ORLANDO, Fla. – Behind every piece of legislation is a grassroots leader and a community of supporters championing it.
For Florida’s AAPI history instruction inclusion bill, that’s Mimi Chan, director of the Florida chapter of Make Us Visible, and the army of volunteers she’s leading.
Together, she and the nationwide coalition, comprised of students, parents, teachers and neighbors, are fighting to ensure that K-12 schools across the state are required to teach Asian American and Pacific Islander history.
After seeing previous iterations of the legislation die in committees, Chan and her organization were excited to witness Florida’s most recent AAPI bill unanimously pass in the House last week and the Senate on Tuesday. Now it returns to the House for a final review before landing on the governor’s desk.
“It’s just been quite a journey over the last few years,” said Chan, of her involvement in the organization. “So what happened was I essentially was very frustrated after the apex of all of the (Asian hate and violence) that we had been seeing over the past year and then after that Atlanta spa shooting, I was just really frustrated and thought something needed to change.”
In her search for long-term and preventive solutions to the rise in Asian American hate, Chan found all research pointed to education as the foremost way to curb the problems plaguing the country.
“One of the biggest things that causes anti-Asian hate is ignorance, right? So ignorance causes hate and really that perpetual foreigner syndrome,” Chan said. “Growing up, if you speak to any Asian American, they will share very similar stories of feeling like other or feeling like they didn’t belong, you know, people making them feel like they didn’t belong.”
For Chan, that ignorance was in people asking her what country she was from or making fun of her food or name.
“I really believe that if we can educate our youth, and educate everybody on the civic contributions of Asian Americans, we can be seen as part of American history, we can be seen as Americans, because Asian American history is American history,” she said.
Even Chan, who grew up and went to school in Florida, noticed a knowledge of AAPI history and contributions missing from her own education.
“One of the things I’ve learned along this process is that I knew nothing about Asian American history. I didn’t get to learn it growing up here,” she said. “I didn’t, very sadly and embarrassingly, know very much about Asian American history. And as I’ve gone through this process, I’ve started to learn such amazing facts that really would have made me feel a lot more proud to be Asian American growing up.”
While Chan may be new to dealing with Florida politics and getting a glimpse into her own history as an advocate, she’s not new to being an educator.
By day, she teaches kung fu and tai chi at the Wah Lum Temple in Orlando, falling in line with the family business. Her mother and father were instrumental in establishing the temple, as well as starting Lunar New Year celebrations across the state.
“Because of my connectivity with the community over all of these years—we were established in 1980—we’ve been working with Orange County, but across the state really, doing the lion and dragon celebrations and just kind of raising awareness but constantly educating our community. So because that’s always kind of been a part of my upbringing and who I am, I think it was kind of natural that I ended up kind of doing this work,” she said.
The volunteer-fueled group she leads now makes it a mission to ensure that education ties right into the community.
Sarah Li-Cain, a Make Us Visible advocate from Jacksonville, was one of the people who drove to Tallahassee several times during the session to testify her support of the bill.
“As someone who is really passionate about education, it has been really rewarding advocating for something so near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Being able to work alongside those in my community and to go to Tallahassee to speak on behalf of the bill has felt empowering and I truly hope that everyone knows how grateful I am to Make Us Visible Florida and the hard work everyone put in.”
Lisa Simouang, another volunteer who helps create and manage the organization’s social media content, even brought her two kids in tow with her to witness the bill progressing through the Florida Legislature.
“It’s been so amazing to see all of the representatives having such amazing things to say not only about the bill, but also to hear that the hard work our ‘back of the house’ outreach team has done. They acknowledge our hard work, our persistence, tenacity and how respectful we are as a team that Mimi Chan has led us all to be. It makes me so proud,” Simouang said.
Chan said she encourages volunteers to join the organization, even as the legislative session comes to a close.
“There’s still so much more work to be done. It’s going to take a long time to implement the curriculum. So there’s a lot that you can contribute to if this is something you’re passionate about,” Chan said.
To learn more about the Make Us Visible and the work the organization is doing in Florida, click here.
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