Surge of Racial Violence against Pan-Asian Community

Videos of racist assaults on Pan-Asian individuals have recently flooded social media, evidence of rising discrimination against the Pan-Asian community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data collected by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported by VOA News indicates that, nationwide, there were 122 incidents of anti-Asian hate crime in America’s 16 largest cities in 2020 – a 150% increase since 2019. In New York alone they report a 833% increase in xenophobic hate crimes from 2019 to 2020. Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit organization that tracks violence against the Pan-Asian community, recorded 2,808 racist incidents between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020. 

In response to these incidents, state and local governments have implemented initiatives to protect Asian citizens. For example, New York City’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force, which comprises 25 detectives of Asian descent working to help victims of hate crimes access the criminal justice system.

Attacks on Pan-Asian individuals have come in multiple shapes and forms. People have been denied entry into stores, subjected to verbal attacks and physical violence, including an incident in which a 89 year-old Asian woman in New York was set on fire. Asian individuals have been insulted, heckled, and spit on in multiple incidents documented on social media.

Attacks on the elderly have been especially disturbing to many. Stella Ren ’22 said, “Attacks on the elderly are especially offensive, as they are [mostly] first and second generation immigrants, who [have] worked incredibly hard to gain a place in American society.”

In a widely covered attack of a 84 year-old Thai man, Vichar Ratanapakdee, was walking in a San Francisco neighborhood when a young man shoved him violently to the ground. Ratanapakdee died of a brain hemorrhage two days later. A video of the attack was captured by a neighbor’s security camera and has been shared across social media. The killing sparked widespread outrage and brought attention to other acts of xenophobia.

Many believe this rise in racism has been stoked by people casting blame for COVID-19 on Asians. Some people have called it “the Wuhan virus.” Former President Donald Trump, who called the virus “the Kung Flu,” encouraged the use of derogatory names, and said that “[the term Chinese virus] is not racist at all. It comes from China.” Many worry that the normalized usage of these racially charged names have exacerbated racism against Asians, especially those of Chinese descent. 

As awareness of these acts of racism rises, politicians are being pressured to respond. Many have issued statements condemning the crimes. Notably, President Biden issued an official memorandum on January 26 entitled, “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.” It “condemns and denounces acts of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)] communities,” and encourages federal agencies to take action against hate crimes against the Pan-Asian community.

These attacks have had a substantial impact on the Hotchkiss community. Many Pan-Asian students have expressed rage and grief, whether it be on social media or with friends. Nicholas Romero ’21, head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation Students (ASEANS), said, “I’ve been following [the attacks] on social media, and it just hurts. It’s heartbreaking to see innocent people being targeted, harassed, even killed.”

The school’s administration and student clubs have been working to spread awareness about these events within the school community. During All-School Meeting on March 1, Mr. Craig Bradley, head of school, reiterated the need to support all students, especially those affected by xenophobia and racism. On March 5, Triple A, a Pan-Asian advocacy group, hosted a meeting about hate crimes, which was attended by 74 members of the community. Ren, co-head of Triple A, said, “I’m sad but hopeful at the same time, because it is a pity that hate crimes [against Asian Americans] have rampaged throughout the streets, but anti-Asian racism is receiving more attention from the media and general public. While I’m discouraged and mad, I’m glad this can be a catalyst for more overall awareness and change for the better.”

Other student groups such as Hillel, a club dedicated to the Jewish faith and culture, have expressed solidarity. Hillel sent an email to club heads and board members of clubs and affinity groups oriented around Asian identity, writing, “We are deeply saddened and angered by the unjust treatment of Asians in our country. We want to tell you that you are not alone, and the members of the Jewish community at Hotchkiss are prepared to support you in any way that we can.” In general, the issue has presented an opportunity for an intersectional approach to dismantling racism. 

The Council on Diversity and Inclusion led the second session of its “Let’s Learn: Race in America” series on Wednesday, March 9. The discussion was entitled “Being Pan-Asian in America: COVID-19.” This document outlines the articles and videos attendees were encouraged to read before the meeting.  

Pan-Asian students looking to explore issues related to Pan-Asian experiences are invited to apply to attend the Asian American Footsteps Conference (AAFC). The application deadline is March 15.