by Edwin Quinabo
From coast-to-coast, New York City and Boston to San Francisco and Seattle, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities are speaking out loudly, organizing, conducting virtual meetings and holding street protests against the rise of anti-Asian hate and crimes throughout the US.
Asian American activists say anti-Asian hate is an old story in this country, but this new chapter is unique, widespread, and dangerous.
According to Stop AAPI Hate (a reporting database created at the beginning of the pandemic as a response to the increase in Asian racial violence), there have been nearly 3,800 reports of anti-AAPI incidents in the U.S. between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021. Highest incidences of cases were reported among Asian women and the elderly.
Community activists attribute the alarming surge in racism, xenophobia, discrimination and attacks against AAPI to the ugly rhetoric by former President Donald Trump who sought to gain political points by calling the COVID-19 virus, the “China” and “Wuhan” virus.
Others say AAPI hate is an extension of the rise of white nationalism that is also plague to other Black and Brown communities in the US.
Some scholars like Asian American Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize writer and USC professor, say the surge could also be attributed to both political parties rhetoric against China, saying “with explicit racism or just with a latent and implicit xenophobia, it can’t help but to aggravate the suspicions and the feelings of many Americans about people of Asian descent.”
Whatever reasons which have led to the current racial crisis, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus, said “certainly for AAPIs who may not have been involved before, this is a wake-up call to say, ‘You need to be involved.’”
Mass Murder And AAPI Hate Incidences
Anti-AAPI violence took a turn for the worst in the horrific mass shooting in a series of three spas in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16 this year. A gunman killed eight people, including six who were Asian woman. The Cherokee County Police is still investigating whether the crime is racially motivated, but community activists have already made up their minds, calling the crime an attack on Asians.
Following the mass murder, Gov. David Ige has ordered the flags of the US and Hawaii to be flown half-staff at all state offices in honor of the victims of the Atlanta shootings. He said, “That six of the victims were women of Asian descent is particularly appalling and I condemn all violence based on race or ethnicity. It is our kuleana to stop the rising tide of hate crimes against people of Asian descent.”
Prior to and after the mass murder there have been attacks on AAPI nationwide. As recent as March 29, a 65-year-old Filipino woman in midtown Manhattan, NYC suffered injuries from an unprovoked attack.
Police are seeking the public’s help in identifying the suspect who they say, “punched and kicked her about the body.”
The Filipina was walking to church when her attacker assaulted her, and told her, “You don’t belong here.”
On Feb. 3, 2021 a Filipino-American man, Noel Quintana, was brutally slashed on the face by a box cutter while on an NYC subway. The attack was unprovoked.
In Washington, DC an Asian couple was attacked on public transportation.
On Jan. 28, 2021, an 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco was fatally assaulted while walking in his neighborhood. Also in San Francisco, a woman while shopping was told, “When do you ship out? We are going to take away your citizenship!”
In Oakland, California, a 91-year-old man was pushed to the ground. Also, in Oakland’s Chinatown two other elderly were attacked and left unconscious.
AAPI hate has manifested in other ways besides physical attacks. Asians have been shunned, spit upon, denied services from businesses, and verbally abused with racial slurs. Stop AAPI Hate found verbal harassment is the most common kind of incident, making up 68% of the reports. Nearly 21% of the incidents involved the assailant being shunned for being Asian American, and 11% involved physical assault.
Asian business owners say they’ve lost revenues and patronage that they believe are racially motivated.
A Texas ramen restaurant who spoke against the Texas governor’s lifting of the mask mandate had his business marked with racist graffiti-like “ramen noodle flu” after speaking out.
In Silicon Valley, an Asian American man was spit on and yelled at. In Santa Clara County, a woman was told to “go back to where you came from” as she had lunch with friends.
Rep. Tackey Chan, one of the first Asian-Americans elected to Massachusetts House, said he’s talked with high school AAPI students in his district who have experienced racism. He himself, has had strangers shout at him racial slurs. He said people have asked him if he ate cats or dogs.
“In government, it continues to be a challenge for Asian-Americans to be recognized as an important part of our community,” he said.
Consistent with Stop AAPI Hate’s findings, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, released a report finding crimes against Asian Americans rose 150% in America’s largest cities since the pandemic.
According to Pew Research, since the pandemic began, about four in 10 adults in the U.S. say it has become more common for people to express racist views toward Asian-Americans.
President Joe Biden on numerous occasions called for an end to AAPI violence, calling hate crimes “un-American” and that they “must stop.” Shortly after taking office, he signed an Executive Order denouncing anti-Asian discrimination.
Following the Atlanta shootings, President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris met with the AAPI community there to discuss the mass murder.
AAPI Hate and Asian American advocacy wants Biden to take more concrete steps that establishes federal, state and local efforts to investigate anti-Asian racism and to expand civil rights protections.
