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State Lawmakers Launch Asian American, Pacific Islander Caucus

Woman speaking into a microphone
Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) speaking at a 2019 event. Hashmi became one of the founding members of Vriginia's Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus on Friday. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Many Americans are calling for an end to violence and hate against Asian Americans today as part of a virtual National Day of Action and Healing. In Virginia, state lawmakers have formed an Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus to advocate for Asian American and Pacific Islander Virginians.

Del. Kathy Tran was emotional during a Friday morning press conference announcing the Caucus. Her family came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam.

“It’s as if we have been so othered, that we’re at the point that we’re dehumanized,” Tran said. “And that you can be cruel to us. You can be a bully against us, because nobody is going to stand up to help us.”

Tran cited months of  escalating violence and targeted attacks on Asian Americans.

“The disturbing and steep rise in violence, bigotry and racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the rise in vandalism against Asian American businesses and the targeted killing of six Asian American women in Georgia last week, show us that we must continue to fight for inclusion and justice for everyone,” Tran said.

Del. Gazala Hashmi put much of the blame on former President Donald Trump. The Washington Post recently reported that anti-Asian hashtags spiked after Trump first used the phrase ‘Chinese virus” on Twitter.

“The past administration in the White House frequently sought to demean and dehumanize the AAPI and took little action in response to growing attacks against vulnerable, elderly, Asian Americans, against Asian American Women, or against the bullying of AAPI children in school,” Hashmi said.

The caucus will be launching a listening tour in April to help gauge issues and concerns among the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Del. Mark Keam said the caucus will explore additional measures the state could take to quell violence and hate.

“It’s not enough for us to just be represented,” Keam said. “It’s not enough for us to just be seen. It is critical that we pass our views and our viewpoints into the law so that our commonwealth’s laws and policies reflect that diversity.”

National data has shown a rise in acts of violence directed at people of Asian descent. In Virginia, caucus members say there is some data being collected, but it’s not adequate. 

The organization Stop AAIP Hate reported there were 49 incidents in Virginia in the last year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Del. Mark Keam's last name. It has been corrected.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.