Opinion

Taking representation into our own hands: Asian American group begins community engagement effort

April 27, 2022 3:33 am
Members of BE SEEN and the National Association of Asian American Professionals - Wichita take a selfie with Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple during a networking event. (BE SEEN Facebook)

Members of BE SEEN and the National Association of Asian American Professionals – Wichita take a selfie with Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple during a networking event. (BE SEEN Facebook)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Anthony Mai is a local advocate raised in Wichita with a strong background in mental health and social work.

The Asian and Asian American population in Wichita has grown significantly over the past 20 years.

Wichita alone was ranked as the 22nd city in the United States with the highest percentage of Asian heritage, and according to Data USA, we are also projected to be one of the fastest growing minority groups. Since 2000, there has been a 33.7% increase in Asian Americans moving to Kansas. Alongside the Hispanic and Latino population, Asian Americans moving to the state are expected to continue increasing for the next 50 years.

With this being said, the Asian and Asian American population has yet to be fully represented in local and state levels of government. In 2007 and 2018 respectively, Raj Goyle and Representative Rui Xu became the first elected-officials of Asian American descent in Kansas. Upon his arrival, Xu worked diligently in proposing the Asian American Pacific Islander Advisory Commission in the House (see HB 2113), which died on first hearing. This commission would have been the first in recent history to address the need for racially conscious advising and representation for Kansans of Asian descent in the legislative process — the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission and Kansas African Affairs Commission having been established in the 1980s and ’90s.

Since this time, families of Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian descent immigrated across Kansas to work in meatpacking plants and airplane manufacturers due to the limited English needed to gain employment at the time. Monumental events in history, such as the Vietnam War and the Cambodian genocide, prompted many families to seek refuge in Kansas, and the aftereffects are seen still to this day: College-aged individuals of Asian descent use mental health services at a lower rate than any other minority group, suicide-related deaths are at an all-time high for Asian women, and racially targeted attacks increasing across the world due to the negative — and abjectly false — “model minority” myth.

BE SEEN ambassadors engage Asian and Asian American youths to highlight the importance of representation in our communities on all levels of government.

– Anthony Mai

To address this, young grassroots leaders in Wichita decided it was time for change. The best way to combat this inequity is found in policy making and bringing our voices to the forefront.

In 2020, BE SEEN was founded as a cultural-specific means of addressing barriers to voting, policymaking, and getting involved in conversation with local officials. BE SEEN ambassadors engage Asian and Asian American youths to highlight the importance of representation in our communities on all levels of government. To be seen, we stand up with determination, solidarity, and pride for our community. We are more than a silent minority.

Asians in Kansas have unique needs. Asia itself is a continent that encompasses 48 different countries, totaling to more than 2,300 spoken languages. When we consider families of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander descent, that adds an additional 15 countries and 750 languages spoken at home. In Kansas alone, Chinese and Vietnamese are the second- and fourth-most common language spoken, following English and Spanish. The next common languages spoken also include Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Telugu, Tagalog and Hindu. What’s important to highlight is that most families of Asian descent speak English as a second language, which often creates barriers in the process of informed democracy.

Stand in solidarity with us as we continue leading the way for Asian American civic engagement. This summer we will partner with Loud Light, a nonprofit that engages young Kansans in voter registration and civic engagement, to launch a 10-week fellowship. The program is designed to empower Asian Americans across all generations to continue this foundational and history-changing movement.

We have an immense need for translated resources, cultural-specific educational materials, and for more allies in our efforts of advocacy. Look us in the eyes and recognize that our voices matter. For those interested in applying for the fellowship program, or for anyone seeking more information, join us in creating a more equitable Kansas for all by following @beseen.vote on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Correction: This column has been updated with information about first elected-officials of Asian American descent in Kansas.

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Anthony Mai
Anthony Mai

Anthony Mai is a local advocate raised in Wichita with a strong background in mental health and social work. His hope for the community is to continue building a strong and sustainable foundation where Asians in Kansas feel a holistic and authentic sense of belonging. Upon graduating with his master’s of social work from Wichita State University, Anthony continues his advocacy by highlighting the voice of local community groups that serve the Asian-American community.

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