“We cannot let anti-Asian American hate be a legacy of COVID-19 or the last presidential administration, but that’s exactly what will happen unless we demand concrete action,” said Stop AAPI Hate co-founder Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.
US Senate And Congress Introduce Resolutions
Sens. Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), AAPI members of the US Senate, introduced a resolution to condemn all forms of anti-Asian sentiment, racism and discrimination.
“Our country’s AAPI community has experienced escalating verbal attacks and physical violence since the coronavirus pandemic began, including the devastating killings in Atlanta. We must reject all forms of xenophobia and address the harm to our AAPI communities. Passing this resolution would send a clear message, that hate, bigotry, and anti-Asian sentiment have no place in our country,” said Sen. Hirono.
Sen. Duckworth linked hate crimes and violent assaults targeted at the AAPI community to “offensive rhetoric being used in an attempt to racialize the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Thirty-five US senators co-sponsored the resolution, all Democrats.
Sen. Brian Schatz, a co-sponsor of the bill called for solidarity against racism and violence. “Racist attacks against Asian Americans are disgusting and unacceptable,” said Schatz.
The Senate resolution:
*Calls on federal law enforcement officials, working with state and local agencies to
1) expeditiously investigate and document all credible reports of hate crimes, harassment, bullying, and threats against AAPI communities;
2) expand data collection and reporting to document the rise in incidences of hate crimes relating to COVID–19; and
3) hold the perpetrators of those crimes, incidents, or threats accountable and bring such perpetrators to justice;
*Calls on the Attorney General to work with state and local agencies and AAPI community-based organizations to prevent discrimination, and expand culturally appropriate education campaigns on public reporting of hate crimes;
*Calls on the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the COVID–19 Health Equity Task Force and AAPI community-based organizations, to issue guidance to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic; and
*Recommits the United States to serve as a model in building a more inclusive, diverse, and tolerant society.
On the US House side, AAPI congresswoman Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced an accompanying resolution to Hirono-Duckworth’s. This isn’t the first time Meng introduced an anti-Asian hate resolution. She has been a national leader early on and has held numerous rallies in her home state where reports of anti-Asian crimes began to escalate. Last year Meng introduced a resolution but said 164 Republicans voted against it. The last Congress did not pass the resolution.
“Let’s correct these errors. Passing both resolutions should not be a partisan issue. Stopping the attacks against Asian Americans is not a partisan issue. Standing against hate, fear, and injustice is not a partisan issue. I urge both the House and Senate to bring these measures up for a vote.”
Meng said the bill would make it “easier for us to have a more complete and accurate picture” of hate crimes and incidents.
Meng’s resolution is expected to pass the House, but the Senate version could hit a roadblock if at least 10 Republicans do not join Democrats to support it.
Hawaii State Legislature
Hawaii State Sen. Bennette E. Misalucha introduced resolutions SCR66 and SR48 that condemn and denounce all forms of anti-Asian sentiment and all acts of racism. The resolutions unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee (JUD). The measures also requests the Hawaiʻi Civil Rights Commission to collect and analyze incidents of anti-Asian sentiment that have occurred since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020; and to report back to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature on their findings.
Sen. Misalucha told the Filipino Chronicle, “In February, I started to see the increase in news coverage on the U.S. mainland on hate crimes directed at Asian Americans. At that time, it was when I started to draft SCR66 and SR48 since I believe it was important to make a statement regarding this alarming trend.
“It is important to note that I wrote and signed the resolution last month to push the intent that our communities here in Hawaii serve as an example to the rest of the nation of what diversity and inclusion look like, regardless of your gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It is crucial to stand in solidarity with our Asian American Pacific Islander community during these difficult times. These heinous crimes cannot and must not be tolerated.”
Chair of the JUD committee, Sen. Karl Rhoads, said, “The recent acts of violence and racism against Asian-Americans are unacceptable and they truly undermine our values as a country. We are a nation of diversity and equality and these hate crimes have no place in our society.”
In some states where protections on racial minorities are more dire than in Hawaii, lawmakers have proposed tougher measures. The Massachusetts State Legislature introduced a bill to expand their hate crime statute to include harassment. Many of the AAPI hate incidences could fall under this category.
State Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Boston, and state Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville seek to address systemic racism. They filed a bill to address anti-racism, equity and justice in education.
Jessica Wong, interim executive director of the Massachusetts Asian American Commission, wants state legislators to invest more in human translators who can understand different cultures and mental health resources.
In Andover, Mass, State Rep. Tram Nguyen is working with Atty. General Maura Healy to reform the hate crime law.
