In recent years, Asian Americans across Illinois have gathered at the state capitol in May, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, to bring attention to issues affecting their community.
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, groups gathered for a virtual Asian American Action Day event on Facebook Live that featured music, dance, and a Q&A with Gov. JB Pritzker.
On Thursday, speakers talked about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the community, including racism toward Asians, a lack of government support for undocumented community members and a need for more language services to help immigrants access services.
“Our Asian American community is a very important part of who we are as the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said. Combined, Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders make up about 5.6% of the state’s population, according to 2018 census data.
Pritzker condemned the anti-Asian attacks during the pandemic and encouraged victims of hate crimes to report incidents to the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Hotline.
Ram Villivalam, Illinois’ first Asian American state senator, said the COVID-19 crisis is exposing “the dire health care disparities, the dire need for paid sick leave, [the need for] language justice and so much more.”
“We need to stand up, we need to speak out, and we need to educate,” Villivalam said, addressing members of Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE), a coalition of a dozen Asian American groups that sponsored Thursday’s event.
Community members also shared their experiences of the pandemic.
Lorna Pontiveros, a Filipina home health care worker, said she and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19.
“I have had anxiety, depression, and I can’t sleep at night,” she said, adding that her husband has been in a coma for over a month. “Now I am left with high medical bill costs, no way to work, and quarantined alone at home.”
Pontiveros and others called for paid sick leave for all workers in the state.
Thu Doan, a member of the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, spoke about the need for better language access to government services.
“COVID-19 has increased our communities’ struggles; we need support during this crisis,” Doan said, explaining that PAVE’s member organizations have had to pick up the slack because government agencies have not provided sufficient translation services.
Other legislative agenda items included support for undocumented immigrants and the addition of an Asian American history curriculum in schools. PAVE leaders also encouraged community members to participate in the 2020 Census.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.