I wanted to learn more about the struggles Asian Americans are facing during the coronavirus pandemic and what can be done to support them. I interviewed Meera Venugopal, the development and communications manager of the Asian American Federation, and Joyce Moy, executive director of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at the City University of New York.
Kevin Louie: What can Asian Americans and allies do to prevent hate crimes in this time?
Meera Venugopal: It is important for the community to know what help is available, and that they are not alone. Asian Americans can prevent anti-Asian bias by reporting incidents. It’s necessary for people to share their stories to make sure their voices are heard. Sharing, even if anonymously, helps start conversations. Asian American stories matter.
If you are the target of racism or witness an incident, the Asian American Federation created an anti-Asian bias reporting form for people who have experienced violence and harassment. Stand Against Hatred also has a reporting form, and incidents can also be phoned in to the New York State Hate Crimes Task Force (1-888-392-3644) and NYC Commission on Human Rights (718-722-3131).
Joyce Moy: You can also get involved with Asian American organizations that speak out against hate crimes through statements and petitions signed by as many diverse supporters and allies as possible. These documents are then to be shared widely with elected officials and community leaders encouraging them to make official statements condemning racist and hateful behavior towards Asian Americans. The statements then, optimally, are followed by a press conference where the head of law enforcement supports that message.
KL: What should Asian Americans do if they are scared to go out in public due to the racism and possible physical and verbal attacks?
MV: This is a frightening time. You can stay inside and look for resources at home, like delivery services or food assistance that may be available. It is also important to have support from allies. We are working to create Hate Free Zones that will allow victims of hate to get help from other community members or stores. Others can be trained in bystander intervention, which teaches people safe methods to protect others who are being harassed.
JM: I fear being attacked as well. It is sad that my children fear more about my safety and being attacked by a bigot, than about me catching the virus. I advise people to avoid going out in public unless necessary. Try not to travel alone, have the phone easily available to dial 911, and be alert. Don’t be distracted by reading your phone, or being plugged into music or audio. Try to avoid walking too close to others. If you feel you are being followed or targeted, try to duck into a store.
KL: What tips can you give Asian American immigrants and Asian Americans, particularly those in areas like Flushing and Chinatown, who might not have access to information or resources?
MV: There are organizations that help serve these people by providing information in their first language. Some information is available here and here. There are many nonprofits in Flushing and Chinatown who work closely with these communities. Some of these organizations are included in the Asian American Federation’s member agencies.
JM: Reaching out by phone to community-based organizations (CBOs) serving the Asian American communities in these neighborhoods is a good start. That organization is likely to be mobilized and can connect you to other resources. For those who may not have access to or are not great with technology, finding help may be harder. Older immigrants who may rely on print newspapers may be at a loss. Therefore, I suggest you check in on your older neighbors via call, or slipping a note under their door.
KL: What should non-Asian audiences know about this country’s deep history of xenophobia/bigotry toward Asian Americans?
JM: It is important that we teach the history of America in an honest and inclusive way. On the road of American history, we have all walked a part of the same path. If we learned each other’s history, there would be a better understanding of how we have all been hurt by bigotry and exclusion.
I am the fourth generation of my family in the U.S. My relatives were stopped from becoming U.S. citizens by the Chinese Exclusion Act. I have been told to “go back to China” by people whose families have been here for generations less than mine. My family served this country in foreign wars; my younger uncles served in the Navy and the Army. Yet, I am challenged as a foreigner, who is seen as a virus.
So if we understood each other’s history, and the fact that we have all taken some part of the same path on the long road of America’s history, would we not all better understand for instance, that Black Lives Matter? Or that bigotry and hate is damaging, and has caused all families to have suffered trauma over the years? That bigotry and hate impacts the way our communities engage with each other and develop?
We must ensure that our voices are heard. Too often, our story is told by others.
More Historical Context
Anti-Asian violence is not new in America. Fears of being targeted and not receiving justice have hampered generations of Asian Americans. In 1871, after one police officer was wounded and one man was killed in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, a mob of 500 rioters targeted, lynched, and dragged Chinese residents through the streets. Only eight rioters were convicted of manslaughter charges, all of which were overturned. A century later, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was killed because attackers thought he was Japanese, and thus responsible for Detroit’s auto industry woes in the early 1980s. None of his killers received jail time. Chin was murdered in a fashion that echoes some of the senseless killings of today.