The Long Beach-based Kutturan Chamoru Foundation hosted a faith-based discussion online on Wednesday, March 3 to counter the rise in racism and xenophobia experienced by the Asian community during the pandemic.
The event was held in collaboration with the SoCal Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response Team as part of their Talk Story Series, with the public invited to attend the Zoom meeting or watch it live-streamed on the Kutturan Chamoru Foundation’s Facebook page.
The discussion was led by ‘Alisi Tulua if the SoCal Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response Team, Reverend Pausa Kaio Thompson of the Dominguez Samoan Church in Compton and Activist Minister Diane Ujiye.
During the opening prayer given by Thompson, he asked that God “be with all of us this evening as we partake on this very special and very needed conversation about violence and the impact it has on our brothers and sisters of the Asian American community, and also within the Pacific Islander communities.”
The group Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate recorded 2,808 reported incidents of racism experienced by people of Asian descent in the United States between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The vast majority of these incidents, 43.8%, occurred in California.
Out of the 2,808 racist incidents Asian Americans reported to Stop AAPI Hate, 70.9% involved verbal harassment, 21.4% involved shunning or avoidance, 8.7% were physical assaults, 8% involved civil rights violations such as being denied service by establishments, public transportation and ride shares, and 6.4% involved coughing or spitting on the victim.
13.6% of victims were teenagers under 20-years-old, and 7.3% were seniors over the age of 60.
People of Chinese descent most often reported being the victims of racist acts during this time, making up 40.7% of victims recorded by Stop AAPI Hate. An additional 15.1% of victims identified as Korean, 8.2% as Vietnamese and 7.2% as Filipino.
Rhetoric used by former president Donald Trump, such as the terms “Chinese virus,” and “Kung Flu,” have been attributed to stoking anti-Chinese sentiments during the pandemic. Trump used the latter term during a rally hosted inside a church in Phoenix, Arizona, to the great enthusiasm of the audience.
Ujiye, who is of Japanese descent, pointed out that although racism against Asians recently became more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a problem they’ve faced for generations. Her own parents were among the more than 100,000 innocent Japanese Americans jailed in camps during World War II.
“This is not the first time I’ve looked like the enemy: World War Two, Korean War, Vietnam, the covert war in Cambodia. And anti-Asian sentiment, ‘yellow peril’ hysteria, is part of, I think, a symptom of white supremacy, white hegemony, white ownership, white power, white privilege and white entitlement. And it has been infused in all aspects of daily life, including the American church,” Ujiye said.
Ujiye noted that a strategy commonly used by power structures that maintain white supremacy is the tactic of ‘divide and conquer,’ in which marginalized communities are manipulated into fighting against each other rather than their oppressor.
This behavior was exemplified when a series of videos showing instances where young Black people were the perpetrators of violence against Asian elders sparked a wave of racist comments against Black people as a whole throughout social media.
Despite the fact that there were already documented cases showing that racists of various ethnic backgrounds were harassing and attacking Asians, people used the existence of Black perpetrators as an excuse to mock the Black Lives Matter movement. It appeared that people genuinely wanted to argue that because a few members of the Black race had attacked Asians, this somehow illegitimized any and every Black person’s desire for racial equality.
The videos that people pointed to, to make this non sequitur included the ones depicting the Jan. 2021 killing of Vicha Ratanapkadee after he was shoved to the ground without any provocation by a suspect alleged to be Antoine Watson, the video allegedly by Dewayne Grayson that shows himself participating in the attack and robbery of a 68-year-old Asian man, and security footage showing a suspect believed to be Yahya Muslim pushing a 91-year-old Asian man to the ground before allegedly going on to attack two other elderly Asian people.
But it’s not hard to find plenty of examples of non-Black people being racist to Asian Americans as well.
For example, Long Beach resident Lena Hernandez was the subject of two viral videos that showed her racially harassing Asian American people at Wilson Park in Torrance on June 10, 2020.
In the first video, Hernandez can be seen cursing and making xenophobic statements to a young Asian American woman exercising in the park.
“Go back to whatever [expletive] Asian country you belong in,” Hernandez yelled. “This is not your place. This is not your home. We do not want you here.”
The second video shows Hernandez verbally attacking a father and son in the same park.
“You need to go home,” Hernandez tells the man as she continues to approach him. “I don’t care about your Facebook or your video. Do you know how many people can’t stand you being here? You play games, we don’t play games.”
Hernandez was later arrested for physically assaulting a woman who tried to stop her from harassing a custodian.
Last month, 27-year-old Denny Kim reported that he had been attacked by two Hispanic men who beat him and called him slurs in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.
There have also been multiple accounts of Asian people being verbally or physically attacked by white people made to Stop AAPI Hate since the pandemic started.
In Feb. 2021, a white woman was arrested for storming into an Asian owned business to blatantly steal from it, announcing she did not have to pay because of the owners’ race. The same woman, Karen Inman, also approached an Asian man who was having lunch with a friend the same day and spit on him before calling him a racial slur.
Both Thompson and Ujiye spoke about the importance of solidarity between marginalized communities in dismantling the racial hierarchy established by white supremacy. Under this racial hierarchy, white people historically placed themselves at the top and Black people at the bottom, with other communities of color were forced to compete with each other for closer proximity to whiteness to ensure their social standing.
“I pause and I lament with those who who have lost their fathers and their mothers, their uncles, their grandpas, their grandmas, their cousins, at the hands of white supremacy. And even if the so called perpetrators are people of color I still believe it is a symptom of being pitted against each other, socially, spiritually, but very candidly, economically,” Ujiye said.
She further discussed the history of both racial tensions and solidarity that have existed between the Asian and Black communities, spanning from the shooting of Latasha Harlins by Korean shop owner Soon Ja Du in 1991 to the unity of Asian and Black students in the Third World Liberation Front in the 60s.
“Candidly, when I see violence against Asians by white people I see it differently than I see violence against Asians by Black folks, because of the internalized oppression, because of being pitted against each other,” Ujiye said.