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    By Nicholas Morgan                                      Follow East Palo Alto Today on
    East Palo Alto Today                                Facebook        Twitter         Blog              
    March 28, 2021                                    EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


    Demonstrator holds an Asian Lives Matter sign at an anti-Asian hate rally in Redwood City on Saturday, March 27, 2021. Photo courtesy of Arby Thomas.


    Asian Americans are encountering increased hostility amid the COVID-19 pandemic and it has engendered fear in their communities.

    According to an Ipsos survey released last summer, 30 percent of Americans have witnessed some form of bias against Asian-Americans over COVID-19. Another survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that four in ten Asian-American adults reported experiences where non-Asian American peers displayed discomfort around them since the start of the pandemic. 

    Widely known is the fact that the COVID- 19 virus first appeared in Wuhan, China in November 2019 before it spread beyond the country’s borders, becoming a global concern. Before the virus reached its peak in the United States, Asian-Americans already began to experience hate crimes aimed at them because of early associations of COVID-19 and China. This was particularly acute during the 2020 presidential election with then-President Donald Trump’s frequent invocations of derogatory terms including “China virus” and “kung flu.”

    At a panel discussion hosted by Ethnic Media Services last month, experts described what measures they believe should be adopted in order to protect against hate crimes or other acts of discrimination.

    John C. Yang, President and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), framed the current situation as part of a wider, but oft-mentioned discrimination against Americans of Asian, especially Chinese, descent.

    At the end of the 19th century, there was a widespread fear of Chinese Americans, whom white Americans accused of stealing jobs from their communities. This ultimately resulted in acts of violence including the 1871 lynching of 20 Chinese men in Los Angeles and riots against other Asian-American groups in the early 20th century. This risk came into focus after the shooting at three Asian-run spas in the Atlanta area served as a reminder of the discrimination faced by Asian-Americans as the virus continues to take life daily.

    Yang explained that bias during COVID-19 was a continuation of this long trend in American history.

    “Asian Americans have been fighting two viruses. One is the COVID-19 virus that all of us face and health affects the economic effects of that virus, but unfortunately, Asian Americans have also had like a second virus, a virus of racism, a virus that is affecting us in a disparate way,” said Yang.

    Yang suggested that the government can work to combat this through economic aid to impacted communities and do more to foster cross-cultural conversations to reduce bias.

    Marc Morial, President and CEO, The National Urban League, echoed this call to reduce discrimination by including anti-Asian bias into the wider fight against racism. A starting point to this would be rejecting the bigoted rhetoric like former President Trump’s and those who repeat his words. 

    "I think there's always been a line between free speech and hate speech," explained Morial. "But when hatred leads to violence, when hate speech, incites acts of violence, then free speech protections go away, then what you're doing is inciting violence, by what you say, by how you stereotype and how you condemn.”

    “We also need to make it very clear that hate speech that leads to violent acts against innocent people is illegal. It's inappropriate and should be, if you will, punishable by the law and by our judicial system.”

    Ultimately, the solution to this problem will come from fostering a culture of increased tolerance within a country that is rapidly becoming more diverse. One place to start according to the assembled experts would be in ending the proliferation of hate speech or conspiracy-mongering in the American political discourse.

    An early step to this end has already come from President Joe Biden’s administration, which has made both respecting diversity and combatting COVID-19 among its main priorities. Only six days after being sworn in, President Biden released a memorandum that condemned racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian-Americans, a corrective to President Trump’s dalliance with bigoted statements.

    Cynthia Choi, co-director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and the co-creator of the Stop AAPI Hate Center, said that change will start when a more diverse set of leaders is elected into the current political system, which is dominated by white, usually male politicians.

    “That's what we have to start talking about, how do we build the power to start electing more leaders that represent the different groups in the United States?” asked Choi.

    "Minorities live integrated lives," she added. "We have to find a way to start a new cultural revolution that will reflect the reality of this country that is no longer after the 60% white population in this country.”

    Nicholas Morgan contributes articles and reports of special interest to East Palo Alto Today.