CAAR volunteer, Liz Xiong, on her experience working on PSA, interview
CAAR volunteer and TakeAction Minnesota Program & Membership Development Associate, Liz Xiong, played an instrumental role in getting the Memorial Day public service announcement and interview produced and aired. Here is her take on that experience:
As a result of the joint CAAR, Hmong 18 Council, and Clear Channel/KDWB negotiations meeting on May 16, leaders at KDWB agreed to contribute air time to CAAR-produce public service announcements (PSAs) and a 30-minute interview on the Insight Twin Cities radio program with Lee Valsvik. The PSAs and interview were broadcast during Memorial Day weekend on all seven of their local Clear Channel stations. Both of these co-productions provided us with special opportunities to resolve cultural and historical misinformation that in part contributes to racism against the Hmong community, such as the racist Hmong-parody on KDWB. I’ll tell you about the productions more later, but first I’m going to do a little unpacking of what’s in my heart and gut with this campaign so far.
This campaign embodies everything about why I do and love community organizing with the Hmong Organizing Program (HOP) at TakeAction Minnesota. Steve Latart’s “30 Hmongs in a House” parody did not outrage anything that resembles a “small group of people” as KDWB/Clear Channel insists. Immediately after the parody aired, there was a tremendous amount of social media, press, and written backlash and objection from hundreds of community members. The Hmong Organizing Program wasted no time to house and began organizing community members for racial justice. In the earliest stages of this campaign, HOP’s skilled leaders and powerful organizing tools were integral to building a multi-racial coalition and delivering a successful 200 person rally at Clear Channel’s headquarters (on a freezing cold morning). HOP decided to form a multiracial coalition to work specifically on this issue because KDWB tried to make this only a “Hmong” issue. KDWB only invited Hmong community members to their private meetings, when in fact this issue is about structural racism. The newly formed multiracial coalition was called Community Action Against Racism (CAAR), with TakeAction Minnesota’s HOP leaders at the core. More recently, HOP and TakeAction Minnesota remain the key political power in partner with CAAR. It feels damn good to be building power on the people’s side; standing at the front lines with each other for our values.
I am so proud of the anti-racism campaign I have led with CAAR and these radio productions in particular because we, as a coalition and community – and in spite of our differences in race, age, gender, beliefs, values, religion, orientation, income, education, etc.—refused to accept irrelevance and division.
We refused to be powerless. We refused to be stuck in disappointment and hurt. We refused to hope that rude, obnoxious, terrible, disrespectful, spineless, arrogant, and tasteless jerks like Steve LaTart would someday just understand why his “joke” was racist and not funny. We refused to let him and his big corporate buddies at Clear Channel glaze their way out of actually taking responsibility for being blatantly racist. We refused to let KDWB have the last word about us and get away with subjugating any minority group.
We chose to be united and, therefore, powerful. We chose to come together and teach the world that things don’t have to be the way they are. We chose to be in relationship as people, and we did not let this incident become defined as corporation versus (and in disregard of) everyone. We chose to be seen and heard as we know ourselves. We chose to teach KDWB and Clear Channel and everyone else a lesson about what it means to be united across culture, ethnicity, age, gender, religion and so on. Our message was clear: don’t mess with us; if you do, we’ll make sure you are very miserable until you make us happy again. We are a little happier right now, but we shall see what the future holds.
So what is the lesson?
I refuse to be taken for granted and dismissed. As a Hmong-American woman, these productions are part of the beginning to my people claiming our history and telling the unknown truth about ourselves. My leadership in this campaign is part of me claiming of my own identity and my people’s legacy of trials and triumphs for our future. It is my personal responsibility to make sure that the world I live in and bring my children into is one where my history breaks its long tradition of being an American secret—swept beneath the rug of racism and discrimination. As long as our Hmong-American story is a secret, it is vulnerable to being corrupted, mistold, and exploited by our ignorant oppressors—in this case, Steve LaTart and his corporate posse at Clear Channel. Challenging KDWB/Clear Channel in direct action has led to my ability to rewrite their false stories about who I am. This campaign and these productions also serve to unveil and challenge the hate against women that KDWB very clearly displayed in its song aired on March 22, 2011.
