Michigan House representatives speak at MSU

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Maggie Chen Hernandez, Sam Singh and Stephanie Chang getting ready to start the panel. / Photo by Natasha Blakely

Maggie Chen Hernandez, Sam Singh and Stephanie Chang getting ready to start the panel. / Photo by Natasha Blakely

By Alexandra Donlin
MI First Election

When getting out to vote, Asian Pacific Americans often struggle with deciding who to vote or even how to vote.

Asian Pacific Americans make up 6 percent of the U.S. population, but voter turnout is lower than any other racial group in the country. This could be because they are often underrepresented in government.

On Feb. 27, the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at Michigan State University held an event called Activism, Politics, and Social Media Summit … Raising Asian American Voices.

The event was held at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center on campus and featured a panel with Michigan House of Representatives, Stephanie Chang and Sam Singh.

Chang is in her first term representing the 6th House District. Singh is in his second term and represents the 69th District. He is also the first Indian-American state representative in Michigan. They are two of three Asian Americans serving in the Michigan State House of Representatives.

The panel was moderated by associate director of the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, Maggie Chen Hernandez. Topics ranged from how they got their start, to social media, to diversity in politics and government.

Both Chang and Singh didn’t immediately start in politics, but rather dove into the world of non-profits and grassroots causes where they eventually developed a passion for helping others on a greater and more political level.

“A lot of Asian Americans have risen to leadership positions,” Singh said. “(But), it’s not apparent in politics.”

Chang, who represents a predominantly African-American district, thinks it’s important to have different voices, point of views and experiences in government so everyone can have an equal opportunity on things.

“Having diversity within any public body is very important because we (Asian Americans) need voices when making decisions,” Chang said. “Being Asian American shapes my viewpoint on a lot of issues, especially as the daughter of immigrants.”

A lot of this needs to start within education. “(The) curriculum kids are learning doesn’t involve a lot of Asian content,” Chang said.

Bullying and discrimination are also large issues that need to be taken care of. People aren’t even reporting job discrimination when they face it. “A lot needs to happen at (the) federal level,” Chang said.

With discrimination, Singh describes how since the 9/11 attacks, Muslims are discriminated against just as much as Arab Americans.  “We should always have allies,” Singh said.

Similarly, Chang was brought to tears when asked about former NYPD police officer Peter Liang.

Liang, an Asian American, was found guilty of manslaughter for the killing of Akai Gurley, an African-American male. Many Asian Americans have protested his charges, while African Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement are angry over police brutality issues.

Chang thinks that this brings tensions to communities when they should be coming together to help fight other discriminatory issues at large. She said that while Gurley should receive justice, she can understand why people are protesting for Liang and is happy that Asian Americans are starting to voice their opinions.

Singh agreed, “(There are) more opportunities for us to be engaged,” he said.

Chang said that minority races being more vocal can maybe inspire others to run for office one day too.