Officials report surge in hate crimes against Asian-American Pacific Islander community

California experiences an upsurge of anti-Asian hate crimes and COVID cases hitting the AAPI community


Nancy Xiong, director of development and communications with the Sacramento-based Hmong Innovating Politics, is fighting anti-Asian hate and rhetoric by advocating against anti-Asian hate crimes and more health funding for the APPI community who’ve been disapropietly affected with cases of COVID-19. (Photo by Irvis Orozco)

Anti-Asian racial bias related to the origins of the COVID-19 virus continues throughout California and the United States, as more than 1,116 hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community have been reported in California by the Stop the AAPI Hate campaign from March through August of this year. Outgoing President Donald Trump continued to call COVID-19 the “kung flu” virus during his 2020 presidential run and his subsequent loss at the polls.

Many of the hate crimes reported have been verbal, but have escalated to violence and physical harm, including the assault of an elderly Asian man in San Francisco in February according to an NBC news article, and multiple incidents of people spitting on Asian-Americans, according to NPR news.

Trump supporters listening to Trump’s rhetoric often mimic and shout his racist views including at his rallies, according to the Washington Post. They believe that because the virus was first reported in China, the AAPI community in the US is now somehow a super spreader of the disease, when many in the community have long lasting historical established history in California and the US. Trump has gotten backlash from AAPI leaders on his handling of this. Now however, there are resources to combat these types of racial induced hate crimes.

The Stop the AAPI Hate Campaign was designed as a safe resource for the AAPI community to report by phone or online any COVID-19 related hate crime cases. People can now safely report these instances in more than a dozen Asian languages. The site is also a safe ground where the AAPI community can feel comfortable to contact regardless of immigration status. It was established in early March.

The campaign was created by the Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, and San Francisco State’s Asian American ethnic studies department with other regional statewide partners, including partners in Sacramento.

Nancy Xiong, director of development and communications with the Sacramento-based Hmong Innovating Politics, says that she has been busy translating COVID-19 related resources involving prevention as well as helping conduct research for the Stop AAPI Hate Campaign. Xiong says she has a message for Trump.

“We are not a virus, our communities are not indispensable, we will continue to stand alongside black and brown communities against his racist rhetoric and racist policies,” Xiong said.

According to Xiong, the AAPI community has been affected by COVID-19 cases at higher rates, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying, “Asian populations were disproportionately affected by COVID-19, in hotspot areas.”

The report titled, “Disparities in Incidence of COVID-19 Among Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups,” explains that few studies have assessed COVID-19 disparities among Asian populations nationally. The report accounts for the higher current rates of deaths, as many individuals in the AAPI community work in the service and healthcare industry.

“A big issue is not being able to have disaggregated data at the level of finding who’s impacted and how we’re able to get funding to support them,” Xiong said.

Xiong said several AAPI civil rights organizations working on this campaign are now looking for Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide more health care funding and for the California government to protect Asian-Americans with similar hate crime initiatives that have been set in the past for acts against African-Americans.

Xiong says she has also felt the racism perpetrated towards the community. She explains that as part of her duty early on during the year was to train young AAPI people to register diverse communities in Sacramento to vote. These young AAPI community organizers experienced anti-Asian hate while knocking on doors prior to the pandemic closures.

As one of the only Asian American communities that had done voter outreach in the Sacramento area, Xiong said organizers received anti-Asian hate speech while going door to door. Xiong added that while canvassing, organizers would often have doors shut in their faces or hear phrases such as “kung fu virus” as they visited residences.

According to Xiong, many of the community members participating expressed fear regarding continuing the canvassing. This is as a majority of the AAPI community are facing heightened anxiety and depression from acts now commonly reported according to Xiong.

At a September virtual town hall, Rising Up Against Anti-Asian Hate & Violence During COVID-19 that was hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander Rise Fund, scholars, community organizers, activists, artists and local leaders were invited to discuss this current dilemma affecting the AAPI community.

The event featured University of California, Davis Asian American studies Professor Robyn Rodriguez, who lost a son to COVID-19 in the Philippines recently. Rodriguez leads as director of the Bulosan Center for Filipino studies and said research and resources are needed for the AAPI community to combat hate instances.

“The great majority of cases of anti-Asian hate is in the form of verbal harassment and name callings,” Rodriguez said. “[I’m] helping [to] provide tools to address the deep structural inequalities that the AAPI community face.”

Rodriguez said she is also conducting research with the Stop the AAPI Hate Campaign and tracking instances of hate crimes in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo counties.

Rodriguez further explained that children are being greatly affected by the emotional and verbal harassment they were facing before school closures.

She detailed a quote from one of the incidents reported in the Stop the AAPI Hate campaign from an anonymous mother whose daughter has been affected by racial hate. The note read in part, “for several days leading towards school closures my 10-year-old daughter was singled out and blamed for bringing and spreading Coronavirus by fellow students. This led to her depression and desire not to be Asian,” according to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said that incidents like this show the urgency for ethnic studies in K-12 schools.

“We need ethnic studies, to build a sense of belonging, for young people to learn about their history and culture and for other kids to learn about others’ cultures,” Rodriguez said.

California State Senator Richard Pan, who is also a physician, says blaming the AAPI community for COVID-19 is the wrong rhetoric and is counterproductive.

“Viruses can emerge from anywhere, it just happened that in this case, the first place to identify the virus was China. In fact in the public health community we no longer name viruses or the outbreaks they cause by their geographic origin,” Pan said.

The scientific community is also finding contradicting research into the true origins of COVID-19 and when the virus reached the United States, pointing that the virus could have already been in the states when China first reported cases.

Pan also said the APPI community has been uniquely affected with higher rates of COVID-19 and further explained the reason for these statistics.

“[There is] large income inequality in the AAPI community, which is bigger than that of any other racial or ethnic group,” Pan said.

Pan also said that more than half of the AAPI community are immigrants, and these factors led the AAPI diaspora to have fewer resources and language barriers.

“There is a large part of the AAPI community who are essential workers. On the frontline we often think of [AAPI] healthcare workers, but actually there’s a lot of people working in the fields, on the frontlines of grocery stores, getting us food and delivery,” Pan said. “When you’re an essential worker you can’t afford not to go to work.”

Pan says that reporting hate crimes should be a priority as well and that people should make sure they are safe and document any type of harassment and to contact the police.

“We are urging local leaders and law enforcement agencies to take the reporting seriously and if there’s hate crimes involved, they need to be prosecuted,” Pan said.

According to Scott Crow, American River College public information officer, no Asian hate crimes have been reported to officials on the ARC campus this year. Crow said that if any incidents occur, they should be reported and the school would investigate the situation thoroughly.

“The first goal of ARC would be to ensure the safety of the individual/group as well as the safety of the broader community,” Crow said. “Next, the incident would be investigated by the Los Rios Police Department and the college’s Office of Student Conduct and Title IX Coordinator.”

The school would also provide support and resources to affected students, according to Crow.

Xiong points out that in order to solve hate crimes and the disproportionately impacted cases of COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, leaders need to protect the AAPI community and front line workers, and also have rent freezes, provide extra income to families that aren’t able to work, and to pay front line workers hazard pay.

“It’s wild to see leaders talk about all these high rates of COVID, but at the same time no one is doing anything to offset or protect essential workers,” Xiong said.