In Focus: Stopping anti-Asian American hate in Minnesota

Updated: May 6

The mass shooting in Atlanta in March inspired protests, vigils and community discussions across the country — including in Minnesota — to stop violence and hate against Asian Americans. People from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community have been targeted since the start of the pandemic, and the violence in Atlanta appeared to set off additional incidents of racism here and elsewhere that have left people feeling vulnerable and marginalized.  

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition tracking cases of violence and discrimination, reported 3,800 racist incidents in the past year, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has also been tracking an uptick in anti-Asian incidents since the start of the pandemic. But this community has endured the effects of racism since long before COVID-19. 

What’s being done in Minnesota to stop it, and what more needs to be done? How can we be better allies to our Asian American neighbors, some of whom are afraid to venture out? What have we learned about the ripple effects of political rhetoric?

Click the audio player or video above to listen to a virtual conversation hosted by MPR News’ Tom Crann, as part of In Focus, a series of convenings MPR News has been leading on Minnesota’s persistent racial disparities. Through conversations with community leaders that are shaped by our curious, engaged audience, we hope to encourage new connections and relationships that will help Minnesota communities make progress toward equity and inclusion.

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Our Panel:
• Bo Thao-Urabe, Executive and Network Director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders
• Wayne Kangas, a strategy consultant living in Northeastern Minnesota
• Yia Vang, MSP Magazine's “Chef of the Year 2019" and the host of TPT’s Relish series
• Professor Erika Lee, Regents Professor of History and Asian American Studies, and Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

Q&A with Wayne Kangas

Following the event, panelist Wayne Kangas answered a few additional audience questions. They have been lightly edited for length and clarity:

What advice do you have when speaking to Asian Americans who think that anti-Asian hate is "political" and who don't believe that anti-Asian hate is a concern?

As with most things it comes back to how things are framed. It is important in these situations that we reframe it in a non-political context.

If you look into the context in which those people are seeing “anti-Asian hate” it is indeed likely political. Speaking to the reality that there is an increase in violent acts against Asian people.

Although they have not experienced it, it is indeed still happening. I personally do not believe that political rhetoric is the cause of the violence, I do believe that it is the effect of inherent fear people have for their lives and their livelihoods. Violence is the only control that people feel they have over all of the other things that they believe are happening to them.

How can the AAPI community join other BIPOC communities in addressing systemic racism, especially within the context of being used as a wedge community?

If we continue to approach this as an “us” and “them” conversation, we will simply swing a pendulum in the other direction.

We as Americans can not begin to resolve these issues until we stop working against each other. There is a lot of racism occurring right now to everyone. There have been many instances where there has been very blatant and public statements about white people that is also just as wrong.

So if we are to be defined as a wedge, being looked to for both sides, then maybe we need to look at ourselves more as glue. 

What makes the Asian community uniquely complex that we should further delineate by country when talking about disparities? Many minority groups could be broken into more discreet sectors. From the perspective of limited resource allocation to areas of most need, further delineation would seem to unfairly prioritize these groups.

The uniquely complex thing about the the Asian community is the same as any other community. Each group of people is made up of smaller people groups, made up of smaller communities, made up of families and made up of households.

Like other people groups, there are specific subsets of the population that face drastically different disparities of others. Sometimes, we may be too narrowly focused on the people group residing in certain circumstances rather than the circumstances that people groups are living in.

What advice does the panel have about unity (or lack thereof) within the Asian American community here in Minnesota. They are somewhat fragmented — is the anti-Asian hate we are seeing a potential rallying cry for the various communities to mobilize for advocacy on shared issues?

I cannot say with certainty that the perceived lack of unity is tied to the issues, but more so tied to resolutions. It is easy to agree with issues, however it much more difficult to agree with the solutions. 

How do we educate/mobilize the non-Asian community to deepen understanding of the unique characteristics of Asian cultures, as we are now characterized together within the term BIPOC?

Giving people the reason to come together, share a meal, share an experience, or simply share in general, create the best opportunities to ignite curiosity in people.  

If you have thoughts or questions about the event or the topic of stopping anti-Asian American hate in Minnesota, check out the MPR News In Focus page for different ways to share your experience.