Asian American celebrities, community groups, and nonprofits are responding to a recent spike in verbal harassment and violence committed against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community connected to the COVID-19 epidemic. Advocates say more needs to be done to protect immigrant communities from such incidents and from the continuing economic fallout stemming from COVID-19.
“Hate crimes and hate incidents are chronically underreported,” Marita Etcubañez, the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), told Supermajority News. “We are really urging the community to share their stories with us so that we can get a better understanding of what is happening.”
According to Etcubañez, several groups already increased their tracking of hate incidents against the AAPI communities since January 2017 in response to an increase of such occurrences after the 2016 election. Since the coronavirus epidemic began to more seriously affect the U.S., an increasing number of AAPI community members have been reaching out to file reports on AAJC’s multilingual Stand Against Hatred website.
“Early on we were very vocal about the president’s and other elected officials’ usage terms like ‘the china virus’ and some of the pushback we were getting was that ‘you are being overly P.C.,” Etcubañez said. “But these words have consequences.”
Asian American women in particular have reported an increase in coronavirus-related abuse in recent weeks. In a March 30 press release, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) noted that AAPI women were three times more likely to have reported experiencing a hate-related incident than men the week of March 23, which coincided with the closure of many businesses nationwide.
“These are hard-working women, business owners, leaders, and contributing members of society who deserve respect and support,” said NAPAWF president Sue Ann Hong in a statement. “Verbal harassment and shunning cause fear that negatively impacts the safety of the AAPI community and the economy.”
To combat this, AAJC recently partnered with the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback to put together a free online bystander intervention training series; several trainings are scheduled for later this spring and summer. “We have also been talking to groups that have been organizing in their communities urging local elected officials to use their platforms to speak out,” Etcubañez said. Elected officials “shouldn’t just wait for something to happen, they should affirmatively let the community know that they are not alone,” Etcubañez added.
The community can also come together by fully harnessing their power at the voting booth. A recent analysis from the Pew Research Center found that Asian Americans make up the fastest-growing group of voters in the United States. Despite that, turnout has not always been high among this demographic.
“People need to get involved. Fill out your census form. If you are a U.S. citizen, register to vote. Make sure you actually do vote,” said Etcubañez. “People need to be engaged, and I think they need to vote their values and hold their elected officials accountable for meeting their communities’ needs.”