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Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus: Hmong legislators are setting a broad agenda

Initiatives the MAP Caucus has already discussed and hopes to work on include immigration and deportation, education, health, the environment and agriculture.

Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus
Members of the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus, from left: Sen. Foung Hawj, state Reps. Kaohly Her, Tou Xiong and Jay Xiong.
MinnPost photo by Samantha HoangLong

While last November’s election marked a historic milestone for Hmong-Minnesotans as four were newly elected to the Minnesota Legislature, the group is already focused on something bigger — its representation of the larger Asian Pacific community.

Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul; Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center; Rep. Jay Xiong, DFL-St. Paul; and Rep. Tou Xiong, DFL-Maplewood, have joined incumbent Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, to become the largest cohort of lawmakers of Hmong descent ever to serve Minnesota. On Dec. 18 they announced the formation of the first Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus.

“This past election is history in the making. It was a historic election and we wanted to make this caucus as a marker of that historic moment. We specifically placed the name as Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus. … Even though we’re (six) Hmong legislators, we know that API Minnesotans are diverse and we want to make this as a steppingstone for future API leaders to come into the House as well,” said Vang, the MAP Caucus chair.

Aiming to increase access and participation

The MAP caucus will be a platform for the legislators to uplift issues that impact Asian Pacific Americans. Through a lens of equity and inclusion, they aim to increase access and participation with the API community in all levels of government.

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The caucus will be meeting with Asian-American organizations and advocacy groups to hear about issues in the community. After the legislative session, they plan to hold town-hall-style meetings throughout the state. Initiatives the MAP Caucus has already discussed and hopes to work on include immigration and deportation, education, health, the environment and agriculture.

Some of those came up at a Meet the Hmong Legislators event on Jan. 17 at the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul. There Reps. Her, Jay Xiong, Tou Xiong and Sen. Hawj listened to people’s concerns about good education, accessible infrastructure, sex trafficking, and building a pipeline toward a more diverse Capitol.

“A lot of the things we do will be — some of it will be education. Not just education for our legislators but education for communities about issues they may not even realize may be impacting them,” MAP Caucus Vice Chair Her said at the event. “Once we get feedback back from our communities, those things may shift and may change because other things may rise up as more important and more urgent for us to address at that time.”

The issue of deportation worries residents

The Trump administration’s recent pursuits to deport Vietnam War refugees who arrived in the U.S. prior to 1995 caused a lot of worry in the Southeast Asian American community last December — especially in Minnesota, where thousands have resettled.

To localize the national issue, the MAP Caucus hopes to look at the pardoning process in Minnesota. Sometimes an individual can be deported because of an old, minor conviction. Right now, the governor, attorney general and the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court would all need to agree in granting clemency for an individual to avoid deportation.

“These individuals who are getting sent back have been contributing citizens who are contributing to Minnesota’s economic vitality. They’re being sent back for crimes they already paid for,” Her said.

The caucus hopes to work on ensuring adequate funding for English and multilingual learning language programs in schools. Overall, they want to make sure community members have access to information, without language barriers.

To advocate for Southeast Asian farmers

They also plan to advocate for Southeast Asian farmers in Minnesota, making sure they have access to loans, land for farming, and produce distribution. The legislators say they’ll keep in mind the effects of climate change on the farming community and how it can impact farming production.

In regard to health, the MAP Caucus say they’d like to learn more about the tuberculosis outbreak in Hmong communities and what they can do about it.

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Asian Pacific Minnesotans make up about 5 percent of the state’s demographics and only 3 percent of the state’s Legislature.

“Although we haven’t reached the percentage that reflects the population in the state of Minnesota, it’s a visible example that we’re going to strive forward,” Hawj said.