Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax) speaking during the virtual announcement of the Virginia AAPI Caucus.
Members of Virginia's General Assembly announced Friday that they are forming an Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus in order to work for legislation and law enforcement policy that will better protect and support the state's AAPI community.
The announcement coincides with the #StopAsianHate day of action, a national day of healing and action in response to the March 16 shootings in Atlanta that killed eight people. Six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven were women. At least four of those killed were of Korean descent.
Activists are pointing out that while violence against Asian Americans has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian hate and sexualized violence against Asian women is not new, and there's a deep history of it across the U.S.
In Virginia, there have been at least 49 incidents of anti-Asian hate over the past year — including verbal and physical assaults — though, that number is thought to be underreported. (Regionally, that number is closer to 140.)
The founding members of the new caucus joined together for a virtual announcement Friday morning, at times fighting back tears while sharing the vision they have for the legislative group.
The founding members include State Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield), Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax), Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), and Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun).
Keam, who in 2009 became the first Asian-born immigrant elected to any state office in Virginia, said one of the first areas the caucus will focus on is language access.
"We still have a lot of our population that are still dependent on their native language, not English," Keam said at Friday's announcement. "Having language assistance is very important, especially when it comes to a basic right like voting."
The caucus will also focus on ensuring that local law enforcement agencies and the judicial system work to eradicate anti-Asian hate crimes; and that laws aim to create more business and economic opportunities for AAPI residents.
Tran shared stories of her 8-year-old son dealing with racist comments at school and having to confront discrimination at such a young age. She also expressed the heartbreak she felt in the wake of the Atlanta shootings and other violent incidents over the past year.
"It's as if we have been so othered that we're at the point that we're dehumanized, and you could be cruel against us, you can be a bully against us," Tran said, "because nobody is going to stand up to help us."
The five caucus members say they have a lot of work ahead of them, but they plan to partner with other members of the General Assembly, including the existing Latino and Black caucuses, to pass legislation and stop anti-Asian hate.
"It's not enough for us to just be represented, it's not enough for us just to be seen," Keam said. "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."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.