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On April 25th, nearly 400 people logged into the Asian American Unification Seminar to strongly and forthrightly speak with one unified voice against racism and xenophobic acts targeting Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar, hosted on Zoom, was presented by the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC), in partnership with Ding Ding TV, and sponsored by Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA),  and APAPA.

Moderator Anthony Le introduced Dr. S.K Lo, President of the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC),  who welcomed participants to the gathering and highlighted contributions and donations made by Asian Americans during the pandemic. 

A video showed  Yen Marshall, the Executive Director, Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), and members of APAPA chapters in NY, Texas, and Seattle, serving their communities by contributing PPE, get well cards, and other equipment to fight the pandemic. 

New York City Comptroller Scott M Stringer, assured Asian Americans on behalf of his city, which has seen a rise in Asian American hate crimes, that they were not alone. “There are public officials, advocates, activists from around the city, and the United States that are going to protect and defend the enormous contributions of the Asian American community.” He expressed admiration for the Asian American front line workers who fearlessly go to work every day.

Keynote speaker, NY Congresswoman Grace Meng, who was traveling with her two sons from Washington DC to New York, dialed into the webinar from her car.  Rep. Meng, a founder, and Co-Chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus was introduced by Stringer as a defender of liberty who understands diversity. “When any community is under attack, when hate comes to Latinos, Jewish or any community she is the first one to show up,” said Stringer. “She is making a name for herself on the national stage and is being recognized as the next generational leadership in the United States of America.” Like Meng, Stringer is the father of two boys and does not want to leave a legacy of hate for them.  

“Attacks on Asian Americans have skyrocketed to 100 per day during the pandemic,” said Meng, who has introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to denounce the anti-Asian sentiment caused by reaction to the pandemic. The resolution has 124 cosponsors including Kamala Harris.

She pointed out that, “The increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric, particularly from our nation’s leaders such as the President, and their use of terms like ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘Kung-flu,’ is not only irresponsible, reckless, and downright disgusting, it threatens the safety of the Asian American community; such language demeans, disparages, and scapegoats Asian Americans.”  Meng urged people to speak up.  “It is because we spoke up that the President has taken note.”

Ding Ding TV Webinar

The rest of the webinar featured presentations and community sharing – audience contributions moderated by host Anthony Le. Speakers reported racist incidents and shared statistics about bias and hate crimes which have surged against the AAPI community, after the coronavirus crisis.  

Some participants reported that small businesses in areas with high Asian American populations have been vandalized.

Stop AAPI Hate, a website created by California-based advocacy organizations to document hate crimes in seven languages, reported more than 1,600 incidents in the three weeks since it launched, escalating to a rate of about 100 per day. Organizers say it’s likely that the rate of reporting severely undercounts the actual number of incidents taking place every day across the country.

Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA),  moderated sessions on hate and bias interventions, and on resources and non-profits that offer support.

AAJC and Hollaback! announced bystander intervention training sessions that teach people how to safely intervene when they see harassment happening

In a final interactive reflection exercise, people who were witnesses to hate crimes, were encouraged to commit to action: report the incident ( Stand Against Hate offers legal aid), partner anti-bullying organizations like Act To Change (a national nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying in the AAPI community, participate in AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hatred on May 18, and, sign up for bystander intervention training provided by Asians Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Hollaback! 

Online surveys were conducted by the host before, and during the webinar to assess the mood of the audience which was calm and relaxed to begin with and then became nervous, worried, anxious, and unsure resulting from the backlash of the pandemic on APIA. 

It was clear that the virus of hate chokes the life out of us as much as the virus of COVID-19.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

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