Tag Archives: Cynthia Choi

“Often Our Communities Are Pitted Against Each Other” says Manjusha Kulkarni of A3PCON

A rash of hate incidents against Asian Americans is spreading like a virus since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

On March 16, eight people were shot and killed at three Atlanta area spas amid growing fears nationwide of anti-Asian bias. Six of the victims were Asian women.

Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.

Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.

The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors)  amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”

At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.

“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,”  declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.

STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).

According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.

In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.

The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while  Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.

The effect on the Asian American community is significant, said Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, referring to a Harris poll that showed three-quarters (75%) of Asian Americans  increasingly fear discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.

“The surge in violence is creating an atmosphere of  tremendous fear,” noted Cynthia  Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-creator of Stop AAPI Hate.

Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.

Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.

Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.

“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.

Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’

“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.

AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.

“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”

So how is the nation addressing this issue?

“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.

A number of AAPI organizations, including  OCANational Council of Asian Pacific AmericansChinese for Affirmative Action, and Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, have joined forces to unanimously condemn anti-Asian hate crimes. Several civil rights advocacy groups – Chinese for Affirmative Action, SAALT, and A3PCON, offer in language links on their websites, to report hate incidents.

At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.

“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”

Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division.  “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”

Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Originally published February 24, 2021.

Building API Community Power

The Asian Pacific Fund (APF) held a virtual annual API Summit to highlight how the API (Asian Pacific Islander) community was responding to the devastating impact of the pandemic. Frontline organizations shared stories on the rise in xenophobia, access to healthcare, and recovery and rebuilding efforts. 

NBC’s Raj Mathai moderated the conference which was sponsored by Comcast/NBC Bay Area.

The API community has been hit hard, said Mathai, kicking off the summit with a reminder that the pandemic affected physical and mental health, and also cost us jobs, while the harassment of Asian Americans has grown exponentially.  Yet the most important response, he urged, was to remember the need to control the narrative of our story.  

APF President Audrey Yamamoto was excited to report that the COVID response fund had collected over $500k in support of  many API non-profits that have made “significant pivots to be able to meet the needs of our clients.” These organizations have countered the impact of COVID-19 on the community by creating food delivery programs, new food pantries, and building new websites to collect data and improve service, while reimagining their services for remote delivery.   

Yamamoto also reported that the historic “Give in May Campaign” fundraiser which honors API Heritage month,  raised over 165k to distribute over 92 organizations across the country. 

She cautioned participants about the unprecedented dangers they face as a community. The “unemployment rate for Asians is rising six fold – a faster rate than any other ethnic group”. In California the API death rate is also significantly higher than the general population, and harassment and racial discrimination is causing an added threat to mental health.  But Yamamoto remained hopeful, adding “we will find ways to step up and come together just as we are today to make sure that our most vulnerable get the support they need to be able to survive and thrive.” 

Keynote speaker Maulik Pancholy an Asian American actor, author and LGBTQ activist, described his experience growing up brown and bullied. “It was not exactly the easiest thing for me to be brown where I was growing up. If it was challenging being brown, you can also imagine how hard it was for me to realize that I was also gay.”  

Pancholy is best known for playing Jonathan on 30 Rock & Baljeet on Phineas & Ferb and recently published an award winning book The Best At It.  

He shared his gratitude for family role models who engaged in service and philanthropy and taught him to become a louder advocate for his community.  Today he lends his name to organizations and nonprofits that address issues about Asian American identity and being LGBTQ.

In 2014, Pancholy was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Commission to examine the wide prevalence of bullying and hate towards AAPI kids.  This led to the creation of the first ever AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Anti-Bullying task force in the White House.  

Pancholy was also instrumental in creating the Act To Change initiative to end bullying for all youth including AAPI, Sikh, Muslim, LGBTQIA+ and immigrant youth.  It’s now a grass-roots non-profit that documents stories and provides support via social media and has recently launched a series of webinars called “Covid Convos”.Pancholy hoped that the healing power of sharing painful stories and celebratory power of sharing successes would empower young people “to tell the authentic story of who they are.”   

A panel representing Bay Area grassroots nonprofits discussed what Sherry Hirota – (CEO of Asian Health Services) called a perfect storm of immigrant bashing(Public Charge), COVID-19 and Anti-Asian attacks.

Hirota reported that after the lockdown, AHS health clinics  pivoted to telemedicine by purchasing laptops, mobile phones and data coverage. Their rapid response and radical transformation helped clinics return to 80% of normal visit volumes. Going forward, their solutions include telehealth, remote monitoring equipment and televised education and outreach.

According to Hirota, the AAPI community has a higher fatality rate than the average because they lack access to diagnostic tests and/or are more likely to die if infected. She believes there is a need for culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible public health testing and tracing, adding that, “We will not be victims, we need our own narrative.”

Since the outbreak, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) has received over 1800 reports of hate directed at Asians (40% from CA with 40% – 19% from the Bay Area), says CAA Co-Executive Director Cynthia Choi. “We need to build solidarity within our community and across our communities to fight racism and structural inequalities.” 

Choi plans to fight racial discrimination and harassment with in languages resources, countering misinformation and propaganda that are primary drivers of hate, holding the government accountable for enforcing civil rights policies and challenging any policies that harm API communities.  

She believes that this is the time “to speak up, organize and prepare for the onslaught of Anti-Asian violence,” and to stand in solidarity with the black community, the LatinX, and Native American community, essential frontline workers, and people dying in prisons and detention.  “When we begin to do this, we will see real change and begin to heal our country,”  said Choi.

Sarita Kohli, the President & CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), highlighted an underreported aspect of this pandemic – the increase in domestic violence for women sheltering in place with their abuser.  Kohli reported an increasing need for monetary support  and use of  SafeChat  by clients. AACI has expanded staffing for this program.

The summit also featured a fireside chat with Debbie Chang President & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, who drew attention to the many issues being amplified by this pandemic. – inequities in how communities experience health, the vicious cycle of domestic violence, and the connections between economic inequality and poor health. 

“The pandemic is making visible tangible forces that have been at work in our communities and systems for generations,” said Chang.

The Blue Shield California Foundation is working on policy changes like paid leave for domestic workers and essential workers, and increasing outreach to immigrant communities.  

Chang is hopeful that solutions will be found in innovations sparked by this crisis, for example, SafeChat, “We need to keep looking for opportunities like that,” she added.

David Chiu, California State Assembly Member (AD17) and California API Legislative Caucus Chair, concluded the summit with a caveat.

“There is a lot to celebrate in the API community in the national and state political arena,” he said, but “2020 has shown us that we are still foreigners.  We are still viewed as the others.”

However, the API Caucus is working with the Newsom administration to publicize resources for those experiencing discrimination. They advocated for the first immigrant relief fund for Californians who cannot get unemployment assistance because of their immigration status.

Asian American legislators also are pushing for more funding to support efforts like Stop AAPI Hate, research the disparate impact of Covid-19, advocate for a racial bias taskforce, and bring together law enforcement, civil rights communities, and non-profits to coordinate efforts to address discrimination. 

“This moment has to be a wakeup call for our community.  Corona virus has laid bare the challenges we have before us,” said Chiu.

He  believes that the biggest challenge we face as a community “is how fractured we are.” But to build power as a community, Chiu believes, “We need to bring our voices together to speak as one.”

“I look forward to see us all rise together.”

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents