How to Support the AAPI Community in Chicago
Stand in solidarity.
During the pandemic, there have been 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents in the US according to Stop AAPI Hate’s recent report. Although many of the events occurred on the East and West Coasts, Illinois ranks in the top 10 states where complaints originated from.
“Like Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities, Asian Americans have been targeted by racist policies and violence instigated by hateful political rhetoric,” writes Grace Pai, director of organizing for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago. “Throughout history, our community has been scapegoated by elected leaders for the loss of American jobs, war-time attacks, and the decline of American industries.”
The term “Asian,” can mean many things. It is not a one-size-fits-all definition to describe the hundreds of cultures and ethnicities it blankets. The largest Asian American and Pacific Islanders ethnic groups in Illinois are Indian, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Pakistani, and Japanese—with 45% of the total population residing in and around Chicago. The community is hurting during the pandemic, but anti-Asian sentiment is not new. It’s been prevalent throughout American history. We might not be able to change the past, but by showing up today we can make Chicago a better, more inclusive place starting now.
The aforementioned Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago is a great place to support organizing. Also consider the Chinese American Service League. For more than 40 years the CASL has provided childcare, scholarships, employment, wealth-building services, and senior care to Chinese Americans. They’ve built a community where newly arrived immigrants can find support. The HANA Center (hana means ‘one’ in Korean) is a merger of Korean American Community Services and Korean American Resource and Cultural Center. The community organization provides immigration and legal services; COVID-19 assistance programs; senior housing and youth empowerment and organization. Their mission is rooted in Korean culture but they provide assistance to immigrants, women, youth, people of color, low-income families, older adults, LGBTQ+ folks, and adoptees. They believe that their history, culture, and unity strengthens them. And Axis Lab is the incubator for where art and advocacy collides on Argyle street—a historically Asian corridor on Chicago’s Northside. The community organization provides a number of programs (in food, architecture, film, art, educational programming and urban design) designed to empower and promote ethical development for immigrants and refugees. Founded by Patricia Nguyen all members of Axis lab are first and second generation immigrants and refugees who have a stake in the Argyle community. They provide materials in Hmong, traditional and simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Cambodian, Japanese, and English. Their work seeks to root out anti-Black sentiment in the Asian community, as much as empowering their constituents. Their GoFundMe goes to support art education in Uptown.
Push for legislative change
Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago is leading the campaign for the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act (TEAACH). The bill mandates that Asian American history be taught in all Illinois public schools. It passed out of the state House on March 17, 2021 and is heading to the floor for a vote.
“Growing up, I didn’t learn about the leadership of Asian Americans like Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs in the Civil Rights Movement,” writes Pai on why this issue matters. “I didn’t learn about the solidarity between Filipino and Mexican laborers that led to the formation of the United Farm Workers and revolutionized the labor movement in America. The multiracial and multilingual organizing of the United Farm Workers inspires my own community organizing work, and I want students today to be inspired by these stories.”
Call or email your state Representative to voice your support of the piece of legislation.
Support Asian journalists and media
Were it not for the Korean to English translations of Wei Ting, and the on the ground reporting by The Korea Times Atlanta, details surrounding the deaths of six Asian women murdered in Atlanta would be scarce. Follow the Asian Social Network, a trusted news source on the Asian and Asian American community. The Chicago Asian Network is building community through their social channels by promoting Asian owned businesses. Support the Windy City chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association which provides resources, scholarships, and educational support to their community. Here they have compiled a list of information in regards to anti-Asian violence and the Atlanta shootings, which includes a number of community organizations and mental health support.
Educate yourself and speak up
In response to the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes caused by the pandemic, the Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago, CAIR Chicago and Hollaback!, launched a (virtual) bystander intervention training in October 2020. To date, more than 1,000 people have completed the one-time, 60 minute class and registration is open for multiple classes in April.
Celebrate the culture
To not know the depth of Asian culture in Chicago is to not know the city. The Chinese American Museum’s “Great Wall to Great Lakes,” is a permanent exhibit that explains Chinese migration to the Midwest through immigrant stories. Pre-pandemic it also hosted educational events, film screenings, discussions and community workshops. The Japanese Culture Center, established in 1977, offers martial arts, crafts and philosophical teachings from Japan to the public. It is described “not as a museum where lifeless objects are displayed; it is a school where living skills are passed on person to person from generation to generation. You become an active participant in arts that have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years.” In 2012, Illinois became the first state to formally adopt the Cambodian Day of Remembrance led by the National Cambodian Heritage Museum’s Killing Fields Memorial. The idea originated in the '70s thanks to a group of Cambodia’s determined to preserve the culture of Cambodian refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. The museum offers programs rooted in social justice.
Spend with small businesses
Be conscious of where you’re spending and support the AAPI community. You can’t go wrong with a visit to Devon Street. The area, with streets stained in paan, is a hub for South Asian immigrants. While it may be known as “Little India,” there are a number of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nepalese owned businesses. Beyond Devon Street, other Asian-owned businesses in the city include Fat Miilk coffee. The Vietnamese-owned brand pays homage to its founder’s ancestral home. They source all their products from Buôn Ma Thuột, the capital city of Đắk Lắk Province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The seeds are harvested, handpicked, and processed on a family coffee farm where they employ and support the local people with a direct-trade relationship to suppliers. Hello Society is Chinese-owned and offers gender-neutral children’s clothes. Oriana Kruszewski is a horticulture expert in the Midwest and owner of Oriana’s Orchard and Nursery. Originally from Hong Kong, she is known for her Asian pears. The Hawaiian family Lee owns and operates Aloha Eats, a fast casual hole-in-the-wall serving fare from the island. And if you’re a hospitality brand in need of a publicist. Consider KLPR, founded by Karrie Leung, it is one of the few Asian-owned PR businesses in the city.
Ximena Larkin is a Thrillist contributor.