Anti-Asian hate crime rates soared by 1900 percent in the United States according to New York Police Department’s data since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically targeting the elderly and women. Despite the fact that these hate crimes have existed long before COVID-19 started, the pandemic fueled xenophobia and anti-Asian propaganda. Major news outlets failed to put this topic into the spotlight and the Asian American and Pacific American (AAPI) community are crying for your help.
Countless attacks were focused on the community’s elders. One particular piece of news that broke the internet was the story of an 84 year-old Thai immigrant named Vicha Ratanapakdee. On the 28 of January, while Ratanapakdee was doing his usual morning walk, he was unprovokedly shoved to the ground by a perpetrator and never regained consciousness. The San Francisco District Attorney’s office announced in February that the 19 year-old perpetrator, Antoine Watson, would be detained without bail. Watson’s lawyer challenged the District Attorney’s decision and Watson pleaded not guilty to the murder and elder abuse charges.
Three days after the attack on Ratanapakdee, a 91 year-old man was knocked to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown, where the same suspect also attacked two more seniors. There were also more than 20 robberies and assaults reported in the same Chinatown neighborhood. A few days later, another assault garnered the internet’s attention. A 61-year-old Filipino man named Noel Quintana was slashed across his face on a New York subway train, and on the same day, a 64-year-old Vietnamese grandmother got assaulted and robbed in San Jose. Just this March, a 52-year-old Asian American man was beaten up at a subway station in New York City.
Police officers in Phoenix, Arizona discovered 74-year-old Filipino man Juanito Falcon in a KFC parking lot with head injuries. The police stated that the victim was punched on the face by a perpetrator and fell into the pavement where the victim suffered a skull fracture and bleeding in his brain. Police have yet to find the motive of the crime but stated that a connection to race is unlikely. Falcon died on February 18. These are just some of the countless attacks that the Asian-American community has faced, and there are more that haven’t made the headlines.
Eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, have been slain in a series of spa shootings in Atlanta on March 16. The Atlanta Police Department disclosed that suspect Robert Aaron Long was just having a “bad day” and apparently saw the Asian spas as a temptation that he wanted to eliminate, as he has a sex addiction. The sheriff’s office denied the case’s link to a racial basis and racially motivated crime.
It may seem that these incidents just occur in other places but they also occur here in Portland. In an article Oregon Public Broadcasting News (OPB) published last April 2020, reports of hate crimes and biased incidents in Oregon rocketed to 366 percent amidst the pandemic. Nearly half of this percentage was reported by the AAPI community. Last December 2020, an Asian American man was punched while waiting at a train stop. A month later an Afghan American store owner got attacked and called anti-Muslim slurs. Nine Asian-owned businesses in the Jade District had their windows smashed and vandalized. And this January 22, an Asian-American woman got kicked on both shins and called racial slurs while commuting on a TriMet bus with her son in Southeast Portland. Take note that these are just some of the reported crimes, and there are likely more undocumented and unreported harassments.
In an interview with Oregon State University’s Director for Diversity & Cultural Engagement, Reagan Le, he stated that “I can’t necessarily speak on behalf of the Asian American community in Oregon, but for me, it’s important to recognize how anti-Asian violence is ingrained into U.S. history and is not a social media trend. COVID and political rhetoric has certainly elevated the reporting, visibility and awareness of anti-Asian violence, but this violence goes back generations and occurs daily whether reported or posted on social media.” He added that the Asian American community in Oregon displayed their anger and fear of the recent anti-Asian violences happening across the country and within Oregon by attending a Stop Asian Hate Candlelight Vigil. “They are concerned about their own safety and especially that of women and the elderly. They are angry of continually being silenced and invisible when it comes to racial and gender violence against the Asian American community.”
Le believes that the addition of a robust Ethnic Studies program to the K-12 curriculum would be very helpful for students to learn more about the history of different racial groups in the U.S. and all the violence, racism and discrimination they had to face. “Educating yourself and engaging in mutual learning is a step, and another step is cultivating cultural and/or mindset shifts in how we collectively build relationships and seek differing perspectives from another while eliminating any forms of harm. This work has to be done in collaboration and in solidarity with other BIPOC communities while highlighting the unique needs and impacts each community faces.”
According to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) Pacific Islander and Asian Community and Civic Engagement Coordinator, Bryna Cortes, we must be able to recognize racism in order to stand up against it. “Learning about the history of racism in the U.S. and Oregon is fundamental. We need to learn more about white supremacy and how racism has created cycles of oppression within Black, Indigenous, and communities of color—which includes Asians. This upcoming legislative session, there are a few bills (eg. SB 683, SB 227) aimed to improve our education system so that students can learn about these histories and more specifically about their own as well.”
Le also pointed out the U.S’s history of blaming the country’s shortcomings to a certain group of people. “Chinese folks were specifically blamed for COVID-19, but because ‘all Asians look the same’ most if not all Asian Americans are to be blamed. COVID-19 originated in China, but U.S. pandemic preparedness and actions (or lack of actions) resulted in the U.S. having the most cases and deaths globally,” Le added. “ U.S. economic shortfalls are blamed on immigration through the southern border, when it’s really due to the U.S. foreign political and economic policies. Basically, deflection of responsibilities and accountabilities on BIPOC causes chaos, which strengthen white supremacy.”
President Joe Biden recently issued a memorandum condemning and combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance against the AAPI community here in the United States. Considering the fact that certain political leaders helped nurtured xenophobic standpoints by labeling the COVID-19 virus as “kung-flu” and referencing the virus by the geographic location of the origin, the new administration will help combat anti-Asian hate crimes and harrassment. According to Biden’s memorandum, the Federal Government will step up and will provide responsibility to restraining xenophobia against everyone in America including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Racially motivated crimes were taking place even before the pandemic started, but the racism and violence the AAPI community were experiencing were gradually rising as the pandemic went on. The AAPI community is fed up with all the scapegoating, harassment, slurs, and discrimination. Enough is enough. Asians are not viruses like what all these perpetrators perceive them to be. Asians are humans too. We matter too. You don’t have to be Asian to care, you don’t have to be Asian to help stand up against this harassment. “If you see something, say something!” Stand up and help report incidents on stopaapihate.org. More resources here Anti-AsianViolenceResources.carrd and more recommendations here API Hate Crime Solidarity Letter.