Elevating Milwaukee's Asian Pacific Americans doesn't end with the close of Asian Pacific Heritage Month
While Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is coming to a close, there are organizations and groups working in our city to continue to raise the visibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders all year long. One such group is ElevAsian.
Founded four years ago by local advocates May yer Thao, Erik Kennedy, Shary Tran, and Jessica Boling, ElevAsian’s mission statement reads, “ElevAsian is a collective of Asian Pacific Americans in Greater Milwaukee coming together to elevate the visibility and success of our Asian community.”
Before the group was officially formed, the local advocates often saw one another at events around the city and noticed that they were frequently being asked to join committees or boards as representatives of Milwaukee’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. After building a friendship, they decided that they wanted to help open doors for other AAPI professionals and to create a sense of community and unity among AAPIs in Milwaukee and, thus, ElevAsian was created.
Using a private Facebook group, ElevAsian has over 100 members who utilize the Facebook page to “show up and stand together as a group.” Their page also offers a way for Milwaukee’s AAPI professionals to connect and build relationships based on trust, community, and a shared purpose, which is why the group remains private.
ElevAsian also works with community partners, key stakeholders and local businesses to educate and advocate for representation and visibility of AAPI professionals across sectors in a variety of ways. The group has adopted the hashtag #ElevAsian that they utilize to show their support for events and groups that are in alignment with their mission and who offer reciprocal support, with the intention of creating community.
Kennedy states that they “didn’t realize how fast the group would organically grow” and that numerous people have reached out to learn more about ElevAsian and to highlight the organization on their platforms – from podcasters to local media organizations. AAPIs from outside of Milwaukee are also taking notice of ElevAsian. Individuals from the Fox Valley, Eau Claire, and Central Wisconsin have reached out to the group to learn about the impact that they’re having here in our city and how those successes can span to other parts of our state.
For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the group has used social media to raise awareness regarding the history and leadership of AAPIs both in Milwaukee and in the United States. During May, the group posted once per day, highlighting stories that aimed to reflect all the different cultures within the Asian identity and leveraging other things that were happening to celebrate the month, like PBS’s month-long programming, to create conversation.
ElevAsian has received copious amounts of positive feedback from their posts, often shared on founders’ personal Facebook pages, which, in turn, has created conversation, awareness, and sharing.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian sentiments and xenophobic attacks towards AAPIs have been on the rise. Because of this, Boling states that she, along with many AAPIs, are feeling on-edge and are unsure of how to navigate this unfamiliar environment. In response to this, members of ElevAsian have worked with other community members to create a task force called the AAPI Coalition of Wisconsin. Boling states that the coalition is meant to be “proactive instead of reactive to the situation. Bringing the coalition together allows us to really have some sense of control over the situation.”
Thao says, “This is probably the first time in our history here in Milwaukee that as many, as diverse of a group within our Asian American community that we’ve come together to form this coalition. I am really excited to see the relationships because this isn’t just to address the anti-Asian sentiments. We hope that it will be sustainable so that we can all support each other…. And how that contributes to our Asian American movement here in Milwaukee.”
When asked what ways others can support our AAPI population, Tran says, "...being open to learning and open to hearing our stories, seeking out those stories and those opportunities to learn about the different cultures, and also to stand as an ally with us when you do hear comments or things that are happening to people that are discriminatory and being able to speak up...."
In addition to these action items, Kennedy states that "...removing your lens to understand others and who they are as individuals is important." Purchasing from local Asian-owned businesses and restaurants is another way to support Milwaukee's AAPI community. Check out ElevAsian's website for a full catalog of Asian-owned restaurants and businesses to support.