AAPI Philadelphians hold town hall, demand support from Philly Mayor Jim Kenney
“AAPIs Talk” was hosted by the Mayor’s Commission and Asian Pacific American Affairs on the night of Thursday, May 6.
On Thursday, May 6, the Mayor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs held a virtual town hall meeting at 6 p.m. called “AAPIs Talk.”
The town hall’s objective was to address the current conditions and challenges that the Philadelphia AAPI community is currently facing in the wake of COVID-19.
It gave community members the chance to make their worries known to Mayor Jim Kenney, and offer possible solutions to the systemic issues that AAPIs are dealing with on a daily basis.
Tomorrow, May 6, join us for “AAPIs Talk,” a town hall to discuss the issues and challenges that the Philadelphia Asian American community is facing today. Register now: https://t.co/lWTUH4HdA5 pic.twitter.com/bzJ2W40MXH
— Jim #VaxUpPhilly Kenney (@PhillyMayor) May 5, 2021
Viewers heard from a wide range of concerned citizens, including small business owners, former administrators of Philadelphia public schools, leaders from advocacy groups, leaders from the Philadelphia Police Department, and more.
The town hall was moderated by Richard Lui, author and anchor for MSNBC and NBC News. The event, which streamed live on both Zoom and Facebook, provided interpreters for non-English speakers, offering translations in Mandarin, Korean, Khmer, Vietnamese and Indonesian.
The event was separated into three main categories: Anti-Asian hate, Economic Impact, and Health Equity and COVID-19. The end of the panel was reserved for questions from viewers.
— Asian Mosaic Fund (@asianmosaicfund) May 7, 2021
Just before the community leaders spoke on the crisis of anti-Asian hate, Lui introduced John Chin, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation and chair of the Mayor’s Commission of Asian Pacific American Affairs, to give his own introductory remarks.
Chin briefly mentioned that the month of May marks AAPI Heritage month, the annual celebration of the contributions that this community has made in the shaping of our country.
He then emphasized that we need to continue to “hold the idea of a United States of America and a united Philadelphia,” especially during this time of escalating violence, hate and division.
I’m listening to an “AAPIs Talk” town hall moderated by @RichardLui convened by the Mayor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. Learning so much about Philly AAPI histories but in a global context! #APAHM
— Matthew Jordan Miller, Ph.D. (@drmattjmiller) May 6, 2021
“Never in my lifetime could I imagine the level of vitriol against us,” Chin began.
He is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, born and raised in Chinatown, and told a story of when he was told to “go back to China,” while walking down the street.
Chin then shared a few stories of community members who shared their experiences prior to the event.
“When we were in Chinatown, on 10th and Arch street, we were waiting to cross the street. A man yelled at us, and said ‘go back to China,’ and spit on us. We walked away. He followed us and still yelled at us after we went to the bakery. The three of us were there; we felt very angry,” one member wrote in.
Chin said that this “unending targeted hate” is making AAPIs feel as if they are second-class citizens in America.
Next, Mayor Kenney spoke and stressed that the rise in violence against the AAPI community nationwide has not gone unnoticed by the city.
“My heart has been very troubled after the Atlanta mass shooting, and I wasn’t afraid to say and acknowledge the very real impact that racism and misogyny played in that tragic situation; that disproportionately impacted AAPI women,” Kenney said.
Next up, Debbie Wei, founding member of Asian Americans United, shared a poignant spoken word poem, touching on many instances of anti-Asian violence within Philadelphia, in the public school system and with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
“Hear this. Who witnessed and ignored attacks? Who neglected to build bridges? Who abandoned public schools, leaving the children to supply the flow into pipelines for private prisons? Who left these children broken?” were just some of Wei’s powerful verses.
Following Wei’s poem was a montage of different AAPI community members discussing the ways in which the rise in violence has affected them and their family members.
The montage, put together by the grassroots movement Philly Solidarity, featured several AAPIs talking about how they are afraid, not so much for themselves, but for the lives of their aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
One community member described the gut-wrenching feeling he gets when he watches a video of a recent attack, thinking it might be a friend or family member.
During the violence panel, Lui was joined by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, former Deputy Sheriff of LA Cliff Akiyama, PA Commissioner Randy Duque, and founder of the 1 Love Movement, Nareon Chhin, discussing proactive solutions that need to take place to ensure safety for the AAPI community.
Chhin, a Cambodian-American, spoke to the racism and prejudice experienced by many Southeast Asians in West and South Philly, including the prison and deportation pipelines due to “failed leadership,” and “lack of resources.”
In the Economic Impact panel, viewers heard from Ting Wang, the Business Service Manager for Philadelphia’s Commerce Department, Arthur Gimenez of PIDC, and Michael Rashid, Philadelphia’s Commerce Director, and more.
The panelists honed in on the ways that the pandemic highlighted existing disparities in AAPI communities, particularly in regards to lack of language access, and access to small business loans.
In the Health Equity and COVID-19 panel, viewers heard from Nadia Islam of NYU Langhorne Health, Aldo Siaahan, a South Philadelphia pastor, and Anna Perng, a local advocate for children with disabilities.
Great to see the city (finally) highlighting #COVID19 needs in the South Asian community. Hope that they highilght @RoopaMPH's important findings on the burden of COVID disparities in South Asian patients at @NYCHealthSystem: https://t.co/gfRdqgh7oS @nycHealthy @NYCImmigrants https://t.co/oiIpOMHCUR
— Dr. Nadia Islam (@nadiaislamnyc) April 28, 2021
Perng spoke of the barriers facing AAPIs with disabilities as they attempt to gain access to vaccinations.
Thanking Lui for speaking openly about his experiences as a caregiver for his father, Perng emphasized the need for a stronger care infrastructure around the country.
“This is a barrier that faces every person at some point in their life. My work through the Chinatown Disability Advocacy Project is made possible by partners such as Professor Roger Ideishi and community leaders. We have weaved together a safety net for immigrants with disabilities and their caregivers and their family members,” she said.
Perng then explained that elderly Americans and people with disabilities were not getting PPE, and were being denied life-saving healthcare, because “states were telling people it’s okay to deny them ventilators, or to treat younger people first.”
The leaders and community members who made their voices heard to the Mayor and the nearly 600 viewers at home, took a stand that oppression is interconnected, and that the city cannot continue to overlook the needs of these marginalized communities.
Thank you to everyone who joined us and shared their stories about hate or violence in the Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
It’s important to continue to have these conversations and work together to #StopAsianHate. https://t.co/BqNVl9TvKW
— Jim #VaxUpPhilly Kenney (@PhillyMayor) May 7, 2021
Many leaders, and even viewers using the chat function on Zoom offered up solutions to some of these issues, including bystander intervention training, less policing and more community patrolling, requiring schools to teach AAPI history, and more.
We cannot solve these systemic problems overnight, but conversations such as the ones held during “AAPIs Talk” are an excellent starting point.