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Image: Molly Mendoza

When Anita Yap joined the board of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) in 2012, the “Jade District” didn’t exist. Many people knew that 82nd Avenue had become the hub of the city’s Asian communities. But the east Portland artery retained a lingering image as undesirable, and the emerging neighborhood lacked a strong identity.

Yap, a veteran of nonprofit and government work, helped lead the effort to change that. She pushed APANO to take charge of a small, city-funded urban renewal project targeted at a one-square-mile area on and around 82nd. And she kick-started a brainstorming retreat (conducted simultaneously in five languages) to figure out what residents and businesses wanted. As the Jade District became a name, then an organization with a budget and a mandate, Yap took on the role of guiding the relationship between APANO and the district’s new steering committee.

“I live in the neighborhood,” the 55-year-old says. “I want to make sure the focus is on businesses and residents—building prosperity for the diverse community that’s there, not about displacement.”

That effort involves a lot of wonky grunt work, but Yap also pitched in on the Jade District’s most visible project so far: a summer night market that turned a parking lot at SE 82nd and Division into a festive swatch of Asia for two nights in August. In its second year, the event attracted 25,000—and helped the Jade District establish itself in Portland’s collective consciousness.

“The night market helps make the case that 82nd isn’t an area with ‘problems,’” says Yap, who took the stage as the market’s emcee this summer. “And it’s not ‘the new Chinatown.’ It’s what the future looks like.”

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