Two UMass profs appointed to state’s Asian-American Pacific Islander Commission

  • RICHARD CHU RICHARD CHU

  • LEO HWANG LEO HWANG

For the Gazette
Published: 2/13/2022 8:54:16 PM
Modified: 2/13/2022 8:52:22 PM

The state’s Asian-American Pacific Islanders Commission inaugurated two new members from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in January: Leo Hwang, an assistant academic dean for the College of Natural Sciences and Richard Chu, a history professor.

Hwang was appointed by State Auditor Suzanne Bump and Chu was appointed by State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg. Hwang, of Montague and Chu, of Northampton, will serve three-year terms.

In interviews, Chu and Hwang both said they want to be a voice for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in western Massachusetts.

“Right now, I don’t think they (Asian American and Pacific Islanders communities) have a lot of representation from western Massachusetts,” Hwang said. “There is a tendency to lean towards highly populated areas around Boston.”

Chu has the same view, saying that residents in western Massachusetts have been “neglected or ignored.”

Both men hope to serve on the commission because there are different issues for the AAIP communities in western Massachusetts compared to areas closer to Boston, they said.

The Massachusetts Asian American Commission began in October 2006 and later changed its name to the Massachusetts Asian American and Pacific Islander Commission in July 2021. The commission meets monthly and has a goal to “recognize and highlight the vital contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the social, cultural, economic, and political life of the Commonwealth,” as stated on the state’s website.

Twenty-one members serve on the commission and are appointed by the governor, Senate president, treasurer, secretary of state, House speaker, attorney general and auditor who all have three appointees each.

Hwang said he hopes to create a listening and community forums where people can come together and talk about issues. Hwang wants to not only focus on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders when there’s an incident but make these communities “a more regular and normal thing to see and celebrate.”

“I think the AAPI community in Massachusetts has a wealth of assets to share,” Hwang added.

He said the Asian American population is huge and that it can be easy to hide things within the Asian American communities, such as those struggling with education and the economy.Hwang says that he has always felt like a minority within the state.

“I had small pockets of community, but it was really hard to find that at a larger scale and to have a sense of belonging,” Hwang said.

He recalls how he was teased by the “funny” food that his family ate but he never imagined that Korean culture “would become mainstream in America.” He said he wants to be a part of expanding how Massachusetts views its Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

In one of Chu’s courses at UMass Amherst, he has been able to implement educational forums where his students present oral histories. In 2018, Chu was awarded the Community Hero Award by the state’s Asian American Commission. Three years later, Chu then applied to join the commission.

Hwang applied to the commission with the goal of dealing with issues of hate crimes and spread awareness about the Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate movement.

More information about the AAPI Commission can be found on its website: https://www.aapicommission.org/.


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