves as InterIm Community Development Association’s (InterIm) newly appointed executive director.
InterIm is located in a small, busy office on King Street, in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown. The deceptively small office is a surprisingly large hub for a variety of programs that many of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community should be aware of. InterIm’s mission is to support APIs, immigrants, and refugee communities through culturally and linguistically responsible community building. Primary programs include real estate development, low-income housing and mixed-use projects, neighborhood improvement projects, programs for youth and seniors, and a wide variety of advocacy and social services.
Upadhyay’s role is to support the staff of 20 full-time and part-time employees, while also maintaining communication with outside neighboring partners and of course, focusing on development. It is clear that, while very busy, she loves the work she does. Her current position at InterIm reflects the work she has always loved, ever since she was first aware of what she wanted to do back when she was in Nepal — advocate for those in need.
Historically, Upadhyay’s work has focused on her passion and dedication for social issues and particularly for issues that affect women. Upadhyay, who is originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, stated she was lucky because she came from a privileged family. She was appalled by the poverty and living conditions of many of the young women in rural Nepal, which spurred her initial desire to try to help.
One issue that resonated with her during that time with her work in Nepal was the emerging AIDS crisis.
According to Upadhyay, many young women were being sold into brothels, and they were being blamed for contracting the disease. She said it wasn’t unusual to see women thrown out on the streets. She helped form the first HIV support group for women, and she also advocated for abortion rights, which was illegal at the time.
Upadhyay immigrated to the United States in 1999 to be closer to her daughters and said she was lucky to find work within months. Since then, it has all been work she loves and feels lucky to be a part of. She has been Director of Programs for the South Asian Network (Los Angeles), executive director of Chaya (Seattle), and she also contributed to the Community Health Action Initiative (CHAI), the first comprehensive health education program in the United States designed for South Asian immigrants and refugees. Now, as the permanent executive director of InterIm, she gets to continue fulfilling her calling — even though she is not entirely new to InterIm. Upadhyay was previously Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives, and she said she was always familiar with InterIm.
“I always looked at ‘Uncle Bob’ (Bob Santos, community activist and former InterIm executive director) as an inspiration.” So her new role as executive director seems a natural fit.
InterIm’s Build Health program recently did a study specific to the International District community and found primary concerns were pollution (graffiti, trash, lack of green space), isolation (particularly related to seniors), fear of violence (after 4 p.m. — this was notable after Donnie Chin’s death), and the prevalence of homeless encampments.
InterIm’s WILD (Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development) Program, geared toward API and refugee youth, will be hosting summer wilderness trips and camping trips and also inter-generational programs with seniors (bird-watching sessions, ballot parties).
The most recent notable news and development would be the occupancy of Hirabayashi Place, which was completed in March of this year. There were an overwhelming 196 applications for the available 96 units in the low-income housing building. All units are now tenant-occupied and a new day care center for the building supported by El Centro de la Raza opened this May. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held mid-summer.
“Homelessness is not invisible in our communities,” Upadhyay said. She feels there’s a misconception that there is not a need for affordable housing in API communities, and the abundance of applications for the low-income housing dispels this.
What about new projects? There are no guarantees, but InterIm did submit a proposal/application for purchase of the International District’s historic Panama Hotel, which was declared a national treasure in 2015. Without going into detail, Upadhyay indicated InterIm would preserve and respect the hotel’s history in regards to how it housed Japanese Americans forced into internment during the Second World War, while finding a way to incorporate InterIm’s community mission.
There are also projects and advocacy on a smaller scale that are just as important. Upadhyay brings up examples of issues that may be considered less reactionary, that can be met with at a different level, but still have a great impact.
“It’s about creating opportunities and meeting needs to help the client — helping with transportation if that is what is needed to get a job, or clothes for an interview.”
So out of all the work she had done to date, what has been the most rewarding? Memorable? There is no definitive answer, but she brought up the first women’s HIV support group she helped to create in Nepal, and the impact and importance of a support system.
“It leads to other support systems,” she said. “The change … it makes transformations.”
For more information about InterIm and its programs, visit interimicda.org.
Peggy Chapman can be reached at email@example.com.