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Race

With Anti-Asian Hate On The Rise, New Wichita Group Hopes To Counter Discrimination, Empower Leaders

naaap_board_4.jpeg
Carla Eckels
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Amy Vuong, left, president of Wichita chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, meets with members of the board.

After graduating from Wichita State University, Amy Vuong she struggled to find the same kind of resources and professional networking opportunities that had been available in school.

"We heard through our other friends and our other networks that others were having very similar conversations," she said. "And that's when we started exploring what can we do to address this need in Wichita for the young Asian American population."

That led Vuong to help start the Wichita chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals. She now serves as the local chapter's president.

The organization helps to grow and support Asian-American leaders in and out of the workplace.

Since starting on March 1, the chapter has focused on building relationships in Wichita.

"We're really just wanting to make others know that we are here, that we're available and we want to learn how we can best help our community," Vuong said.

Vuong recently spoke with KMUW's Carla Eckels about race, anti-Asian hate and NAAAP-Wichita's goals for the coming year. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

When did you realize your race mattered?

I would say college was when I felt the urge to connect to my Vietnamese and Chinese side. Most of my childhood through elementary and middle school, it was more, how can I make myself more like my peers? How can I remove the Asian part of my identity? You know, listening to music and looking at what other kids were eating for lunch. I always felt like what I was doing, what I was wearing, my language was not the norm.

So, in college that's when I was exposed to lots of other Vietnamese and Chinese students, and I saw events and pageants and community organizations that really championed being Asian American. That's when I started to explore a local pageant, Miss Vietnam Wichita. I took the jump and participated and I just couldn't get enough of learning of Vietnam’s history of my family's history and of the Vietnamese community's history here in Wichita.

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Credit Carla Eckels
Amy Vuong

Not only did you participate, you won.

Yes, it was long ago, but yes, I did win in 2017.

After the fatal shootings in Atlanta on March 16th, where six out of the eight dead were Asian women, the National Association of Asian American Professionals' Wichita chapter immediately issued a statement. What were you hearing from within the Asian community?

We really, honestly, we're not hearing much from the older generations. It took me having to go out and ask various business owners and my family members, where are you at with what's happening around the nation? And that's when I found out my grandpa and some other family members are adjusting their daily routines with the news of the uptick in the rise of Asian hate crimes and Asian discrimination.

What did you think about that? How did you feel when you heard the news?

I immediately thought about my family story. When I think about my childhood and my upbringing, I have very little to complain if I'm comparing it to the childhood and upbringing of my parents, you know, my father and mother. They went by boat from Vietnam to another country who was hosting them at a refugee camp. And from there, they found their way to the United States. In my opinion, their childhood and what many would claim to be an ideal childhood was stripped of them at a very young age.

So I think about their stories of struggle and I think about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them being where they are today, hardworking Americans who are contributing to their community. I just asked myself, 'Why? Why are some people not seeing that there is a place for Asian Americans in this country?'

Why do you think the number of violent incidents against Asians have skyrocketed in the last year?

There’s an organization called stop AAPI Hate, which is Stop Asian-American Pacific Islander Hate. They actually have been recording Asian hate crimes. And they noticed from March 19th of last year through February 20th, there were about 3,800 Asian hate crimes that were reported, which is a rise of 150% from the previous year. In that time, the pandemic happened ... and I think the correlation that people are making between COVID-19 [and], you know, the Asian population is what's causing that number to rise.

What do you mean?

I think people's assumptions of coronavirus coming from China. And I think there is lack of clarity and just knowing what news source to turn to when it comes to seeking the truth and that brings about a lot of skepticism and assumption from people.

Amy, when you hear those assumptions, how does that make you feel?

I think it continues to build on to that feeling of not belonging. And it continues to build onto the feeling of being self-conscious about that part of my identity, and it's a never-ending battle and when the conversation is taken at a national and global level, it's even more of a tough battle to fight.

[NAAAP Wichita] said in a statement, "Overcoming barriers, stereotypes and discrimination is a constant and conscious act of the APIDA," which stands for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American. What do you mean?

What we meant by that is there's certain questions and remarks and statements that we as Asian Americans are no stranger to. So, I think a common line that we hear is, you know, 'What country were you born in?' You know, just making the assumption that we weren't born here, making remarks about how our food smells and how it looks and how it's weird and slimy and gross.

So, all of these things add up to a sense of not belonging. And it's just something that has either been fought back, or you suppress it. And unfortunately, a lot of people just suppress it and, you know, tell themselves that it's not worth fighting back those comments.

And so, with the organization, you're combating some of that in the sense, that people do have a sense of belonging and coming together and sharing some commonality.

Yes, so a way that we are hoping to address those kinds of assumptions and, discrimination is through educating. I think storytelling is a very powerful tool. And what we are hoping to do is to provide platforms from which many Asian Americans within the Wichita community can share their stories and normalize the kinds of food we eat and normalize the different parts of our culture and traditions that make our countries and our ethnicity so special and so beautiful.

NAAAP-Wichita will host “Activating the Asian Community: A Panel on Civic Engagement” at Groover Labs on Thursday, May 20, from 5:00pm to 6:30pm.