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Ohio Asian American And Pacific Islander Groups Look Toward The Future Of Advocacy Post-Pandemic

 Sudarshan Pyakurel, executive director of the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio, spoke at the May 18 Ohio Senate Finance Committee to advocate for the creation of an AAPI commission and organizational funding.
Michael Lee
Sudarshan Pyakurel, executive director of the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio, spoke at the May 18 Ohio Senate Finance Committee to advocate for the creation of an AAPI commission and organizational funding.

As racism and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so have the voices of local advocates.

But what happens after the pandemic dies down? Local organizations spoke about how they hope to keep the momentum they've gained from the Stop Asian Hate movement in a post-COVID world.

When March shootings at Atlanta area spas left eight dead, six being Asian women, it hit many Central Ohioans like Linh Ta close to home.

“I have family members who work as nail techs and in the salon industry and when that happened I was like, I don’t want it to happen here in Columbus," said Ta, president of the social, political and economic advocacy group OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates Columbus chapter. "I don’t want it to happen here in Ohio.”

So, a few days later, she helped organize a rally along with other Columbus organizations to denounce anti-Asian racism and violence in the country during COVID-19.

The national Stop AAPI Hate reporting center has collected Asian American and Pacific Islander hate incident reports since March 2020. As of May, they’ve received 6,603 incident reports. Ohio ranks 16th in states with the largest number of reports.

Sam Shim is the vice president of OCA Columbus and the chair of the Ohio Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus in the Ohio Democratic Party. He said the shootings in Atlanta were a turning point in letting people know what Asian American and Pacific Islanders, or AAPIs, have been dealing with due to COVID-19 racism.

“Until then, a lot of Americans weren’t aware of the sheer level of incidents of hate directed at us both locally and nationally," Shim said.

He added that before COVID, he hadn’t seen much political advocacy for the AAPI community. And people like Jona Hilario, co-director of Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership, or OPAWL, agreed. But once again, the pandemic changed that.

“I think our community just saw how much disinvestment there has been in our community for so long," Hilario said.

And that’s what Hilario and other AAPI leaders are trying to do to maintain momentum: bringing these issues to a legislative level.

On May 20, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act which created a position at the Department of Justice to expedite investigations of reported hate crimes. It also provided grants for states to create hate crime reporting hotlines.

“We see you, and the Congress said we see you," Biden said after he signed the bill into law. "And we are committed to stop the hatred and the violence.”

But while the legislation brought attention to the anti-Asian racism and violence during the pandemic, Hilario said she disagrees with it, saying the solutions lie in providing money for local organizations, which the law doesn’t do.

She added it doesn’t address violence and harassment that might not rise to the level of a hate crime.

“That still keeps our people feeling unsafe and harms our mental health and hurts our communities," Hilario said.

That’s why Hilario and other local advocates themselves are pushing for the state to provide that funding. She spoke at a recent Ohio Senate Finance Committee meeting to create an AAPI commission and leave room on the budget for local organizations.

The commission would also increase funding for refugee resettlement organizations such as the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio. Executive director Sudarshan Pyakurel also spoke at the Finance Committee meeting, and said it would help refugees that contribute to the economy.

“We are asking for a very small amount of money to give back to the community," Pyakurel said.

None of their suggestions made it into the senate budget released last week.

But while funding is important, OPAWL member Sharon Kim said they hope to also push for AAPI history to be added to curriculum in schools across Ohio. In Illinois, the state house and senate passed the Teaching Equitable Asian-American History Act, which would require schools to teach Asian American history in schools.

And for advocates like Linh Ta, educating and supporting the younger generation of Americans and AAPIs is important.

“We need them, they are our future," she said.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.