53A rep.-elect part of state’s first Asian Pacific Caucus

The 2018 election featured the largest class of Asian Americans ever elected to the Minnesota Legislature — the number in the House and Senate tripled from two to six.

Or, as the group, which includes House District 53A Rep.-elect Tou Xiong, says in a Dec. 18 press release announcing the formation of Minnesota’s first Asian Pacific Caucus, enough members “to have a collective voice on critical issues.”

District 53A is made up of Landfall, Oakdale south of 10th Street, most of south Maplewood and the northeastern section of Woodbury. Xiong, 28, lives in Maplewood and is currently on the city council until he’s sworn in at the Legislature in January.  

“I feel that [the Asian Pacific Caucus] is a great opportunity to be able to provide some lived experiences,” Xiong said in an interview, “in trying to speak personally about certain issues that affect a segment of a community here.”

Xiong’s signature is the last on a Dec. 18 letter to Gov.-elect Tim Walz to proclaim the caucus’s creation and intentions.

“[W]ith a long, harsh legacy of racialized policies historically used to marginalize communities of color, we need to work together to undo many decades of systemic harm,” the five undersigned representatives say in the letter.

The new caucus believes the best way to achieve Walz’s vision for “One Minnesota” is through viewing diversity as an asset. 

“Too often we use language, cultural differences, and ethnic practice as barriers to allowing residents to effectively engage with services and resources needed to ensure full participation in society,” the letter says.

“The primary purpose of the MAP Caucus is to be a visible, engaged and collective voice in addressing the needs and interests of all Minnesotans as well as the diverse Asian Pacific American communities,” caucus chair and Rep.-elect Samantha Vang, a DFLer from Brooklyn Center, said in a press release.

An example, said Xiong, are Bhutanese-Minnestons. The local community that hails from the small South Asian country of Bhutan has struggles that are often overlooked.  

“Very few [Bhutanese people] speak English or have been in the U.S. for a long time. There’s not really a support structure there,” he said. 

 

Personal to political

Xiong knows what this is like. He’s first generation Hmong American. His parents, who moved to Maplewood 14 years ago, didn’t speak English. 

That wasn’t much of a problem prior to the move while living in St. Paul public housing, attending city schools and going to shops with other immigrant people.

Then, after the move to Maplewood, Xiong went to his first Maplewood district school. “It was a challenge.”

The suburban school staff — especially at that time, emphasized Xiong — had far less familiarity with communities of color and parents who don’t speak English. 

When Xiong was too sick to go to school, he’d have to get up and call in his absence himself.

“My mom doesn’t speak English, but you can ask her,” Xiong said he would tell the administrator. At parent-teacher conferences, Xiong acted as translator for his siblings and parents. 

He said he’s enjoyed living in Maplewood since the moment he arrived. While still living in St. Paul, he watched kids movies like “The Sandlot,” where children ride bikes around the neighborhood and have enough space for a ballfield. 

It was hardly safe enough to ride your bike across the street in Xiong’s St. Paul neighborhood — then the family got to Maplewood and revelled in the suburban space. 

“Wow, it’s just like the movies,” Xiong said he and his family thought upon arrival.

He said his goal is to combine that suburban comfort with feeling welcome and heard by government and education officials for a better overall life for Asian Americans, and — as the letter to the governor-elect says — “communities of color, immigrants, refugees and indigenous peoples,” and the whole state.

 

–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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