VCC Spring 2021

V irginia C apitol C onnections , S pring 2021 19 Virginia legislators with connections to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage established the first Virginia AAPI Caucus in the General Assembly. VAAPIC was officially recognized as a bicameral legislative caucus in March 2021. As members of the oldest elected body in the United States, these legislators understand that the Virginia General Assembly has the unique opportunity to promote inclusion, expand equity, and serve as an example for other state legislatures across the nation. As noted in the 2010 Census, Virginia is home to over 500,000 individuals who are of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, and many AAPI families have lived in the Commonwealth for generations. The Commonwealth Institute reports that the growth in the number of AAPI Virginians accounts for a substantial share—31 percent—of Virginia’s overall population growth since 2007. The history of the AAPI is intrinsically interwoven with this nation’s foundation and growth. Prior to the American Revolution, Asians and Pacific Islanders arrived in North America in small numbers. Whether as sailors or as merchants engaged in trade, these first Asians gravitated to the new opportunities presented by North American settlements for many of the same reasons as Europeans. The larger movement of Asians and Pacific Islanders began in earnest in the 1850s as the expansion of the transcontinental railroad opened opportunities for immigration and employment. Regardless of their numerous contributions to a burgeoning nation, however, Asians and Pacific Islanders remained and, in large measure, continue to remain “perpetual foreigners” in a country that identifies them with nations of origin rather than as the Americans that they are, or are in the process of becoming. In our recent history and most especially apparent in the time of the global pandemic, divisive rhetoric and acts of violence and hate directed at AAPI communities, and at those perceived to be a part of AAPI communities, have escalated in tone and frequency. With the economic, employment, and other social crises that have resulted from our collective health crisis, some political leaders have chosen to redirect anger towards those who are vulnerable and oftentimes alienated by the social constructs of racial identities. Bigoted language, xenophobic accusations, and racial targeting have served as a convenient cover for some who are in government or who hold positions of power. This targeted violence culminated on March 16, 2021, in the mass murder of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian American women. However, this history of racism, xenophobia, and open bigotry is not new. It was, at one point, codified into law or put into policy actions by the US government, well over a century ago. The Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II are prominent examples of how, within our collective history, the AAPI continue to be regarded as outsiders or foreigners within their own country. In response to the escalation of violence, Virginia’s AAPI legislators organize around the principles of promoting the equity and well-being of fellow Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Virginians who share similar backgrounds and interests. VAAPIC accomplishes these goals by advocating for policy changes, as well as by using its public position to highlight issues of importance to Virginia’s AAPI communities. VAAPIC values diversity and embraces a culture of meaningful collaboration with non-AAPI public officials, as well as full partnerships with community-based organizations and grassroots leaders to build and to expand broad coalitions in order to work on these issues together. VAAPIC’s legislative, regulatory, and administrative policy framework includes the following: Ensuring that services from every level of government are accessible and provided with appropriate language and cultural competency to ensure that all Virginians receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Addressing discrimination in govern­ ment and in the private sector that target AAPIs, which are not consistent with principles of equity. Gathering and analyzing public data in disaggregated format, to better understand issues of disparity among the diverse AAPI communities. Training law enforcement authorities and promoting an effective criminal justice system to proactively seek evidence of bias or prejudice against AAPI victims and encouraging AAPI victims to seek assistance and report crimes against them. Promoting leadership development and training for the AAPI community and creating opportunities for AAPIs to secure leadership roles in the public and private sectors. VAAPIC will be announcing its core goals following a listening tour in April with members and leaders of the AAPI communities throughout the Commonwealth. Additionally, Caucus membership will be open to other legislators who are affiliated with AAPI communities or who represent districts with large AAPI populations. The founding members of the new Caucus include Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (SD 10, Chesterfield), Del. Mark L. Keam (HD 35, Fairfax), Del. Kathy KL Tran (HD 42, Fairfax), Del. Kelly K. Convirs-Fowler (HD 21, Virginia Beach), and Del. Suhas Subramanyam (HD 87, Loudoun). Virginia Legislators Establish The First Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus In The General Assembly By Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, Del. Mark Keam, Del. Kathy Tran, Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, Del. Suhas Subramanyam Keam Convirs-Fowler Tran Subramanyam Hashmi V