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Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month: Idaho Rep. Sue Chew

For AAPI Heritage Month, we are shining a spotlight on members in our community who are of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.

BOISE, Idaho — May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) month. To celebrate, we are sharing the stories of some of the members in our community who are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.

"I'm very beholden to my ancestors and the folks that come before me. I'm very aware of that on a daily basis," Idaho Rep. Sue Chew (D-Boise) said.

Chew has had a front row seat to a lot of changes in her 18-year tenure serving in the Idaho Legislature, but her journey witnessing history started long before her time as an Idaho lawmaker. 

Chew's father was one of the first Chinese lawyers in California. Having grown up during the Civil Rights era on the west coast, Chew said she experienced great friction during such a time of unrest and discrimination.

"Back in the old days, we weren't recognized at all. So, the fact that we have this is really important," Chew said.

Chew said that even in the City of Oakland - where she resided and went to school - there were very few people who weren't White. Chew said she was "beaten every day" as a first and second grader.

"Where I come from, one of my classmates was Black, and he took the BART station in the Bay Area to Walnut Creek to watch a basketball game. He never made it back," Chew explained of the racism she witnessed in California. "When people followed to see what had happened to him, they found him in a tree, someone had hung him. So, that's what we come from."

These racial hostilities that Chew experienced influenced her decision to move to Idaho - where she had some friends and family residing.

So, when Chew was in pharmacy school and looking to work in geriatrics, she chose to come to the Gem State - which was one of only three places in the country that had a geriatrics pharmacy program at that time. 

Chew recounted the pivotal conversation she had with her friend, Sandy, prior to the move, where she asked, "'Sandy, are you in a geriatric residency?' She said, 'yes, I am,' and I'm like, 'and do they hang people like us up in Idaho?'" "No," said Sandy.

Chew said that Sandy's consoling response is what led her to the Gem State.

"I think what's important for me is the idea of giving back to my community, I can specifically give back to my Asian communities. So, you know, when we had the anti-Asian hate that was associated with COVID, our communities had to come together," Chew said. "I mean, for the most part, I find that here in Idaho, folks from our Asian communities that I've dealt with, when things happen to them in terms of anti-Asian hate, they don't want to tell anybody about it. They just want to move on, but we needed to unify our communities."

Chew provided the example of unity she has witnessed in Idaho. She said that 30 local kids, most of them Asian, organized and ran her campaign in the last election for the Idaho Legislature.

She said that children have a different way of doing things, and that was seen when they marched through downtown Boise.  

"The kids got standing applauses by all these people. they experienced it in a very positive, uplifting way, and my old ways coming from, you know, the Civil Rights time, is I would have had it shut down and controlled," Chew said. "I would never have done that. The kids found no harm and they found love."

Having lived through the tumultuous era, Chew said it makes having a month dedicated to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month all the more special.

"I think it's so important that people are upstanders or willing to learn to be upstanders. Right? And help each other," Chew said. "You know, a lot of folks have carried some historic trauma that they themselves have dealt with, or, you know, is in their genetic background. So, if someone's triggered, maybe just give them a little bit of space. Just love each other. We're not perfect, right? None of us are."

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