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A Hmong American political committee is calling for an apology from the chair of the state's Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, saying that she rushed a group of Hmong elected officials off stage at a recent event.

"Of all the legislators who spoke, our [Asian Pacific Islander] legislators were the only ones that were interrupted while we spoke, told to get off the stage, and also told that we were not invited," said Sen. Susan Pha, DFL-Brooklyn Park, in a video posted on Facebook a day after the event.

No Asian and Pacific Islander legislators were on the program for Asian Pacific Islander (API) Day at the State Capitol on April 3. But Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, brought on stage with her two DFL state senators, Pha and Foung Hawj of St. Paul, neither of whom was on the invite list for API Day.

Hawj addressed the audience and then passed the microphone to Pha. When two more members of the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus joined them on stage — DFL Reps. Ethan Cha of Woodbury and Kaohly Vang Her of St. Paul — Pha's speech was interrupted by the moderator, Council Chair Saraswati Singh, who told the group they were taking time away from other speakers.

"Senator Pha, you're taking up other people's time, please," Singh said, gesturing for her to leave.

"Let her finish, she'll be brief," Murphy said. "How many seconds?" Singh responded.

After the legislators left the stage, Singh called them out for bringing guests on stage who were not in the program.

Lee Pao Xiong, the council's former executive director, is among more than 200 people petitioning for an apology from Singh and the council.

"That was very unprofessional," Xiong said. "The state Legislature created you, and your role is to advise the governor and state Legislature on issues affecting your respective communities. The API legislators have every right to be there in front of their constituents."

In a statement to Sahan Journal, Pha said that Singh's actions were "unnecessary and highly disrespectful. ... It's reminiscent of the trauma we dealt with, and continue to deal with when excluded from spaces we are told we don't belong."

According to a livestream recording of the event, Singh said: "We had three people up on stage and then two other people jumped in. They did not have permission to do so. They're not on our agenda."

Council officials did not respond to requests for comment from Singh, who could not be reached independently. Hawj, Cha, and Her declined to be interviewed for this story.

The council works with state officials and community organizations to improve the lives of the state's Asian Pacific Islander residents. Members are appointed by the governor and include legislators.

The petition, which is being circulated by the Hmong American Political Action Network group on Facebook, calls for a formal apology from Singh and an investigation of the council. It's seeking action by Gov. Tim Walz, since many of the council members are appointed by the governor.

"This incident, marked by an apparent lack of respect and recognition towards [Asian American and Pacific Islander] legislators by the Council's leadership, is deeply troubling," the petition says.

Her, one of the legislators who went on stage, said online that it was unfortunate the council controls "who gets to be heard, seen, and on stage. When I speak at rallies and events I bring up all of my colleagues in attendance. Why? Because this work isn't about me. Nothing gets done because of one person."

The incident came a week after a disagreement surfaced at a committee hearing on how best to commemorate the beginnings of Minnesota's Southeast Asian communities 50 years ago. The bill includes $300,000 for grants to community organizations and $200,000 for the Minnesota Historical Society to create programs celebrating the arrival of the first Hmong family in Minnesota in October 1975.

Singh was one of six who testified against the bill, saying it focused only on the Hmong community and did not include the state's Cambodian, Vietnamese and Laotian communities, as well as Vietnam War veterans. Representatives of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders and Vietnamese Social Services testified in support of the bill.

"I believe in diversity, equity and inclusion. It's really important to me because I've been a minority my whole life," said Singh, the daughter of Indian immigrants.

Her, who supports the bill, said the Minnesota Asian Pacific legislative caucus heard that the Hmong community wanted its own celebration. The bill, she said, offers the possibility for multiple celebrations.

Xiong said the bill would put the community in charge of the commemoration rather than the council or state. He said he's been told that the council has repeatedly opposed many of Hmong community legislative initiatives.

"Everything comes down to the governor's office," Xiong said. "The community is waiting to see what the governor is going to do."

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This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for a free newsletter to receive Sahan's stories in your inbox.