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Listen MKE: Asian Americans Speak Out Against Hate And Bigotry

ListenMKEAsianAmericanRacism
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This Listen MKE discussion focuses on racism faced by the Asian American community in Wisconsin.

WUWM has been partnering with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library on an initiative called Listen MKE. Its goal: help north side residents get the information they want and need.

The tragic killings of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, on March 16 in the Atlanta area stirred outrage and fear in the Asian community nationwide including in Wisconsin, where harassment and racism remain a problem.

WUWM's Teran Powell and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Daphne Chen moderated a Listen MKE conversation with Chia Youyee Vang, UWM’s interim Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and director of the Hmong Diaspora Studies Program; state Rep. Francesca Hong, Wisconsin's first Asian American state legislator; and Lo Neng Kiatoukaysy, executive director of the Hmong American Friendship Association, to talk about the racism and bigotry Asian Americans face in Wisconsin.

Chia Youyee Vang said the violence Asian Americans face creates real fear in the community and because people have been targeted in many different spaces, she has a hard time feeling completely safe anywhere she goes.

“We’re afraid to walk down the block without being aware. We’ll go to the grocery store, we’re thinking about, I have to make sure, you know, is somebody watching me. I’m just much more aware than I ever have been before,” she said.

State Rep. Francesca Hong said that many people within different Asian communities are having to now have conversations about their own racial identity and what that means to live in United States.

“For the first time, we held space for Korea Americans in Madison to come have a talk about racial identity because I don’t ever remember having this conversation with my parents growing up, but now I’m scared for them,” she said.

But without those conversations, Hong said that the process of eliminating racism can’t begin.

“The process, I think for me, is about collective grief and collective solidarity and then working together towards solution,” she said.

Lo Neng Kiatoukaysy is the executive director of the Hmong American Friendship Association. He said he has felt many different emotions in the wake of the Atlanta shootings.

“It makes me angry, at the same time I want to reach out to educate people, I want to reach out and ensure people that there is a way to communicate with each other,” said Kiatoukaysy. “[The shootings] brought fear to myself and to my family and to my community.”

He described not being able to feel completely comfortable in majority white spaces because he worries about being judged by those around him. And Kiatoukaysy says that’s why he wants to reach out to others and help start conversations to reduce the number of negative encounters he has with non-Asian people.

Vang explained that these conversations can’t just be about be about raising a few Asian voices to more prominence, but about the real systemic issues facing communities across Wisconsin.

“It’s not just about race, it’s about class, it’s about people fearing an Asian laborer,” she said. “I talk to my staff and my students about how the people at the bottom fight for the crumbs, right. If you have the people at the bottom who don’t have power fighting each other, then they’re not really addressing the systemic issues.”

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