Asian Americans affected by anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes have provided support to each other. Left to right from top: Dr Boyung Lee, Dr Russell Jeung, Cynthia Choi, Myleen Hollero, and Dr Bryant Lin. Credit: Myleen Hollero


California, Apr 28 2022 (IPS) - Dr Boyung Lee, a widow and the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Iliff School of Theology, would use a short break in her working day to walk around her neighborhood. The fresh air helped her deal with her grief and work-related stress.

In May 2020, however, this small but significant daily ritual ended abruptly.

Lee was walking when she noticed a dirty white truck but did not think much of it. She carried on walking, then heard something. The noise continued, and when she looked back, she noticed the driver inside the truck was shouting at her.

Dr Boyung Lee was targeted by a truck driver on this street on S Elati Street near W Bates Avenue in Englewood, Colorado.

Listening carefully, Lee realized that he was jeering at her – including using one of the common taunts directed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community: “Go back to your country.”

Slightly shaken by this hostile confrontation, Lee continued walking. However, the driver followed her. Thankfully, Lee acted swiftly and ran into the opening of her neighbor’s apartment building, so the driver could not follow her.

The incident made her feel unsafe. She was even nervous about grocery shopping. The verbal attack turned a Korean American independent feminist into a dependent person.

Lee now covered herself with masks and hats to prevent others from noticing that she was an Asian.

She started to feel safe when her peers offered to go with her on her walks. However, outside of that, Lee was afraid. It took Lee over a year to feel comfortable going out to work by herself.

Angered because her experience had turned her into a dependent person, Lee thought about how she could educate the public about the beauty of Asian culture.

Dr Boyung Lee ran into the opening of this apartment building when the truck driver followed her. Targeted because she is an Asian American, the incident resulted in a loss of independence until she became involved in hosting lectures and workshops about Asian culture and art. Credit: Supplied

By teaming up with a few Asian colleagues, she brought in Asian American artists. She hosted lectures and workshops to educate the community about the intersection of Asian culture and art. Through this experience, Lee felt empowered and returned to being the independent feminist she once was.

Lee is not alone in her experiences of Asian hate abuse. Many in the AAPI community faced harassment, discrimination, and abuse.

When a Pacific Islander spoke Chamorro at a mall in Dallas, Texas, a passerby coughed on her and jeered: “You and your people are the reason why we have corona. Go sail a boat back to your island.”

A mother tried to enroll her daughter in a gymnastics class in Tustin, California. However, the owner refused because the mother’s name was ‘Asian’. These were two of the numerous incidents reported by Stop AAPI Hate, a support group that works to end racism.

From March 19, 2020, when the pandemic emerged, until December 31, 2021, there were over 10,000 incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate, of which 4,632 happened in 2020 and 6,273 in 2021. Based on the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism’s data, there was a 339% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021 compared with the previous year.

The increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans stems from the virus’s origin. COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan province, China. Due to its origin, hostile rhetoric was used to connote the coronavirus, such as “Kung Flu”, “Chinese virus”, and the “Wuhan virus.” Racializing the virus led to an uptick in anti-Asian racism, prejudice, discrimination, and hate crimes. Common verbal harassment included: “Go back to China” and “Take your virus, you Chinks!”

The most recent report released by Stop AAPI Hate found that 63% of the hate incidents involved verbal harassment, 16.2% involved physical assault, 11.5% involved civil rights violations, and 8.6% involved online harassment. Most occurred in public spaces, such as public streets and public transits.

Asian Americans were blamed for “bringing the virus” to America.

Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, worked with Cynthia Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese Affirmative Action, with other leaders, spearheaded the mission to fight anti-Asian racism. Jeung wanted to provide Asian American communities with resources, so this harassment would not happen again.

Along with Choi and Manjusha Kulkarni, Director of the AAPI Equity Alliance, Jeung founded Stop AAPI Hate to find solutions to the underlying causes of discrimination and hate. He formed a research team of San Francisco State University students to collect data to create the reports published on the Stop AAPI website. Jeung and his students discovered that hate crimes against Asian Americans occurred most frequently in California.

Jeung also noticed Asian Americans were taking a stance against racism.

Asian Americans used their social media platforms and utilized hashtags, such as #Racismisavirus, to ensure their posts would go viral. Another trend Jeung witnessed was that Asian Americans elected officials who would speak up against xenophobia.

As a result, Asian Americans turned out in their numbers to vote in 2020. As Jeung explained, Asian Americans voted for candidates who would support their beliefs and promised to fight against xenophobia.

Chinese Affirmative Action, a support community-based civil rights organization to protect the rights of Chinese and Asian Americans, and Stop AAPI Hate, collected first-hand accounts of people who self-reported what was happening and what was said to them.

The two organizations have been working on advancing racial equity by dealing with racial tensions between the Asian communities and other communities. These reports helped them understand the nature of the violent attacks. So far, over 3,700 cases have been reported to these organizations. They also work with the media to share the information.

“Certainly, in my lifetime, we have not witnessed this level of hate directed at our communities,” Choi lamented.

Bryant Lin, a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Asian Health Research and Education, led a project that researched people’s perception of the relationship between COVID-19 and discrimination. They surveyed nearly 2,000 people across the country.

Lin explained the results of his study. “Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and other Asian Pacific Islanders showed up to 3.9 times increased odds of self-reported racial discrimination due to COVID-19 and experienced nearly up to 5.4 times increased odds of concern for physical assault due to COVID-19.”

Although Asians are very diverse and heterogeneous – there are six major subgroups in the United States – they are treated as a monolithic group. Lin revealed that East Asians tended to experience more discrimination than South and Southeast Asians. The highest rates of self-reported discrimination were from Chinese Americans.

“Our study also found that people were very concerned about physical attacks, and people were also considering buying firearms,” Lin said. He added they were likely to do a further study on how perceptions changed.

IPS UN Bureau Report