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Over 300 Asian American community members gather to hear mayoral candidates discuss community issues
February 6, 2023, CHICAGO – Hundreds of Asian American community members gathered at tonight’s Mayoral Candidate Forum hosted by the Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. Leading up to the first mayoral election since the Atlanta spa shootings and huge spike in anti-Asian violence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, seven out of nine candidates for mayor attended: State Representative Kam Buckner, Congressman Jesús ‘Chuy’ García, Ja’Mal Green, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Alderman Roderick Sawyer, Paul Vallas, and Willie Wilson. Alderwoman Sophia King had confirmed but was unable to join due to illness and Mayor Lori Lightfoot was invited but was not able to attend.
Grace Pai, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago and one of the moderators of the forum, said, “Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in Chicago and the entire country, and we make up 7% of Chicago’s population. Tonight’s forum was about elevating Asian American voices and the issues that are important to our communities.”
Community members and leaders from the PAVE Coalition shared personal testimonies and asked candidates to answer questions about six policy priorities: public safety, language access, senior services, affordable housing, immigrant rights, and education equity.
Lilly Le, a community organizer with the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, shared a testimony about housing at the forum before asking the candidates their position on rent control and how they would increase affordable housing. She said, “Safe and affordable housing is a human right. Many elderly immigrant seniors live on a fixed income and feel isolated due to language barriers and lack of family in Chicago. Their isolation worsens when they struggle to apply for and find affordable housing. Many seniors and unhoused folks have told me that they have been on the Chicago Housing Authority waitlist for over a year.”
“My school is one of the most diverse high schools in Chicago,” shared Waniya Zahid, a youth leader with the Indo-American Center. “78% of Mather High School is low income, 22% is Asian, and 28% are English language learners. Despite our diverse needs, we don’t have enough resources. For example, last week my teacher was yelled at for using more paper than their 500 sheet limit, when they are teaching multiple classes of 20 to 30 students per day and we go to school for 176 days.” Waniya asked the candidates how they would address Chicago Public Schools’ anticipated deficit and about their long-term vision for school funding.
Tonight’s event was the fourth Mayoral Forum organized by the PAVE Coalition and Advancing Justice | Chicago in an ongoing effort to increase civic engagement among, and improve the lives of, diverse Asian American communities across Chicagoland. The program was simultaneously interpreted into six different languages: Cantonese, Hindi/Urdu (which are spoken similarly, but written differently), Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. All candidates recognized the importance of issues facing Asian Americans in Chicago and committed to meet with the PAVE Coalition if elected.
Founded in 2011, the Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition consists of 16 Asian American direct service and advocacy organizations in the Chicagoland area. The PAVE Coalition is committed to creating a space for meaningful collaboration across the diverse Asian American community, improving the lives of Asian Americans through advocacy, power-building, and policy change, increasing voter turnout and civic participation among Asian Americans in Illinois, and serving as a progressive voice for Asian American communities including in rapid response and crisis moments.
PAVE Coalition Members:
Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment, Apna Ghar, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, Cambodian Association of Illinois, Chinese American Service League, Chinese Mutual Aid Association, Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, Hamdard Health Center, HANA Center, Indo-American Center, Japanese American Citizens League – Chicago, Japanese American Service Committee, Lao American Organization of Elgin, Muslim Civic Coalition, South Asian American Policy and Research Institute, Vietnamese Association of Illinois
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity. Learn more at advancingjustice-chicago.org.