The month of May is AANHPI Heritage Month — an opportunity to recognize the histories and cultural contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in our state. May also marks the final weeks of the legislative session, and this year state lawmakers have the chance to invest in the urgent needs of Minnesota’s Asian American communities.
As the executive and network director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) and a Hmong American woman, I have personally seen the repercussions of the pandemic. I lost three cousins and a set of grandparents to COVID-19. My cousins were frontline workers or lived with a family member who was a frontline worker when they contracted COVID-19. These frontline workers were all sole income earners for their households, which not only was devastating for our family, but also heavily impacted their economic stability.
Like my family, many Asian Minnesotans are struggling with the ongoing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of COVID-19 mortality have been high, particularly in Hmong, Karen, and Karenni communities in our state. Job losses have touched many families. Asian American women, who are overrepresented in the frontline workforce, have faced an unusually high rate of long-term unemployment as a result of the pandemic. And our small businesses have suffered. A survey of small businesses conducted by CAAL found that nearly half of Asian Minnesotan small business owners were unable to pay bills during the pandemic.
The economic hardship of the pandemic has been exacerbated by a disturbing increase in hate and violence against Asian Americans. Since the pandemic began, Asian Minnesotans — ranging from children in schools to elders in our community — have been targeted with racial slurs, verbal harassment and physical assault. These incidents of hate ripple through entire communities. In a survey on the impact of the pandemic, Asian business owners reported experiencing verbal harassment, threats of violence, declines in customers, and the need to change operations to protect the safety of themselves and their employees.
In the coming weeks, the Minnesotan Legislature has the opportunity to invest in the economic recovery of Asian Minnesotan communities. A provision in the Minnesota House Jobs omnibus bill, which is now in conference committee, allocates resources to support Asian small businesses and nonprofits to recover and rebuild from the pandemic. This proposal — which has bipartisan support — would help to address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and anti-Asian hate on Asian Minnesotan businesses and nonprofits, ensuring that they have the resources they need to recover.
Investments in Asian Minnesotans would strengthen the state’s overall recovery. Asian Americans are an essential and growing part of our state and its economy. Minnesota is home to over 350,000 Asian Americans. According to Pew Research, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States. Asian entrepreneurs own over 15,000 businesses in Minnesota that together reach $4 billion in annual sales. Asian-owned businesses employ 27,000 Minnesotans with a combined annual payroll of $700 million.
With Minnesota’s $9 billion budget surplus, now is the time for bold leadership and meaningful investments in the economic well-being of Asian Minnesotans. States like Wisconsin, New York, and California have already started targeted investments in their Asian American communities. As we proudly recognize and celebrate AANHPI Heritage Month, we urge Gov. Tim Walz and our state lawmakers to recognize the need to invest in Minnesota’s growing Asian American community.
ThaoMee Xiong is the executive and network director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders