A coalition of community members focused on supporting Asian and Asian American youth in Edina has recently emerged, forming after a racist video surfaced earlier this year.
Despite being relatively new, the Edina Asian American Alliance has already become a notable presence in the community, participating in various events, meeting with local leaders and submitting a petition to the Edina School Board. The group, composed of Edina High School students and alum, district parents and other community members, looks to advocate for Asian and Asian American youth, educate and prompt change through collaboration, members of the Edina Asian American Alliance, or EAAA, told the Sun Current.
“We want our students, our members to get their voice heard and have representation, and more so, to serve as a bridge between the Asian community and the Edina broad community,” said Zoey Zou, a member of the coalition and district parent.
The group came together following conversations among parents, such as those involved with the Edina Asian Parents Group, Zou explained, who saw insufficient action from Edina Public Schools following a racist video, where Edina High School students mocked Asian accents and one gave a Nazi salute.
Inspired by the unified voice of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas in being able to respond to the incident, the parent group sought a more formalized avenue with which to communicate with the district and tackle such issues, Zou noted.
“It just felt like our students were not protected and we do not have an organization to protect them,” Zou said.
Following ensuing conversations in the aftermath of the video among parents, students and community members, the Edina Asian American Alliance officially formed this spring.
Furthering the work of Zou and Kelly Condit-Shrestha, mothers of district students who helped lead an initial petition to the district, according to the Zephyrus school newspaper, the Edina Asian American Alliance submitted an accompanying letter to the Edina School Board in May, expanding upon the petition.
Since then, the group has also participated in several communitywide events as well as meeting regularly with each other and local leaders, like Edina Public Schools Superintendent Stacie Stanley and Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, members said.
The coalition plans to continue to define its scope, vision and mission throughout the summer and be finalized by the fall, Condit-Shrestha said.
Intergenerational coalition inspiring a sense of belonging
Isadora Li, one of the group’s initial student members who graduated this spring, said she became “devoted” to the goals of EAAA because she didn’t have a group like it while attending Edina High School.
“I want to see it grow because I want it to also be a space for other Asian American students where they can feel safe, and where they can feel like what they want at the school level is also being supported by parents and by community members,” Li said.
Jaden Young, a rising junior at the high school, said members of the group were immediately welcoming when she attended her first ever meeting in April. “As a student, and as an Asian American growing up in Edina, I feel really great to have that supportive group that I know is working to protect me and working to make me feel comfortable.”
Li pointed out that the group is intergenerational, allowing students to bring their perspectives to the table alongside the experiences of parents and community members. And it establishes longevity to help the group follow through on its goals, she said.
Having students who are still in school offers “eyes on the ground,” with direct experiences of what’s happening, when parents and community members may not be able to get the whole picture, said Sabeeh Mirza, a member of the coalition and rising senior.
“We see what’s happening, we see what actions are being taken into and the direct implications of things because of the fact that we are in the environment that it affects,” he said.
Zou noted that the group does not have a hierarchical structure, empowering all voices to be heard. We “try to move together as an organization, gather consensus among our group. … That’s our working style.”
“This is just really grassroots and just people, students especially, just really leaning in because they know it’s important,” Condit-Shrestha said.
To help do their work, the Edina Asian American Alliance became an affiliate of the nonprofit, Coalition of Asian American Leaders, or CAAL. The statewide organization provides guidance, structure and resources for EAAA, said ThaoMee Xiong, executive and network director of CAAL and a member of EAAA.
“CAAL brings in our resources and experience to just help local folks who are organizing,” she said. “We believe that our Asian American residents are already leaders in their own right and they just need some support and some tools to be able to step into their leadership. And that’s exactly what these parents and students have been doing.”
Work in the community
Despite being a high-achieving student when she was in school, Condit-Shrestha said there were “infrastructures that did not see me as belonging,” which created personal difficulties for her. EAAA is intended to help the next generation and make the Asian American experience “more visible, present and understood,” she explained.
One of the initial actions of EAAA was a petition and accompanying letter outlining various requests of the Edina school district and school board. The letter, signed by EAAA, included a request for a resolution to condemn racism, hold a “healing space” for the community, undergo structural change by adjusting curriculum and communicating about the hiring and retention of Asian American teachers and other teachers of color, as well as create a clear resolution process for addressing incidents of hate. It noted that the petition had about 450 signatories
It asked for a resolution “to condemn xenophobia, antisemitism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, and racism in all forms.”
A district spokesperson told the Sun Current that district policies are being reviewed, but that there is no update on the requested resolution.
Such policies will be updated, when necessary, “to focus on behaviors that are harassing and threatening towards individuals in protected classes,” Daphne Edwards, the district’s director of marketing and communications, said in an email. “Policies impact district practices.”
Condit-Shrestha said the group seeks to continue to work in collaboration and partnership with the city and district, including in supporting Edina Public Schools’ in its 2020-25 Strategic Plan.
“We’re all on the same team, working towards a shared goal and vision of a better, more equitable Edina,” she said. EAAA is “a vehicle to help do that and to help tap into those opportunities.”
Since forming, the coalition has continued to meet and participate in community events, such as standing in solidarity with the Black Student Union at Edina’s Juneteenth celebration, speaking at a panel at the June 23 One Town, One Family event, and walking in the Edina Fourth of July Parade.
In addition to speaking with Hovland and Stanley, the group has connected with Edina Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Randy Smasal, Rep. Heather Edelson (D-Edina) and community organizations, such as the League of Women Voters Edina and the Anti-Racism Collective, members noted.
Edwards said members of EAAA were also invited to speak at a board training meeting and plan to hold additional meetings in the future with Stanley and her cabinet members.
The group is also working with the city on a potential public art installation, Condit-Shrestha said.
Mirza said he’s looking forward to building better relationships with the school district and city. “We want this to be a collaboration,” he said.
“It feels really good to be a part of something that actually feels like it’s making a difference,” Young said.
– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent
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