Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Anthony Mai is a Wichita-raised local attorney with a strong background in mental health and social work.
The Asian and Asian American population in Wichita has grown significantly over the past 20 years.
Wichita alone was ranked the 22nd city in the United States with the highest percentage of Asian heritage, and according to Data USA, we should also be one of the fastest growing minority groups. Since 2000, there has been a 33.7% increase in the number of Asian Americans moving to Kansas. Alongside the Hispanic and Latino population, Asian Americans moving to the state are expected to continue to increase over the next 50 years.
That being said, the Asian and Asian American population is not yet fully represented at the local and state levels of government. In 2007 and 2018 respectively, Raj Goyle and Representative Rui Xu became the first Asian American elected officials in Kansas. Upon arrival, Xu worked diligently to propose the Asian American Pacific Islanders Advisory Board to the House (see HB 2113), which died at the first hearing. This commission would have been the first in recent history to address the need for racially conscious advice and representation of Kansans of Asian descent in the legislative process – the Kansas Hispanic and Latino Affairs Commission and the African Affairs Commission of Kansas having been created in the 1980s and 90s.
Since then, families of Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian descent have immigrated across Kansas to work in meatpacking plants and aircraft manufacturers due to the lack of English needed to find jobs at the time. . Monumental events in history, such as the Vietnam War and the Cambodian Genocide, prompted many families to seek refuge in Kansas, and the legacy is still visible to this day: students of Asian descent use the services of mental health at a lower rate than In any other minority group, suicide-related deaths are at an all-time high for Asian women and racially-biased attacks are increasing across the world due to the negative – and abjectly false – myth of the “model minority”.
BE SEEN Ambassadors mobilize Asian and Asian American youth to highlight the importance of representation in our communities at all levels of government.
To solve this problem, young local leaders in Wichita decided it was time for a change. The best way to fight this inequity is to develop policies and make our voices heard.
In 2020, BE SEEN was founded as a culture-specific way to overcome barriers to voting, policy-making and engaging in conversation with local authorities. BE SEEN Ambassadors mobilize Asian and Asian American youth to highlight the importance of representation in our communities at all levels of government. To be seen, we stand up with determination, solidarity and pride for our community. We are more than a silent minority.
Kansas Asians have unique needs. Asia itself is a continent that encompasses 48 different countries, totaling more than 2,300 spoken languages. When we consider families of Hawaiian and Pacific Islander descent, that adds an additional 15 countries and 750 home languages. In Kansas alone, Chinese and Vietnamese are the second and fourth most spoken languages, after English and Spanish. The next common languages spoken also include Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Telugu, Tagalog, and Hindu. What is important to note is that most families of Asian origin speak English as a second language, which often creates obstacles to the process of informed democracy.
Stand in solidarity with us as we continue to lead the way in civic engagement for Asian Americans. This summer, we will be partnering with Loud Light, a non-profit organization that engages young Kansans in voter registration and civic engagement, to launch a 10-week fellowship. The program is designed to empower Asian Americans of all generations to continue this fundamental and history-changing movement.
We desperately need translated resources, culture-specific educational materials, and more allies in our advocacy efforts. Look us in the eye and recognize that our voices matter. For those interested in applying for the scholarship program, or anyone looking for more information, join us in creating a fairer Kansas for all by following @beseen.vote on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram.
Correction: This column has been updated with information about the first Asian American elected officials in Kansas.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.