NASHVILLE, TN –Susanna Yee’s grandmother, 89-year-old Yik Oi Huang, was badly beaten by a Black teenager in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood in January 2019. For months, Huang hung onto her life but eventually died from her injuries in 2020. Since then, more than 10,000 Asian Americans, mostly elderly women, have been insulted or attacked, according to Stop AAPI Hate, Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
“At the playground that my grandmother was attacked at, we are reclaiming this space by re-naming the playground in her name,” Yee said. The idea to commemorate Grandma Huang came from a Black staffer at the Visitacion Valley community center, Ronald Colthirst, who came up with the name “Yik Oi Huang Peace and Friendship Park”.
“That to me was a sense of belonging. He saw my pain and he wants to work together to create this safe park, to invest in a safer playground where no one needs to walk and do their exercises in fear,” she said.
After her initial shock and outrage passed, Yee realized that the perpetrator, 17-year-old Keonte Gathron, must have been in pain. “I know hurt people hurt people,” she said.
Yee teaches yoga and meditation to elderly Chinese. Her work combats their anxiety and depression and has helped her relate to her own suffering and to become more compassionate towards others. “We are all settlers here,” Yee said. Inspired by Black Lives Matter, Lee’s group came up with a slogan: “Asians Belong”.
Yee quoted the late teacher and activist Bell Hooks: “When we choose to love we choose to move against fear, against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect, to find ourselves in the other.”
Yee said every person has a sentient body. “And we should get in contact with what we are feeling so that when we are out on the street, we can be aware of our surroundings and what is happening, so that we can either make connection or move away from danger,” she said.
Three other Asian American women spoke to ethnic media outlets last week about how they are moving past the hate and organizing their communities to keep people safe.
“The objectification of Asian American women is nothing new and the pandemic has just exasperated this for many of us,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Executive Director, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
In March 2020 the coronavirus broke out. Speaking in Phoenix in June 2020 former President Trump referred to COVID-19 as “kung flu”. “We are targeted both for our race and our gender,” said Choimorrow.
AAPI conducted a poll in 2021. More than 70% of AAPI voters who voted in the 2020 election said they experienced racial harassment or discrimination between June 2019 and January 2021. Racist attitudes and discrimination against Chinese is nothing new.
Asians experienced racism even before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1883. An 1850 law prohibited Asian women from traveling without a male relative because they were presumed to be prostitutes or Dragon Ladies. Discriminatory laws against Chinese people were followed by anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II.
“We have been seeing more and more people step up to take action in response to this increase in anti-Asian hate that we have seen in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marita Etcubañez, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC.
“We have been seeing more and more people step up to take action in response to this increase in anti-Asian hate that we have seen in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Etcubañez.
More incidents of racist rhetoric and anti-Asian harassment are being reported to law enforcement and non-profits like AAPI even if they don’t rise to the level of hate crimes.
Etcubañez said AAJC has started teaching bystander intervention techniques in response to the recent wave of anti-Asian violence, including the murders of eight spa workers in Atlanta last year. Six of the women were Asian.
“People are very eager to learn about what they can do as individuals to help stop anti-Asian hate and harassment,” Etcubañez said.
Using a model developed by a New York-based NGO, Hollaback, AAJC has trained 160,000 people in Illinois, Washington D.C., and CA since Spring 2020.
“We can’t rely only on well-meaning individuals to make changes in their own lives, we have to work for systemic change,” she said.
Etcubañez noted the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. The new law had overwhelming bi-partisan support. There are several other legislative proposals pending.
The Hate Crimes Act calls for better data collection and reporting systems, included training for law enforcement, and mandates the U.S. Dept. of Justice to implement an on-line reporting system and offer guidance on effective public awareness campaigns to stop the hate.
The act included money for grants to do those things, including state hotline sites manned by non-profits, not law enforcement. “It sends a message that people can expect to get other kinds of support,” Etcubañez said.
“AAPI led a coalition among Asian, Black, Brown, and immigrant communities across the country,” said Michelle Kang, General Secretary of the Atlanta Korean Committee against Asian Hate.
Kang said the Korean immigrant community in Atlanta organized themselves immediately after the spa killings. “The AAPI community has become louder since the March 16 massacre,” she said.
The following day, first generation Korean Americans formed the Atlanta Korean Committee Asian Hate. Their first action was to demand protection from local, state, and federal government.
“By holding “We Are Together” events we created a space…where Black, Brown, and other people of color could gather to grieve, heal, and support each other for the first time in the Koran American community history,” Kang said.
One of the events was a march and rally on March 20, 2021 at Liberty plaza near the Georgia state capitol. Black, LatinX, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and other immigrants attended the rally to stop Asian hate.
Kang said activists are organizing a number of events in March 2022 to commemorate the anniversary of the Atlanta shootings.
“We going to have a very busy month in March in Atlanta, Georgia and moving this country forward to stop any hate crimes and to achieve racial equity, and racial justice,” she said.