Virginia lawmakers, including Indian-Americans, form Asian American and Pacific Islander caucus

RICHMOND – Members of Virginia’s General Assembly announced the formation Friday of an Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus, promising to work to pass laws and highlight the interests of a community that has faced increasing incidents of hate and discrimination.

“This symbolizes a shift in the Virginia AAPI community. We will not be silent any longer. We will advocate for AAPI Virginians and issues that affect us,” said Del. Kelly K. Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, who said her grandparents immigrated from the Philippines.

She and others said the caucus was partly a response to recent high-profile hate crimes against Asian Americans, most notably the shootings at Asian-run spas in Georgia this month that left eight people dead, including six Asian women.

“The history of racism, of xenophobia, of bigotry isn’t new,” said state Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, whose family came to the United States from India when she was a small child.

She said the administration of President Donald Trump had stoked anti-Asian sentiment, partly by blaming the coronavirus pandemic explicitly on China, and had done little to combat the rise in violence.

Ghazala Hashmi, Democratic state senator in Virginia State Senate (Photo: hashmi4VASenate.org)

“We join our voices with the voices of numerous Virginians and other Americans to call for an end to hate crimes and violence against the AAPI community,” Hashmi said.

She pledged to reintroduce a bill aimed at broadening the definition of hate crimes that failed in the most recent General Assembly session.

The lawmakers said they had yet to appoint caucus leaders but planned to hold virtual community meetings with the public during April in three parts of the state: Northern Virginia, central Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Their goal is to produce a list of policy priorities during May and aim specific legislation at the 2022 General Assembly session that convenes in January.

“The formation of this caucus should be seen as a loud and clear message that AAPI Virginians belong in the commonwealth,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said during the news conference.

Del. Mark L. Keam, D-Fairfax, said he expected the caucus to work to improve law enforcement data about crimes against people of Asian descent and to encourage better reporting of such incidents.

Keam also said the state needs to make government services accessible in more languages, pointing out that Virginia initially did a poor job getting coronavirus information out in Spanish, while residents speaking any of a host of Asian languages still must turn to friends, relatives or Google Translate for assistance.

“It is critical for us that we reflect our views and our viewpoints into the laws of Virginia,” Keam said. He noted that when he was sworn in as a delegate in 2010, he was the first person born the citizen of an Asian country – Korea – to serve in the General Assembly.

Today there are at least four members of the 100-seat House of Delegates who identify as Asian American, along with at least one member o the 40-seat Senate. The federal Census Bureau estimates that roughly 7 percent of Virginia’s population is of Asian or Pacific Island descent.

For Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, Friday’s announcement was emotional as she considered the discrimination that her family has faced since immigrating from Vietnam in the 1970s – and that she said her children still encounter.

“This is how, together, we will overcome and we will rise up,” she said.

 

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