Two local organizations, Alliance of Chinese Americans San Diego (ACA) and Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), organized a Stop Asian Hate Virtual Rally on Monday, April 26. Over 170 people attended the event that lasted one and half hours.
The event, which was highlighted by a dialogue with the mayor of San Diego, and anchored by four Asian community leaders, provided an opportunity for the AAPI communities to voice their concerns to City and County leaders of San Diego, as well as for the public officials to communicate to the citizens their policies, measures, and tools in combating AAPI hate crimes.
The virtual rally was moderated by the President of ACA, Sunny Rickard, who emphasized in her introduction the importance of continuing the dialogue regarding the rise of hate crimes against the AAPI community across the United States.
In his opening remarks, Mayor Gloria pointed out that our community is no stranger to bigotry, violence, and hate. Relating his deeply personal experience with discrimination, he recalled emotionally that his grandfather always wore suit on holidays and at work, including mowing the lawn because he felt it was the only way that he could be respected as a man and as a member of the community. And today, that same sort of hate, bigotry and violence are playing out against members of our elderly community and against the Asian businesses.
“It has to stop”, Mayor Gloria declared, “As the mayor of this great city, it is extremely important for everyone here tonight to hear me say that hate has no place in this city. The violence, prejudice, and bigotry against any member of the community will not be tolerated. And to the extent of these violent acts become the acts of crime, they will be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law”.
Mayor Gloria encouraged everyone to step up and speak out when hate crimes or hate incidents occur. “If we don’t, we might feel responsible for the next victim”.
Mayor Gloria continued, “if for some reason you don’t feel comfortable reporting to police, I hope you contact my office. We will be happy to work with you directly”.
Mayor Gloria ended his speech with hope for a better and stronger community: “And maybe this can be an opportunity to empower our AAPI community. And we can take this horrible time of history to somehow make our community better”.
Aiken Wang, a Westview High School student, asked Mayor Gloria a question: “Nelson Mandela once remarked that both hatred and tolerance are taught, not inherited. As a high schooler, I’ve noticed that education on the history of anti-Asian racism in our public school system usually goes uncovered, tolerance isn’t taught, will you do anything to change that?"
Mayor Gloria replied that, although he has no direct oversight or jurisdiction over the schools, he can use the mayor’s platform to advocate. He also said that during his time as a State Assemblymember, he worked with school boards to address the school curriculum. He worked on and passed Bill AB-331 which required ethnic studies for high schools. AB-1460, another bill he championed that requires California State University system to include ethnic studies, has been signed into law. Mayor Gloria encouraged Aiken to be active with school boards and other officials to make sure that the curriculum is fully represented.
Mayor Gloria had these encouraging words for Aiken, “Just know that I may be the first AAPI mayor, but I won’t be the last if you are learning these activism roots at your age. I’m very hopeful that maybe you could follow me someday in public office”.
Answering another question submitted by the audience on how to protect Asian American community from assault by the use of the humiliating label of China Virus, Mayor Gloria made it clear that such expression came from one person and the voters of this country dealt with that last November. We now have leadership that does not use that term. “That’s healing and important”, Mayor Gloria said.
In his final words to the audience, Mayor Gloria urged everyone who cares deeply about civic society to take the next step, and perhaps apply for a position with human relations commission, or a position at the Park and Recreation Board, or Arts and Culture Commission.
“We need to be at the table a lot more if we want to have the kind of power”, because “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu”.
Mayor Gloria concluded, “This is very important for me to be here tonight. People of our entire city understand that we cannot call ourselves America’s Finest City if we did not have a vibrant AAPI community”.
After Mayor Gloria, San Diego API Coalition Co-Chair Kent Lee talked about the history of racism against Asians in this country. He first introduced API Coalition which formed during the pandemic and now represents over 30 organizations.
Mr. Lee pointed out that what is happening today during the pandemic is actually not unique to this time period. It is something that has occurred in American history for a long time. For example, one of the first discriminatory immigration bills was the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by the US government in 1882. At the time, there was often this perception that Chinese Americans in particular were dirtier, and had brought diseases.
