State Representative Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) received an anonymous, handwritten letter yesterday exhorting her to “Deport all Hmongs.”
Shankland told Madison365 she thinks it shows the need to increase education and understanding of Hmong culture in Wisconsin.
Shankland, in her third term in the State Assembly, is one of the co-sponsors of a bill to require more education on Hmong history in Wisconsin schools, but doesn’t think this note was in direct response to that legislation.
“I don’t think it was in response to this bill, but it shows why this bill is needed,” Shankland said. “I’m not saying this one bill is the solution. I’m saying if there was ever any doubt that we need to educate people about our neighbors, who they are and where they come from, there should be no doubt.”
Wisconsin has one of the largest populations in the United States of Hmong people, many of whom immigrated here in the 1970s and 80s after serving alongside American forces in the Vietnam War and then being driven out by the government of their native Laos. Many current Hmong residents were born in Wisconsin and are American citizens.
What’s more, “these people aren’t just citizens. These are people who served and fought alongside us,” Shankland said.
The letter, which Shankland received at her Post Office box in Stevens Point, is one of many incidents of hate and bias against Hmong people in her district, Shankland said, including an incident earlier this week in which an elderly man shot a gun at his Hmong neighbor and later told police he thought there were too many Hmong people in Portage County.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people who are worried about this and who live in fear now,” Shankland said. “They think it’s a hate crime and they’re feeling targeted. One person told me she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to sleep at night.”
Shankland said she’s seen an uptick in reports of such incidents since the election that mirrors trends of increases in violence and discrimination against other people of color.
“This is certainly not an isolated incident. This is happening in far too many places and we need to stand up and call it out,” she said. “Has it been reported to me more over the last year? Absolutely. Does that mean it hasn’t been happening before? Absolutely not. I hear from people that racism doesn’t really exist. I want people to know it’s out here and it’s our job to stand up. While I wouldn’t say i was glad to receive (the letter), I’m glad that we have the opportunity now to have this conversation about race and racism and to stand up for our Hmong neighbors and veterans and make sure they have the same chance to succeed as everyone else.”
Shankland doesn’t have a lot of hope for the Hmong education bill, which was referred to the Committee on Education on January 20.
The bill has been introduced every session for the last several years, Shankland said.
“As long as I’ve been in the legislature it’s never gotten a hearing,” she said.
A call to the Hmong American Association of Portage County was not immediately returned.