This past year has seen a disturbing spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. The horrific shooting in Atlanta, where a gunman killed eight people including six Asian women, is one of the more high-profile incidents but hardly the only one. The same day as the Atlanta tragedy, Stop AAPI Hate released a report documenting nearly 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian racism since March of 2020, 500 of which have occurred in the past few months. Major cities in the United States have seen a 150 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crime since the start of the pandemic, even as hate crimes overall decreased.
Texas is not an exception to the rise in anti-Asian hate. On Sunday, an Asian-owned restaurant was vandalized with racist slurs. The owner, Mike Nguyen, had previously appeared on national TV to denounce Gov. Greg Abbott’s lifting of the mask mandate.
Several hate crimes have occurred just in the course of writing this article. On Wednesday for example, a man in San Francisco physically assaulted a 75-year old Asian-American woman, although she fought back with a stick and the assailant had to be rolled away on a stretcher.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg as many instances of racism go unreported. “Recent coverage of my efforts has already been met with haters naming me personally in the comment section,”said Myra Dumapias, a representative of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Justice based in San Antonio. “These comments, along with the ignorant accusations directed at Noodle Tree owner Mike Nguyen can give a clue to why some are silent.”
The surge in hate crimes have left the Asian-American community in a state of shock. “It’s just been very hard to just remove yourself from it when all you can think of is your parents and your grandparents. It’s such an intimate experience, I think for a lot of us first and second generation Asian-Americans,” said Linh Nguyen, Executive Director of RUN AAPI. “Oftentimes, it’s even hard for us and by us, I mean specifically our community, to even talk about this issue and explicitly name what’s happening.”
The flames of xenophobia and hatred against asian-Americans have been stocked by Donald Trump, who frequently referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” and “Kung-Flu.” Even out of office, his rhetoric still has an impact. “Today, anti-AAPI and anti-immigrant hate continues as a distraction tactic from our failed Republican leadership’s mismanagement of the pandemic,” said Ashley Cheng, a member of the Democratic National Committee who represents the TX AAPI Caucus. “We still have top Republican leaders calling COVID-19 the ‘China virus’ and wrongfully putting blame on Latinx immigrants, and our lives are now even more at risk because of this.”
The narrative coming from the media and law enforcement surrounding attacks on Asians has often been problematic as well, particularly in the case of Georgia shooting. In the wake of the deadly attack, a Sheriff’s deputy said that the killer had told investigators that the killings were motivated by “addiction to sex” rather than race, while also stating that the killer had a “really bad day.” It was later revealed that the deputy had previously shared racist anti-Asian content on Facebook.
“The fact that media has put so much attention on the murderer’s narrative, amplified by a sheriff who dismissed the actions of a murderer guilty of the biggest mass shooting since 2019, as having ‘had a bad day’ adds to this problem,” said Dumapias. “We still have deep seated racism that dismisses the voice and concerns of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community when U.S. mainstream media avoided using ‘Asian’ in headlines the day of the event and international news outlets did not hesitate to make the connection.”
Even taking the killer’s stated motive of sexual addiction at face value, that doesn’t remove race from the equation. Asian women have long been subject to racist hypersexualization in America, and there’s a clear link between that and the murder of six Asian women in Georgia. “The lack of acknowledgement of the Atlanta shootings as anti-AAPI hate crimes completely misses the point that the longstanding sexualization and exotification of Asian women is problematic and dangerous,” Cheng told the Signal “That is part of systemic racism.”
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to stem the surge in hate, and the AAPI community is not standing still. “We’ve never really waited for the party, we’ve never waited for elected officials, we couldn’t wait on anyone,” said Nguyen. Nguyen cited the example of a woman in Los Angeles who translated a booklet on how to report hate crimes into Korean for her parents. The woman and several other members of the community ended up translating the booklet into multiple languages.
AAPIs for Justice have created a form where people can report racism against Asian-Americans in the San Antonio area. “The Track AAPI Hate SATX form is a way for us to collect stories about experiences individuals in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have with racism in general or racist attacks,” said Dumapias. “We are also evaluating the way the AAPI community is being helped and how their experiences are treated by managers, law enforcement and media. The data will be helpful in planning for training, services or programs and policy advocacy.”
Activists are also urging action from government leaders. Cheng urged Texans to support HCR66, a non-partisan resolution in the Texas legislature condemning hatred against AAPIs and highlighted work that needed to be done in other areas. “It is terrible that those who are most vulnerable and often the subject of racism after events like this are often expected to stand up and immediately do the work of righting all the systemic wrongs,” said Cheng. “These events have highlighted the intersection of the work still needing to be done in gun sense legislation, sex workers rights and protections.”
Less than a year ago, the country was faced with a reckoning on systemic racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Eliminating the scourge of racism and white supremacy in America is something that’s long overdue, and the hate crimes against Asian-Americans should serve as a reminder of the work that remains.