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Tense Communities with Anti-Asian Hate Increasing

noe tanigawa
Since the pandemic began, 31% of English speaking Asians in America have been the butt of jokes or slurs, according to a Pew research poll last July.

As the murder trial that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement progresses in Minnesota, violence against Asians appears to be increasing across the US. Nearly three thousand incidents of bias have been reported, and communities are looking for new ways to deal with it.

Credit Noe Tanigawa
Oakland organizer Alvina Wong says violence against Asians is part of an increase in crime in neighborhoods of people of color. The Asian Pacific Environmental Network and others are looking for allies and solutions beyond arrest and incarceration.


Extended interview with Alvina Wong and Terisa Siagatonu about their communities in the Bay Area, from the Aloha Friday Conversation.

Alvina Wong, is Campaign Organizing Director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, or APEN. She works with Asian immigrants in Oakland, California, a hot spot for reported attacks.  

"I think they are afraid to go out because of Covid," says Wong, "And because it just feels like everyone's against us right now."  


In January a Thai man was shoved and died from his injuries in San Francisco. Several elders have been attacked in Oakland. Sports figures, celebrities, and law enforcement continue to draw attention to more than 700 incidents in the Bay Area alone. Chinese have lived in California for 200 years.


"Where I'm at is it's just heartbreaking and in some ways devastating to know that the place we call home, or some of us were born here, are continuously "othered," and attacked and harassed just by being who we are," says Wong.


"We've seen that repeatedly, again and again," says Seth Brysk, Central Pacific Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL. "Where people demonstrate loyalty, they demonstrated contributions to society and yet they are still being targeted by hate and there are still attempts to marginalize them."


"We had at the highest levels of government, people who were scapegoating the inefficacy of a governmental response against the pandemic by invoking racist terminology that targeted Chinese in particular but really all Asians," says Brysk. "What we're seeing here, in the midst of a complex and difficult situation, people are going for easy solutions. And in some cases, that means bias."


An online incident tracker has recorded nearly 3-thousand reports of abuse against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the US since the pandemic began. The cases involve name calling, verbal abuse, pushing, shunning. Yesterday a woman was arrested for spitting on a man eating his lunch in Mountain View. Increased surveillance, arrests, and incarceration are common responses to crime in immigrant and underprivileged neighborhoods.


"They want to hear who are we going to lock up, and who is going to be held responsible for this, that's what they want to hear."


Poet, educator, Terisa Siagatonu says her community has already been torn by what she calls the violence of gentrification. 


"That's another part of the tension right now because a lot of us are trying to move away from alternatives that use arrest and conviction as our answer. We know that those tactics have not ensured safety for a long time." 


Affordable housing, living wage jobs, healthcare, and education are the long term answers, according to Wong.


Meanwhile, in Oakland, and neighboring areas, Wong says hate incidents are increasing.


"We've also heard that outside of Oakland, police were responsible for killing a mentally ill Filipino man so we are all on edge because we don't know who to call and who to trust and where to go when we are in need."


"Hate does not confine itself to one group when people hate one group, they're going to invariably hate others," says Brysk. He says seemingly small incidents can increase our tolerance for hate, and bystanders are critically important.


"We would encourage people to consider themselves as up-standers. Not to put yourself at risk, simply to say, when the opportunity presents itself, This is not okay with me, I'm not going to take part in this."


Hawaii has averaged about 2 hate incident reports a year since tallies started in 2002. Here's the latest Hate Crimes in Hawai'i report covering 2019. No official numbers yet on 2020, but the ACLU and Hawai'i Civil Rights Commission say they have not received any reports of bias incidents in Hawai'i in the past year. 

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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