In this March 13, 2021, file photo, a demonstrator participates at a rally "Love Our Communities: Build Collective Power" to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence outside the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / AP

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Belle Bocal is a first-generation Vietnamese American and a Master’s of Social Work candidate at the University of New England in Portland.

Leading up to a tumultuous election, HR 908, Condemning all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19, ultimately passed the House of Representatives in September. However, 164 representatives — all Republican — voted against a resolution that required no money and no resources.

According to U.S. Census data, 6.1 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI). However in actor and activist Daniel Dae Kim’s recent testimony to the House Judiciary subcommittee, Kim asks the group to consider this: “Why, when I see polling results broken down by race, do I so rarely see Asian-Americans as a separate category?” The answer? Because Asian Americans are considered statistically insignificant. Kim drives the point home: “This literally means we don’t matter.”

As a first-generation Vietnamese American woman, it is hard to fathom 23 million AAPI people (this can also be broken down into 40-plus different ethnic subgroups and 100 languages and dialects) are statistically insignificant to politicians and policymakers, but I know this to be true because I belong to an ethnic group with the largest wealth and education disparity in America. How many of our own stories reflect growing up with this duality of hunger chasing acceptance, but also settling into a raw authenticity?

As May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and I am a Master’s of Social Work candidate at the University of New England in Maine, the whitest state in the country, I wanted to highlight some public and mental health disparities, especially as we are still facing a raging pandemic on two fronts: as healthcare workers and from a social justice and inequity lens.

Overall, about 21 percent of Asian Americans lack health insurance, compared with 14 percent of white Americans. Knowledge of the mental health needs and attitudes of AAPIs regarding mental illness is limited; few epidemiological studies have included AAPIs or people whose English is limited.

Asian Americans appear to have extremely low use of mental health services relative to other U.S. populations. Discussing mental health concerns is considered taboo in many Asian cultures. Because of this, Asian Americans tend to dismiss, deny, or neglect their symptoms. Lack of awareness of the resources and services that are available, as well as stigma, are the biggest deterrents in seeking professional help.

With recent attacks on our elders and attitudes of silence of note, older Asian American women have the highest suicide rate of all women over 65.

While more research is needed, shame and stigma are believed to figure prominently in the low use of services. In addition, language barriers make it difficult for Asian Americans to access mental health services.

Since January 2020, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of hate crimes and incidents against those of Asian descent — 150 percent in major U.S. cities — and according to a recent study, there were more than 400 cases related to COVID–19 anti-Asian discrimination between February 9, 2020, and March 7, 2020.

The bare minimum is to call on all public officials to condemn and denounce any and all anti-Asian sentiment in any form. Simultaneously in Maine, as we rush to vaccinate our population — Maine’s COVID-19 racial disparity was one of the worst in the nation — how do we reconcile that fact and reckon with 23 million “statistically insignificant” AAPI people as Kim states? I implore you to consider the risk to our neighbors’ health. We are only as well as our community is well.