KaYing Yang, Coalition of Asian American Leaders
On Thursday, May 12, 2016 nearly 100 Asian American leaders from the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), including students, parents and elders, gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol grounds to call on legislators to ensure policies bring about educational and economic equity for Asian Minnesotans.
May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Asian Minnesotan leaders used the opportunity to bring awareness about their communities, the fastest growing racial population in the state. In addition, Asian American leaders met with legislators to highlight key equity priorities that they believe will help achieve equity for Asian Americans. In particular, leaders voiced support for proposals that systematizes data disaggregation, improves education for multi-lingual learners, supports entrepreneurship and addresses the persistent poverty experienced by Southeast Asian Americans.
Lt. Governor Tina Smith presented a proclamation to CAAL declaring May as Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month in Minnesota. The Lt. Governor said that Asian Americans “bring so much to our state, but there is still many barriers, particularly in education and helping small businesses to thrive.” She added that community presence at the Capitol “reminds state government and the legislature to see the Asian American community and its diversity, to better understand the community and to provide better services, especially access to capital and technical assistance for small businesses which are creating jobs.”
Over a dozen distinguished DFL and GOP members of the legislature also joined the event to welcome the group. They expressed their support for improved policies that address ethnic diversity and economic disparities. Throughout the day CAAL leaders met with their legislators individually.
Asian American leaders say the needs of their communities remain largely invisible at nearly every policy level in Minnesota because existing data often only captures information at the aggregate ‘Asian’ level. Additionally, the generalization that all Asians are successful or are not American stand in the way of real inclusion of the population.
Leaders cited as an example that at a glance it appears Asian students are on par with White students in terms of graduations rates; however, when disaggregated Asian American students received among the lowest ACT scores at 18 among students of color.
“For a state that ranks number one in the nation for ACT scores at 23, ignoring the reality that Asian Americans have remained at 18 consistently over a period of at least five years is unacceptable. It shows how we uplift a benchmark like graduation rate but ignore other indicators that say our kids need help like ACT scores. It means our children are not prepared for post-secondary education success,” says Chee Vue, a parent from Brooklyn Park.
One foundational solution CAAL leaders want to see become reality is for the Minnesota Department of Education to collect and disaggregate data.
Representative Loon, Chair of the House Education Finance Committee, said, “…as Chair of the Education Committee I know that the lynch pin to our children succeeding and the state of MN succeeding is education. Every child deserves the best possible education and we want to make sure that no child is somehow lost in our school systems, is not able to get the help that they need to be successful.”
“Without systemic disaggregated data, the diversity and needs of sub-populations remain hidden. Consequently, relevant programs are not developed nor resources invested to serve the needs of communities who face challenges in our communities,” said Bo Thao-Urabe, Network Director of CAAL.
Asian Minnesotan leaders also support proposals that build opportunities for communities of color and invests in achieving racial equity.
For many of the Asian American leaders this was their first time visiting legislators. Tommy Sar shares, “We’ve learned so much. We feel empowered today.”
Minority Leader Representative Thissen remarked, “The most exciting thing about a day like today is that I feel like I am looking at the future of MN and that is really what we need to embrace.”
Representative Carlos Mariani concluded the event saying, “Asian American presence at the Capitol is essential for legislators to make good laws that reflect all of Minnesota.” He invited participants to advocate for the creation of an Immigration Integration Task Force that he and Sen. Torres-Ray are sponsoring and to take part during the legislative interim in its review of state law impacts on immigrants.
The Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) is a multi-ethnic, multi-sector and multi-generational network of over 500 Asian Minnesotan leaders working on community priorities to ensure equity is achieved for the community. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month established by Congress to celebrate AAPI culture, history and contributions to the United States. In Minnesota, Asian Americans are 5% of the total population, and are the fastest growing racial group. Since 2000, the population has grown by 76% to 256,000, representing over 40 cultural communities.