From an Asian-American Politician
Me in Seoul, Korea. I weighed thirteen pounds when I came home. I was over a year old.
In my commentary at the June 9th Anoka County board meeting, (minute 3:50) in the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd I encourage us all to get uncomfortable. Because having honest conversations about race and racism is uncomfortable. And I would like to start with myself.
Since that board meeting, I’ve gotten feedback and criticisms from others about my identification as a person of color. I want to be clear that I do not begrudge this kind of questioning. I welcome it. Because like it or not, race and identity today has become a two-way street, where what one personally identifies with, may or may not be what the outside world agrees with. Throw in that I am now an elected official with certain expectations placed on me, I fully accept that I have stepped into the arena.
I want to talk about my own lifetime struggle of trying to reconcile my racial identity for as long as I can remember—personally—in hopes we can talk about it publicly.
When it comes to racial identity, I have never had a solid place to land. Instead, I have always hovered in-between. I was born in Seoul, Korea and came home to Minnesota as a malnourished infant at the age of thirteen months to a loving and good white family, in a good small Midwestern town. I grew up in a predominately white community and therefore had a very white American experience. With that came a lot of white privilege: access to good schools, music lessons and family vacations that included hotels with a pool.
However, I could not entirely divorce myself from my outwardly Asian self, nor did I want to. Growing up I was always reminded by others that I looked different, being referred to as “chink” and “gook” by classmates and (adult) strangers alike. Although I carried a white name (Mandy Wolf then Mandy Meisner), as an adult when I was no longer associated with my white family nor lived in a predominately white community, I experienced racism more often. In shopping malls. In restaurants. Among certain religious groups. Because of the way I looked.
I have always been consistent that I am who I am because of my experiences. I have experienced a very “All-American” life and I have a lot of whiteness in me. It’s who I am. I am also Korean with a history and culture that runs through my blood and my DNA that constantly whispers in my ear. This is also who I am.
Minnesota has the largest Korean adoptee population in the nation. We need to make a safe space for adoptees to identify as both, or whatever their preference is. Because the idea of other people determining how I should identify—while I understand it—is hurtful and frustrating. Are my experiences with racism invalid because I’m adopted? Or is it that I haven’t experienced enough racism and hardships to count as legitimate? Who gets to decide if not ourselves?
I will tell you when it comes to race and systemic racism, I am not overly concerned about how others may critique my racial identity. I know who I am.
What I am concerned about is that it took until 2018 to elect the first non-white Anoka County Commissioner, and I question why there are very few people of color who hold high-level staff positions in a county that employs approximately 2,000 people.
This is what systemic racism looks like.
These are the issues I am committed to examine and change as a County Commissioner. And I’m not alone. I am part of Anoka County’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee; a group dedicated to create a safe place for all voices to be heard and empower others in leadership.
My experience with racism is not about me. It’s about all those who came before—and will come after me. It’s about identifying inequities and how we are complicit in our history and the systems we have in place.
I hope you will join me to re-shape what is, to what should be.
1. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
“a program to combat racism”
Mandy Meisner is the Anoka County Commissioner for District 4 (Fridley, Columbia Heights, Hilltop and part of Spring Lake Park). District 4 is the most diverse district in Anoka County. You can connect with Mandy on Facebook.
Mandy is the first person of color to be elected on the county board and the first Asian-American to be a county commissioner in the state of Minnesota.
This blog is not an official communication of Anoka County, and does not represent the opinion of anyone else on the Anoka County Board, Anoka County staff, or any other body Commissioner Meisner serves on.
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