ST PAUL, Minn. — Sen. Foung Hawj called on his fellow Minnesotans to treat their neighbors with respect and kindness, amid reports of harassment of Asian Americans.
Sen. Hawj, a Laotian immigrant of Hmong descent, also urged fellow lawmakers to help maintain calm in their communities, to dial back discrimination against immigrants and American-born persons with Asian heritage.
"During this tense time of the COVID-19 pandemic I’d like to ask that everybody be extra, extra Minnesota nice. I’m not speaking to one group of people, but I’m speaking to all Minnesotans," Hawj remarked during a floor speech on March 26.
"It’s easy to say about Minnesota Nice or extra Minnesota Nice than doing it, especially when people are facing job loss, facing with the virus and also discrimination at the same time."
It was a moment that was overshadowed by other news of the day, including the legislature passing a $330 million COVID-19 response bill. It was the second one they've passed since the session began, and they continue to work in the background on other issues related to the pandemic.
"I also ask my fellow legislators to help calm anxiety in their own district as well, including situations that may escalate into attacks on members of your community, including Asian Americans, Asian Minnesotans."
Reports of such attacks and open hostility have cropped up since the virus began to take hold in the United States. At one point some public officials and news channels referred to coronavirus as "the Chinese virus" or "Chinese coronavirus," in an effort to reinforce the global pandemic started in China.
Alvin Moua and Vanishia Yang, a couple of Hmong descent in Woodbury, found a note on their door asking them to take the virus back to China, and accusing them of "infecting us with your disease."
Moua, who was born in Minnesota, was extremely shocked by the nature and tone of the anonymous note.
Sen. Warren Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican who heads the Public Safety Committee, pledged to work with Sen. Hawj on a bill that would set up a hotline to report harassment of Asian Minnesotans.
"The ridiculous conclusion that some people should associate COVID with an American citizen that happens to be of Asian descent; we all know that’s wrong," Sen. Limmer told colleagues.
"It has no place in Minnesota. And Senator Hawj I will commit to you we will have hearings on your bill as soon as we return in regular session."
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.