“That’s an important one to know because you think about our history and look back and you realize that what we saw during the pandemic has not been unique”, said Mr. Lee.
Even in the 1800s and 1900s, when major outbreaks of diseases occurred, often the Chinese Americans were scapegoated. For instance, in the 1900s when an outbreak of bubonic plague took place in San Francisco, all of Chinatown in San Francisco was quarantined.
“It’s not just been unique to Chinese Americans. Many know, during World War II, the United States placed 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps across the US for many years”, even though many of them were American citizens. In fact, for many of Japanese Americans at that time, the only way to prove their loyalty was to join the military. “Many don’t know that Japanese Americans in Europe were some of the most decorated units that had the highest casualties in World War II”.
Fast forward to 1980s, there was the murder of Vincent Chin which was a landmark moment for the US to consider what it meant to commit a hate crime. The two white men who killed Vincent Chin were ultimately let go on probation with only $3,000 fine.
“And then we look at what’s happening today. There is no doubt - Mayor Gloria referenced this earlier - that the language and choice of language certainly has had an impact on what we’ve seen”. Stop AAPI Hate - a database that started at the beginning of the pandemic to track the incidents around the country shows that over 3,800 incidents were reported between March of last year and February of this year. 6% of the incidents involved elderly. 13% involved youth under 18 which is the population that tend to underreport such incidents because they often took place at school.
Mr. Lee reminded the audience, “even though we haven’t seen the same type of violence in San Diego, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had cases”. In San Diego county, there were 42 reports of discrimination in 2019, half of them were harassment or name calling. “It’s important to know that 10% of them were physical assault. A lot of these happened in public spaces or in businesses”.
Dr. Lilly Cheng, Director at Chinese Cultural Center at San Diego State University, spoke next. She applauded the young audience for their questions and presence which made it possible to imagine a better future.
Dr. Cheng then proudly displayed a yellow whistle that she was wearing and proclaimed that the yellow whistle is a symbol of self-protection and solidarity in our common fight against historical discrimination and anti-Asian violence. She introduced the website for the Yellow Whistle, https://www.theyellowwhistle.org/.
Dr. Cheng passionately spoke about actions we must take to fight racism. She used ABCDE to name each action.
A – Action. “If you see someone being hurt, being harassed, blow the whistle. Do not be a bystander. Do not run away. Take action”.
B – Broaden your space. “We are here together. We as a community are multi- generational, multi-lingual, multicultural. We need to consider building a coalition”.
C - Collaborate. “We must speak loudly and clearly, to help the underserved and the unserved. We must think about those who need our help and reach out instead of running away”. Dr. Cheng tackled the myth and stereotype of Asian as a model minority and warned the audience, “We have to be visible. We have to speak with our vocal cords. We have the right and civil rights to be part of this social fabric”.
D - Document. “You’ve got to be able to document it, when you see something happening”. “Pull out your cell phone”, she said, referencing the George Floyd case.
E - Educate. “We must do more to educate others”. For example, Dr. Cheng explained, the first group of Asians that arrived in the US were Filipinos, way before 1774. And Chinese were in the deep south picking cottons in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, not just building railroads.
“I hope we can be empowered, we want to educate ourselves, we want to educate the public, and most importantly, we want to have our voice heard. We want everybody to be engaged so make sure engagement is there”.
Two government officials spoke next. Leonard Trinh is Deputy DA and a lead prosecutor of hate crimes with the San Diego District Attorney's Office.
Mr. Trinh first explained the difference between hate crimes and hate incidents. In California, a hate crime means a criminal act was committed, in whole or part, because of one or more of the following characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group of these groups. Hate incidents, however, are considerably more common than hate crimes but, unlike hate crimes, have no formal legal definition. They are generally the same types of behaviors and crimes as described above except that one or more of the formal legal criteria described above are not met. Specifically, speech alone (hate speech, hurtful language etc) is not a crime, Mr. Trinh explained. Nonetheless, reporting hate incidents is absolutely important, according to Mr. Trinh, because it helps to convict a criminal offense if the person has previously committed hate incidents.
