By Andrea Waxman Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Jun 01, 2019 at 1:36 PM

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email and put "Spotlight" in the subject line.

To mark Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May two years ago, three Milwaukeeans of Asian descent launched a Facebook page that highlighted little-known facts about Asian American heritage, history and culture.

Their goal: to elevate their community and its members by raising awareness of their presence.

"That’s how people started hearing about the movement we were trying to create," said May yer Thao, executive director of the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce.

Thao, whose family came to the U.S. from Laos, along with Shary Tran, director of diversity and inclusion at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Erik Kennedy founded the organization ElevAsian.

A play on the word "elevation," ElevAsian evolved after Thao, Tran and Kennedy would see each other repeatedly at community events.

"We’re usually the only Asian Americans in the room," said Tran, whose family came to America as refugees after the Vietnam War. Korean-born Kennedy was adopted into an American family as an infant. 

Though Asian Americans comprise just four percent of city residents, according to a July 2018 update of the U.S. Census, Tran said Wisconsin is seeing a surge in immigrants from Asia, especially from Burma.

A group like ElevAsian is needed because, when people think about minority issues in the community, they don’t always consider Asian Americans as part of that story, Tran said. 

The founders have worked to remind community foundations and organizations not to overlook Milwaukee’s Asian Americans when they invite people to work on community issues and projects.  

Since launching the private Facebook group in 2017, which now has about 40 members, ElevAsian has organized outings to events that feature Asian Americans.

When Malika Siker, an oncologist and Medical College professor, and Kennedy were recently recognized among the Business Journal’s "40 under 40." ElevAsian members attended the celebration to show support, Kennedy said. 

Siker, who hails from Janesville, is the daughter of Indonesian and Jewish parents.

The group also organized outings to a Milwaukee Wave soccer game in support of team captain Tenzin Rampa, a Tibetan American, and the recent Milwaukee Rep production of the play, "The Chinese Lady."

"We want to elevate individuals and support local Asian organizations, businesses and restaurants because we want to see them thrive," said Kennedy, community relations senior coordinator at Advocate Aurora Health.

He added that ElevAsian wants to "be a resource and also be a part of the conversation and be visible. "

How to connect with ElevAsian

To connect with ElevAsian, send an email to May yer Thao at

Andrea Waxman Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Andrea Waxman is a staff reporter at the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. A professional writer, she is completing a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling at Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor for a community newspaper and taught English and Japanese in several area middle and high schools.

Waxman has lived in Milwaukee since 1981, but spent most of her early years living in Tokyo, where her father was stationed at the American embassy. She returned to Japan in 1986 and again in 1993 when her husband was there as a Fulbright scholar.

In her free time, Waxman enjoys theater, movies, music, ethnic food, cities, travel, reading - especially the news of the day - and all kinds of people. She is interested in working for social justice and contributing to the vitality of the city.