“In February, I started to see the increase in news coverage on the U.S. mainland on hate crimes directed at Asian Americans. At that time, it was when I started to draft SCR66 and SR48 since I believe it was important to make a statement regarding this alarming trend. It is important to note that I wrote and signed the resolution last month to push the intent that our communities here in Hawaii serve as an example to the rest of the nation of what diversity and inclusion look like, regardless of your gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It is crucial to stand in solidarity with our Asian American Pacific Islander community during these difficult times. These heinous crimes cannot and must not be tolerated.”— Bennette E. Misalucha, Hawaii State Senator
AAPI Community Fighting Back
Besides federal and state legislations and organized protests and candlelight vigils nationwide, grassroots Asian groups are pushing back in other ways.
Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University are working with Stop AAPI Hate to get more translators to help Asians report incidences of hate. Tagalog, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese translators are active in this project.
Asian advocacy groups believe the current statistics, as alarming as they are, could be underreported due to language barriers and fear of repercussion.
Hollaback! and Asian Americans Advancing Justice have teamed up to provide bystander intervention training to help the public with ways they can help if they see incidences of hate or racial crime.
Asian and Pacific Islander nonprofit collective Gold House is encouraging the public to check on their AAPI friends and neighbors.
Advocacy groups encourage the public to help support AAPI-owned businesses and brands that have experienced racial anti-consumerism. They also encourage more volunteering and activism in local communities.
Need To Speak Up
A respondent (chose to remain anonymous) told the Filipino Chronicle, “the best thing to do is to bring into the open what has been ignored in the past, anti-Asian attitudes. It’s been going on for a long time, but Asians are quiet about it.”
He believes Asians are patient. “We wait and wait so the groups that commit violence against us think it’s ok. So they keep doing it.” He encourages Asians to “make noise, call the police, politicians. Grievances must be documented.”
Jackie Chang of Aiea also believes racism against Asians have been happening all the time, everywhere. “I don’t think racism and hate will be stopping any time soon. We need to spread awareness.”
Edna Ogana, a Filipino-American from San Jose, California, told the Filipino Chronicle that hate speech should not be tolerated. She believes there should be stiffer punishment on people who commit hate crimes and says people need to be more educated on racism against Asians.
“I think the schools have not been very successful in educating people on discrimination especially systemic racism. Americans are only focused on Black Lives Matter. History of racism against black people are taught in schools, but not history of Asian racism,” said Ogana.
Vea Marie Oliver, Aiea, 19, UH Manoa Political Science major, mentions systemic racism — “a system which contains corruption within the police department, as we see over and over again, continues to fail to give justice to minority groups. They also often fail to give deserved sentencing to these white male criminals. What can be done to stop it is stop the murders, the criminals, the white supremacy alongside [promote] a system that is fair and assures justice to the Asian American community, and of course to every oppressed groups in the United States.”
Oliver said, “being Filipino and part of the Asian American community, the continuous attack against Asian Americans hit me on a really personal level. Such violence is beyond unacceptable yet we always see it in our society — it’s frustrating, disgusting, and frankly, extremely shameful.”
Ha Phan, from Milpitas, California told the Filipino Chronicle since the pandemic some Caucasians have looked at him in an unfriendly manner or avoid him altogether. He believes the increasing cold war between the US and China adds to the hateful environment against Asians in the US. He said the hate is really directed at China.
Ray Maglalang, also from Milpitas, California, attributes increased AAPI racism to COVID-19’s place of origin that happens to be Wuhan, China.
History Of Discrimination And The Model-Minority Myth
Asian groups say there is a longtime grievance that violence against them has often been downplayed or ignored.
Contrary to what some say that Asians are just too silent when racism happens, Rep. Chan thinks Asians are just being ignored.
“One of the greatest myths out there is that Asians are quiet and don’t say anything,” said Chan. “It’s easy for one to say that, but if you speak and no one hears you, the easy excuse is that you never said anything at all.”
He said Asians are not always viewed as people of color to the extent that the perception is Asians do not suffer hardship as other minorities in the US. He said many people stereotype Asian-Americans as model minorities who are hard-working and immune from harassment.
But some say the model minority myth has helped to obscure discrimination against Asians. Racial-justice educator Bianca Mabute-Louie, said “this [model minority myth] contributes to erasing the very real interpersonal violence that we see happening, and that Asian Americans experience from the day-to-day things that don’t get reported, and the things that don’t get filmed.”
Historians point out that Asian Americans have a long history of discrimination and racism. Chinese immigrants who arrived as laborers in the 1850s were subjugated to cheap labor to build railroads. Asian immigrants have been looked upon as threats to white jobs. They were called dirty and disease-ridden.
In 1882, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that discriminated against Chinese laborers from entering the country. During WWII, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up and placed in incarceration camps.
Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, agrees that Asian xenophobia is not new; but says that astronomical levels of hate today is “something that we haven’t seen before – certainly not my lifetime.”
Asians groups believe how we close this new chapter of AAPI racism will all depend on how the Asian and general community respond to what’s going on at this very moment in history.