How Massachusetts can support AAPI communities

The House Asian Caucus is pushing forward a number of policy initiatives to begin to address the challenges we face.

From left, Sophia Zhang, 13, of Belmont, Yifei Hu, 16, of Weston, and Sophia Ping, 13, of Weston, attend a rally in Boston, on April 21, where Ping was one of the Asian American children to speak out about recent racist attacks by white adults and called for schools to add Asian American history in the curriculum. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

As we honor Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we can celebrate an increase in diversity in Massachusetts’ 192nd House of Representatives and new firsts for Asian Americans. As the largest ethnic demographic in the Legislature, Asian Americans have hit an all time high with eight members elected to the House. Members can trace their ancestry back to China, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam and, of the eight, four are women and four are immigrants. We hold leadership positions in both the Democratic and Republican parties and hold a committee chair and three vice chairs. It is hard to imagine that 11 years ago, no Asian American had ever held a seat in the House.

The past 16 months have been exceedingly difficult for Asian American communities across the United States. Attacks, harassment, and discrimination are not new, but the extraordinary volume is both shocking and disheartening. We stood on the steps of the State House on March 12, 2020, warning of the impending wave of hate, but it wasn’t until a year later that our country woke up to this reality. On March 16, 2021, in the Atlanta-area, eight people, six of whom were Asian women, were killed, closely followed by the mass shooting of four Sikhs in Indianapolis on April 15.

One of the most appalling attacks was caught on a security camera in New York City, where a Filipino grandmother was severely beaten on her way to church. What was especially traumatizing about this incident was that in the wake of the attack, the security guards of a midtown apartment building who witnessed the incident not only refused to help the injured woman but also closed the doors on her.

Hate crimes against Asians are up 150 percent from last year with two-thirds of those attacks made against women. Stop AAPI Hate’s self-reporting system has recorded over 3,700 hate incidents nationwide in the past year, with Massachusetts having the sixth highest number of reported incidents of all states. Their latest report includes an account of someone attempting to push an Asian senior citizen onto the tracks at an MBTA station. WCVB Channel 5′s Project Community Asian American Violence articulated perfectly the challenges Asian Americans face and what anti-Asian racism looks like. Asian have been told they are “virus carriers,” told to go home, have been shoved, spat upon, and called racial slurs.

The House Asian Caucus passed a resolution condemning the Atlanta-area mass shootings and rise in anti-Asian racism. We thank our colleagues for their support, especially Speaker Ronald Mariano and members of the Black and Latino Caucus. The caucus is pushing forward a number of policy initiatives to begin to address the challenges we face.

First, we need to expand our education curriculums to include the voices, experiences, and histories of people of color in our schools. Second, government needs better data. The collection of disaggregated data improves our ability to tailor resources and services to our communities and allows us to shatter the model minority myth. Third, we need to ensure that our state boards and commissions reflect our entire state by having more women and people of color appointed.

For the first time, we were able to secure funding during the House’s state budget debate during the last week of April to study anti-Asian racism; $300,000 has been proposed for the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston, the only Asian studies institute certified by the US Department of Education on the East Coast. Asian cultural organizations have suffered badly during the pandemic and we have secured an additional $1 million in financial assistance in the House budget. It’s only the beginning of many steps, and we call on the Senate and Governor Baker to make the same commitment to our communities.

Last, we encourage people to show their support for Asian Americans by patronizing their businesses. Due to xenophobic and racist misinformation about COVID-19, our communities saw a decrease in patronage before any government shutdowns happened. Join us by tagging photos using the hashtag #ShopAAPIMonth on social media. These are preliminary steps, but they are important ones to take as we continue the work to dismantle structural racism.

Representative Donald H. Wong represents the Ninth Essex District. Representative Tackey Chan represents the Second Norfolk District. Representative Tram T. Nguyen represents the 18th Essex District. Representative Maria Duaime Robinson represents the Sixth Middlesex District. Representative Paul A. Schmid III represents the Eighth Bristol District. Representative Rady Mom represents the 18th Middlesex District. Representative Vanna Howard represents the 17th Middlesex District. Representative Erika Uyterhoeven represents the 27th Middlesex District.

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