On to the productions
Knowing that racism and discrimination on public airwaves hurts everyone, we made sure that our productions conveyed diversity, inclusion, and respect for all people living in the United States. Although Sandi Ci Moua and I oversaw the entirety of these productions, we heavily consulted with and “voice-casted” (in no particular order) CAAR members Boa Lee, Amee Xiong, Pang Yang, FuabKuab Yang, Frank Brown, Dai Thao, Sia Lo from the Hmong 18 Council, Va-Megn Thoj, SGU Hmong veterans Long Yang and Vang Xang, and Elizabeth Scott from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Thank you so much to everyone for your honesty, courage, time, and energy to making both the PSA and the interview out of this world!
The PSAs and the interview aired on all seven stations from May 26th through May 29th. In context of the then approaching Veteran’s Day, we produced two PSA messages to “celebrate the diverse backgrounds of ALL veterans [and honored] their sacrifices for freedom and equality [for all Americans]”. The recordings played 15 seconds and 30 seconds each. Below is a transcription of the 30 second recording.
|Fuab Kuab YangVaj Xab
|This Memorial Day, we salute all veterans.I am a Hmong-American veteran and defended freedom during the Vietnam War.
I am an African American and no war in American history has been fought without the bloodshed of my people.
I am an American Indian and my people fought for equality before we had the right to vote!
This Memorial Day, we celebrate the diverse backgrounds of all veterans. Let’s remember their sacrifices for freedom and equality.
A message from the Hmong 18 Council and allies of the Hmong-American community.
In the 30-minute interview on Insight, we held a historical and educational conversation around Hmong-American history and touched on topics of gender equity, racism, and the need for diverse partnerships in the fight for racial justice. More specifically, we discussed in depth about the critical roles of Hmong soldiers who fought with American forces during the Vietnam War, the denial of GI benefits to Hmong soldiers as a repeated episode of racism in the military (as African Americans were also denied GI benefits and had to fight for their recognition and benefits), and the need to build power and solidarity against racism as it is a recurring violence across society. You can listen to the interview here. Unfortunately the PSA recordings were not archived.
Last, but not least, on May 31st, I also joined Kor Xiong on Hmong Wisconsin radio for a 1 hour live interview to summarize the campaign and our successes so far. Unfortunately, the interview could not be archived. I also shared with Hmong Wisconsin listeners about CAAR’s PSA and Insight interview, of which Kor aired 10 minutes of the interview after of our live conversation. I’m psyched that we have such strong out-of-state interest and support.
However, although all of this is a good start towards healing the community, it falls short from justice. As we say in Hmong, “cuab pob ntseg mloog, tsa qhov muag ntsia”, CAAR will keep its ears open and eyes watching to see if KDWB/Clear Channel will follow through on the rest of the agreements made on May 16th. We shall see indeed.
Liz Kablia Xiong is a leader with the Hmong Organizing Program (HOP) at TakeAction Minnesota and actively leads with Community Action Against Racism (CAAR). She also leads with the Hmong Veteran’s Benefits committee with HOP. Previously, she led on Hmong 2010 GOTV efforts and the Healthy Corridor for All Coalition, which sought to win equitable zoning policies and development in the Central Corridor.
TakeAction Minnesota is a progressive non-profit organization in Saint Paul. TakeAction moves Minnesotans to active grassroots democracy that builds social, racial, and economic justice. TakeAction is composed of 21 organizational members, and 11,000 individual members throughout the state. The Hmong Organizing Program develops local leaders to change issues that affect Minnesotans and Hmong around the world. HOP builds dynamic and effective coalitions by educating voters, winning issue campaigns, and by impacting state and local policies and policymakers. HOP currently leads three campaigns: Hmong Veteran’s Benefits, Hmong-History Curriculum and Education Equity, and we are in partnership with Community Action Against Racism to end racism on public air-waves.