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On February 4, 2020, at the very onset of the new coronavirus, a Los Angeles County college student was told by a classmate that he was a carrier of Covid-19 and that he had to “return to China.” When the boy replied that he was not Chinese, he was allegedly punched 20 times in the head and ended up in the emergency room.
The assault, a harbinger of the onslaught of racialized attacks that took place during the pandemic, helped three Asian-American activists who would become co-founders of Stop AAPI Hate, the anti-hate reporting center. Asian woman, to realize that racism was spreading faster than the virus. himself and something needed to be done to keep up with the growing number of incidents against the community.
Led by Cynthia Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, or CAA; Russell Jeung, professor and chair of the Asian American studies department at San Francisco State University; and Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, or A3PCON, Stop AAPI Hate is more than a popular hashtag or aggregator of anti-Asian incidents. It’s a rallying cry for a community that lives the pain and heartache of relentless harassment, assault and even murder.
“What’s really encouraging is the response from the Asian American community and the fact that so many people are coming to support Stop AAPI Hate,” Jeung told NBC Asian America, noting that their volunteers range from high school students to data scientists. . “I’m really proud that we can contribute to a global movement, and this is something that I think will probably be the most significant impact of Stop AAPI Hate – to galvanize the Asian-American community and to empower the community. at large.
Stop AAPI Hate formed after Jeung emailed Choi about the hundreds of anti-Asian reports he had collected in February 2020. She received his email in the middle of a CAA staff meeting, where they discussed how to start tracking the growing number of incidents. . Jeung and Choi, based in Oakland, California and San Francisco respectively, had previously worked together in the community and shared many long-standing networks, so teaming up made sense.
At around the same time, Jeung found that Kulkarni’s A3PCON, a coalition of Los Angeles-based community organizations led by Americans from Asia and the Pacific Islands, was already starting to track anti-Asian hate incidents. via a Google form.
“We started to notice that there was, in fact, a model,” said Kulkarni, who is also a lecturer in the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA. “That’s when I got a call from Russell indicating that they were considering contacting the California Attorney General’s office.
The coalition wrote a letter to then Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is now the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, asking if his office would follow up on these growing hate incidents against the community. When Becerra’s office said no and explained that it usually obtains its data from local law enforcement as per California state policy, the veteran activists decided to do it themselves.
Officials at Becerra’s office declined to comment, but pointed out that the state was implementing its existing data collection policy, which was incorporated into an annual hate crime report, and that a change in policy would be needed to change the way the Attorney General collected data.
“It is not unusual for communities and organizations to see the needs, to sound the alarm bells, and the government is often slow to act and respond,” Choi said.
The trio and their respective teams quickly developed a website with a multilingual report form.
Stop AAPI Hate launched on March 19, 2020, without funding. The co-founders weren’t sure if anyone was going to visit their website, but in the first week there were on average almost 100 self-reported hate incidents. In less than a year, they would follow nearly 4,000 cases and uncover disturbing trends, such as Asian American women reporting 2.3 times more than men.
“We knew women would be vulnerable, and I think that’s why Stop AAPI Hate, as a coalition, has been so effective,” said Choi, who previously worked with Kulkarni on gender-based violence at the Center for the Pacific. Asian Family. “We have decades of experience in understanding how these issues play out and that this has historical precedent. We knew how that would translate in terms of interpersonal attacks and how our own government and US-Asian foreign policies are also a big factor. We also knew that elected officials would, in the blink of an eye, exploit Americans’ fears over the pandemic.
The co-founders believed that if they did not document these incidents, there would be “a tendency to downplay, to suggest that it was not a big deal for Asian-American communities,” Choi said. The in-depth data from Stop AAPI Hate gave the media and the general public proof of what so many Asian Americans suspected was going on based on anecdotal evidence.
“I am deeply grateful for the work of Stop AAPI Hate in collecting data and raising public awareness of anti-Asian racism,” said historian Jane Hong, author of “Opening Doors to Asia”. “By providing Asian Americans with an accessible way to self-identify, Stop AAPI Hate has also given us a community resource, a way to ‘respond’ and record our outrage.”
Hong noted that research shows Asian Americans are among the least likely to report hate crimes.
“For every incident reported, there are a lot more that we don’t hear about,” she said. “So these numbers only capture part of the picture. It gives food for thought. “
Data from the nonprofit AAPI on policy and research recently reported that 10% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were victims of hate crimes and hate incidents in 2021.
About a year after the creation of Stop AAPI Hate, the State of California allocated $ 300,000 to support hate incident tracking and advocacy by the reporting center, which was championed by members of the Pacific Islands Legislative Caucus. Asian, as well as corporate and individual donations. The funding will be used to hire more staff, expand linguistic resources and continue to produce reports so that decision makers have relevant data on the community.
“I really feel responsible for managing the resources that have been given to us well and stopping the anti-Asian hatred,” Jeung said. “It is a very heavy burden for me.”
In addition to their regular careers and the daily work of Stop AAPI Hate, Choi, Jeung and Kulkarni have conducted hundreds of conferences and media interviews over the past year. Being surrounded by relentless tales of anti-Asian hatred and violence has taken its toll.
“It’s tough, especially after Atlanta, because it was worse than our worst nightmare,” Kulkarni said. “I know we collapsed in front of each other.”
Choi said hearing about the traumatic experiences of children and the elderly, in particular, was overwhelming.
“It was hard to be detached and just purely analytical and intellectual about it,” Choi said. “I felt like it was tiny little cuts hitting me.”
Jeung, a longtime runner, said he has run more miles this year than ever and plans to start seeing a therapist.
“I still have my spiritual practices, where I regularly pray with people and go to church,” said Jeung, a fifth-generation Chinese American who told the story of his own family with racism and its decades of work with refugees in his memoir, “At home in exile. “I have always had a strong sense of calling to work for justice and the feeling that things are not going well in society.”
Choi, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, saw how difficult it was for her Korean immigrant parents to lead their new life in the U.S. When her family moved to a predominantly white neighborhood in County of Neighbor Orange, someone vandalized their house with eggs and cut his father’s tires.
“I remember my parents talking quietly about how they believed it was because we were Asian,” she said.
Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Kulkarni, who came to the United States with her family from India at the age of 2, was one of the few South Asian faces. In fifth grade, Kulkarni’s mother applied to be a doctor at a hospital, but during the interview, a panel of white doctors told her that strangers like her “come here and steal our jobs.” Kulkarni’s parents decided to sue the hospital and the doctors, which she said evolved into a class action lawsuit and a successful settlement that led to a change in policy.
“It shaped my belief in the American legal system a lot,” said Kulkarni, who testified at a hearing in March before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on the discrimination against Asian Americans. She noted that Asian Americans had not been a topic for the subcommittee since 1987. “The fact that no issue involving our community has been raised from 1987 to today is ludicrous.” Kulkarni said.
As people finally pay attention to the community, the co-founders of Stop AAPI Hate don’t expect anti-Asian sentiment to go away anytime soon, so their efforts will continue beyond Covid-19. They believe multiple solutions are needed, from culturally competent resources for local communities to expanding ethnic studies and education and stricter federal civil rights laws.
“It’s really easy for injured people to hurt others or abused people to become abusers and then for Asian Americans who have been treated racistically and then to become racist themselves,” Jeung said. . “It’s really important to hold perpetrators accountable and speak out against racism, but also to be able to forgive and work on the bigger issue. Asian Americans now have the opportunity to become America’s racial healers rather than victims. “