Mr. Trinh shared that, in 2020, three cases targeting Asians were reported in San Diego, a fourth one is under investigation, after zero cases in 2017 through 2019.
“To go from zero three years in a row to four since the start of the pandemic is pretty marked increase”, said Mr. Trinh.
To report a hate crime or hate incident, use the DA’s hotline: (619)515-8805 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Trinh indicated that he is personally responsible for reviewing all the reports and he promises to follow up the next day.
The last panelist to speak was Sergeant Lem Sainsanoy who is with Chief's Advisory Board Liaison of City of San Diego Police Department. Mr. Sainsanoy reminded the audience that the number one thing to do in a situation of hate crime or incident is to get to a safe place, then call 911. When calling 911, a landline is preferred as the call goes to the local jurisdiction and it will be handled more quickly and directly.
“If not sure (about reporting), call anyways. Let police decide if it’s a hate crime or incident. And don’t wait (to report later) as in a public place, surveillance videos may be available for a limited time”. Sergeant Sainsanoy concluded.
Note: because Sergeant Sainsanoy was in his vehicle for the virtual rally, the light was too dim for video and photos in good quality. We apologize for no video or photo.
Question: Were the hate crimes committed more by organized groups or individuals?
Mr. Leonard Trinh: Local crimes were mostly committed by individuals.
Question: The institutional racism and negative stereotype have long been in existence. How do we address the racial discriminations that are not physical assaults, not black and white, but are of more complex?
Dr. Lilly Cheng: First, start with education. Start at young age. Young people hear and observe then learn. We must do a lot in our education system, from very early on. So if you listen to your parents when they talk about another group of people, do they talk about them negatively or positively? Even among our AAPI community, I want you to look at yourself, and be very honest and say, do I have any implicit racist idea about other groups? We must start from ourselves.
Question: What do you think that API community should do to show public support for Black Lives Matter movement?
Mr. Kent Lee: I think truly a lot of responsibility lies in all of us. We as a community can work together to combat hatred and racism. We can’t do it just because it impacts us at the moment. When it comes to showing up for other communities, it is critical for us to consider that what is happening to us now is part of a pattern of history that we have seen in other communities and, if we are hopeful that others will stand up with us in solidarity, we also have to ask ourselves how we can do the same for them.
Question: What is the appropriate response to the perceived racially-motivated threat in public?
Mr. Lem Sainsanoy: If someone is following you, don’t get in confrontation because they may have a weapon, and you don’t know what their intention is. Go inside a business and ask someone to call 911.
Question: The rate of hate crimes against Asians has gone up in San Diego since 2019. In what area do they occur, and for what reasons?
Mr. Leonard Trinh: The ones that have been resolved or disclosed generally occurred in downtown area. Hate incidents that have been reported are mostly related to COVID-19. The rhetoric and the language used to characterize the virus had a direct effect.
Question: How do seniors report incidents if they don’t speak English?
Mr. Lem Sainsanoy: Call 911 and say the language you want, it will be a three-way call with an interpreter.
Question: No Asian American history or Asian contribution have been mentioned in school textbooks that cover American civilization. How do we get involved to fill in the missing part?
Dr. Lilly Cheng: If a story has not been told, we need to create a space to tell the story. It’s important in education system. We also need to get to know newspapers, journalists, TV stations, local people. We must be out there. Our stories must be told and shared.
Mr. Kent Lee: The history is always told by people who write the books. We have an opportunity to go back in history and find what’s missing. Some of the work that Pacific Are Movements does is to show API stories through films. We have found it to be a very powerful component in terms of showcasing what others might perceive to be different. In doing so we hope that we can inspire people to be more understanding and compassionate.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the speakers in the article are of their own and do not necessarily represent that of ACA or APAPA.