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I have some white friends who love to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month by making eggrolls and watching an Asian movie such as "Parasite," "Everything Everywhere All at Once" or an old Jackie Chan kung fu classic.

Those activities, to say the least, feel superficial. I think people have a crucial responsibility to go beyond eating Asian food and watching movies to learn new, sometimes untold, authentic narratives about the Asian American community. One narrative I hope they don't forget is the surge in anti-Asian hate that erupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an Asian American mother, it is important for me to highlight these painful yet pivotal moments because I don't want my three children to be harassed again.

During the pandemic, our family was harassed at national parks, city parks and supermarkets. The first incident occurred in the freezer aisle at a well-known supermarket in Woodbury. A woman with short salt-and-pepper hair approached my children and called them dirty and diseased. She snickered, "Go back to China." My children, ages 7, 9 and 11 at the time, were shocked. She stepped closer to me and said my children belonged caged up in a zoo because they were misbehaving. I started crying. A store clerk witnessed the scene and asked me if I wanted the woman thrown out of the store for harassment. I said no and continued shopping.

For Asian Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic was not just a health crisis; it was a crucible that exposed and exacerbated longstanding racial prejudices against our community. Throughout American history, discrimination against Asian Americans has existed, from the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II to the surveillance targeting South Asians after 9/11. According to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition dedicated to ending racism and discrimination against Asian Americans, more than 4,000 incidents were reported in the first year of the pandemic alone in the United States. These incidents ranged from verbal harassment to physical assault, fueled by xenophobic rhetoric that irresponsibly blamed Asians for the virus.

People who look like me were attacked on the streets, in grocery stores and even in their homes. Elderly individuals were particularly targeted, with brutal assaults making headlines. One such elder was Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai American who was fatally attacked in San Francisco in January 2021.

In Minnesota, numerous incidents were reported in the media and documented by community organizations such as the Coalition of Asian American Leaders.

According to Minnesota Compass, our state's Asian American population includes about 313,000 people. The largest communities include Hmong, Indian and Chinese residents. I am a Hmong American who came to Minnesota in 1984. In my family, there is a joke that we came to Minnesota for the snow and stayed because of the lutefisk. But the truth is my family and most Hmong people stayed and thrived in Minnesota because of the wonderful allies we found here. Today, Minnesota has the largest urban Hmong community in the world.

Allies play a vital role in being our teachers, mentors and friends. During the pandemic, many allies stood in solidarity with Asian Americans, attending rallies, sharing resources and speaking out against hate. This support is invaluable but must continue beyond moments of crisis. The ultimate hope is that sharing these authentic narratives will keep us from suffering collective amnesia, and that we will not make the same mistakes again.

To me, true allyship goes beyond watching our movies and eating our food. It means listening, learning and believing us when we say we have experienced racism. And then taking action to support Asian American communities in meaningful ways.

It can be so easy to forget about the harm inflicted upon underrepresented communities. In 2017, my family took an RV trip to Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. We explored petrified forests, body surfed down sand dunes (only the kids did this activity), hiked through lush pine forests, and watched sunsets over blazing red deserts. We boondocked on public land to save money and for the adventure of it. Just north of Moab, Utah, we found a peaceful and beautiful plot of land with scatterings of cottonwood trees and an old windmill. The first night we were there the winds howled and I thought I heard eerie cries from far away. The next day, we explored the land, and came across concrete slabs where buildings once stood and the outline of walkways, perhaps sidewalks. I came across a worn-out metal sign stating the land was once the site of the Moab Isolation Center, one of many Japanese American incarceration facilities.

Starting in 1943, dozens of Japanese American men who were deemed "troublemakers" for speaking up and asking questions about the U.S. government's internment polices were sent to Moab's isolation center.

Upon my discovery, I cried over the trauma these men must have endured just because they were Asian Americans. There was nothing more than a license plate-sized sign letting people know the history of the isolation center, of the Japanese Americans who lost their homes, families and rights. My children asked me why I was crying as I removed the dirt from the sign. I polished the sign with drinking water from my bottle and a scarf I wore around my neck.

I wanted folks to see the sign and know the significance of the land if they stumbled onto the site.

Ka Vang is a Hmong-American writer who grew up in the Twin Cities. She currently resides in Prescott, Wis.