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Hoosier Asian American Power group focusing on Asian women launches in Indiana

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The Indiana chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum relaunched as Hoosier Asian American Power on Jan 10th The new organization is focused on advancing the interests of Asian American women and non-binary people in Indiana.  

According to the organization's website, as NAWPAWF Indiana, the group aimed to uplift the voices of Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander women, girls and allies.  

The relaunch comes a year after an 18-year-old Asian student at IU was stabbed by a Bloomington woman on a local bus. The woman, 57-year-old Billie Davis, was charged with a federal hate crime and was recently found competent to stand trial.  

Melissa Borja, one of HAAP’s co-chairs, said one of the most powerful ways people can make their communities safe is by working together, community organizations like HAAP, she said, are a space where people can work together to ensure a community where everyone can thrive.  

“I was able to see obviously a terrible act of violence, but at the same time, amazing resilience and strength and courage on the part of IU students,” Borja said. “IU’s Asian American students in particular, who use the opportunity to say this is a problem, and we want to see our community be better."  

As an organization that is growing out of the Indiana chapter of NAPAWF, Borja said HAAP is continuing to work on many of the same priorities including, racial equity, reproductive justice and healthy democracy, which includes voter education, protection and mobilization initiatives.  

In 2020, Borja said the group, did the first statewide voter outreach to female Asian American voters. She said the group called thousands of voters and spoke in five different languages to encourage people to vote. The group has also done work to address anti-Asian racism and violence across the state and in Bloomington and have been involved in responses to restrictions on abortion access. 

“We've worked on these three issues for a long time,” Borja said. “And we're excited about continuing to do this work in this new organizational structure.” 

Borja said a reason the group decided to relaunch as HAAP was related to a commitment to ensuring the work they do as a group of feminist Asian American activists is driven by the needs of people in Indiana.  

“In a national organization sometimes, it can be tough to make sure that the work you're doing is driven by what people locally need,” Borja said.  

Along with the group’s greater independence, Borja said the new organization has a lot of opportunities to foster relationships with similar organizations in Indiana and the region. She said HAAP is learning from feminist Asian American organizers and activists in neighboring states and are taking a regional approach to its work. HAAP, she said, is proud to be a part of a regional network of Asian American advocacy organizations organized by Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.  

Borja said AAJC has supported HAAP in organizational design and organizing moving forward. She said HAAP can see lots of great collaborations with similar groups in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  

Borja said that HAAP considers young people to be a critical part of its base as it has historically been on the front lines during societal crises, calling for change.  

She said HAAP wants people who are trying to create communities that are safe and inclusive for Asian American Hoosiers in bold, courageous and imaginative ways.  

“We often think there's a lot of good connection between college students, especially IU students and our group,” Borja said. “A lot of us are university-connected, so we have a particular fondness for working with young people.” 

Having an organization like HAAP in the Midwest and Indiana, Shruti Rana, one of HAAP’s core leaders, said, is important because those areas have rapidly growing populations of Asian Americans. But, she said, there hasn’t been a corresponding response to address issues this population faces.  

Rana said these ideas really hit home after the shootings in Atlanta and the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis. In 2021, police say a man in Atlanta went on a rampage at three spas, killing 8 people, six of whom were Asian women. In April of that same year, 8 people were killed in a shooting at a FedEx Ground Operational Center near Indianapolis, four of whom were Sikh.   

“Those are moments where you could see that people, like most community leaders and government leaders, they didn't know about this group of people that was living here and what issues they were facing, and how to deal with it and how to even communicate with the community,” Rana said. 

During the pandemic, Rana said, there was a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes around the country, including in Indiana and the Midwest. In Indiana, she said, the group was able to work with different communities and groups when responding to incidents. 

According to the Pew Research Center, reports of discrimination and violence towards Asian Americans increased following the outbreak of COVID-19.  

Borja said HAAP’s focus right now is getting to know its community. As with any grassroots organization, she said, HAAP is driven by the people. Borja said she believes that during the first half of this year, the group will be talking to people across the state and trying to find people who care about the issues the group cares about. During the second half of the year, Borja said she thinks HAAP will be doing work related to the election.  

We're just trying to get to know our community and get to know what they care about and what they need and what they prioritize.” Borja said. 

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