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“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.

7th Grader Fights Anti-Asian Sentiment

The coronavirus is our generation’s distorted empathy quotient. As this life-threatening disease ravages low-income and minority communities, it becomes the world’s responsibility to protect our society’s most vulnerable. And from the mass-anxiety of COVID-19, the best and worst of society has bled into our daily lives. On one hand, GoFundMe is flooded with pages raising money for coronavirus victims. Young teenagers are distributing groceries in working-class neighborhoods while retweeting instructional videos for public safety. But the less endearing side to this narrative is also the most difficult to confront; Coronavirus concerns are being transformed into socio-political dog whistles for xenophobia and hate crimes.

Since the outbreak in January, New York City alone has reported 248 cases of race-based discrimination. On March 14th, a young man stabbed a family of three because they were of Asian-American descent and thus ‘spreading the virus’. A Chinese-American couple in Minnesota reported finding a derogatory and racist note left on their door. Without necessary precautions, our country may succumb to paranoia and racism before it caves into COVID-19. 

OCA letter signed by Teens For Vaccines.

To discuss the implication of such violence, I had a chat with 7th grader, Arin Parsa, a Davidson Young Scholar and founder of Teens for Vaccines. A strong proponent for public health and safety, Arin reached out to OCA, a national organization dedicated to preserving the rights of Asian-American Pacific Islanders. On March 31, Arin’s Teens for Vaccines co-signed OCA’S letter to President Trump, the FBI, and the DOJ demanding the urgent creation of a Task Force via Executive Order. This Task Force, Arin hopes, will allow the FBI to increase data collection and the DOJ to prioritize prosecutions against COVID-19 hate crimes. But his efforts extend well beyond preventing prejudice. Deeply concerned about PPE shortages (Personal Protective Equipment) for health care staff and senior citizens, Arin is raising awareness for sophomore Aditya Indla’s GoFundMe campaign to 3D Print Face Masks for healthcare professionals. When we spoke with Arin about his efforts, he discussed both his inspiration and ambitions for the near future. 

KN: First of all, your contributions to public health and safety amid the COVID-19 outbreak are absolutely amazing. What drew you to establishing Teens For Vaccines?

Arin Parsa: Thank you for the kind words! I founded Teens for Vaccines in August 2019 when herd immunity in California was falling dangerously below 95%, a risk for yet another measles outbreak. The bill, SB 276, had to be pushed through to stop fraudulent medical exemptions to vaccines. 

I was inspired by Ethan Lindenberger, an Ohio teen, who fearlessly testified in Congress about his decision to vaccinate himself despite his anti-vax mother’s beliefs. I spent my summer in NY at a research camp to truly understand what makes people anti-science. I found that, although skepticism was legitimate during the smallpox era, it had no standing in the modern world. Many are swayed by misinformation on social media about vaccine safety and vaccine ingredients (e.g. derivatives of pork, fetal strain from the 1960s), spread by a highly vocal anti-vax minority funded by alternative medicine practitioners and anti-government interests. Millions are being made by peddling dietary supplements as a replacement for vaccines. Sure, science isn’t perfect, and there are rare cases when vaccines are not suitable, but deliberately misleading vulnerable parents and religious communities, putting entire neighborhoods at risk, is deplorable. Over 140,000 have died from measles globally when we have a vaccine for it. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us.

KN: For those who are unaware of your cause, would you like to explain the purpose of Teens For Vaccines? As the response to the coronavirus develops, what is the group’s primary goal for the future?

Arin Parsa: Teens for Vaccines is about educating teens on vaccine safety and minor consent laws from trusted sources, and connecting teen advocates worldwide. I recently connected with an HPV Vaccine advocate from Ireland! 

Education empowers us from falling prey to misinformation and rhetoric of medical freedom and anti-government messages. Amplifying the voices of immunization coalitions, doctors, and epidemiologists is a huge endeavor, whether in our local communities or through social media. In fact, as we speak, anti-vaxxers are denying the COVID pandemic, questioning social distancing, and peddling false cures.

Teens for Vaccines is also anti-hate since a lot of teens like Ethan face dire threats when they go against the anti-vax lobby. A huge realization I had a few weeks ago was the extreme racism suffered by Asians. Teens feeling isolated, alienated, spit on, hit, yelled at, and attacked is not good for their mental health. Suicide rates among the teen demographic are at dangerous levels. Teens for Vaccines is first and foremost about teen health, and I sought out OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national organization to co-sign their letter and demand action from President Trump, FBI, and DOJ. 

KN: What do you hope to accomplish with the creation of an Anti-Asian Hate Task Force via an Executive Order? Why a Task Force, specifically? 

Arin Parsa: A Task Force will put a light on the escalating violence against Asians, sending a very strong signal throughout America that we will not tolerate the insidious hate that is riding on the coattails of this pandemic. Being a history student, I know racism is a deep-rooted belief. As much as we want to change people through messages of empathy and solidarity, sometimes only fear of consequences will stop such people in their tracks. A federal task force, working together with local law enforcement, can bring in swift action in collaboration with the FBI’s deep data collection programs, and DOJ prioritizing prosecuting hate crimes.

KN: Do you think government authorities are not taking swift action in ensuring the security of minority communities — including Asian-Americans — during this outbreak? How do you think their action — or lack of it — impacts the current socio-political climate?

Arin Parsa: No one realized how quickly deep-rooted racism would come to the surface. It is not that the government isn’t doing anything about it: the FBI has warned of a surge. President Trump, after having said “Chinese Virus” tweeted that he didn’t intend to use it derogatorily. But, it is clear that more needs to be done than just condemning the acts. 

The Asian demographic is a huge contributor to America’s scientific and technological advancements. Lack of immediate action can lead to an extremely fractured America and potential intellectual drain out of America. 

KN: Despite the mass-anxiety of a global pandemic, how do teens cross boundaries and establish solidarity with other ethnicities and groups? 

Arin Parsa: The power of the internet can truly be harnessed in these times. Joining diverse groups through social media of their choice,  whether it is Discord, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, we can reach out and understand others. Teens can join the r/StopAntiAsianRacism, follow @BurntRiceBunch to show support to Asian teens who are suffering.  Empathy is about listening and can be really powerful, so responding with thoughtful comments can go a long way.  I also welcome everyone to TeenOpinions.org to write and show solidarity. Music is a universal language, so joining online concerts such as One World: Together at home on April 18 can build a feeling of togetherness. Locally, in our communities, we can make a difference too. Even a hand wave and a smile to the ones in your neighborhood can be extremely uplifting. 

KN: It’s wonderful that you’re so involved and politically self-aware. Any advice for other teenagers who want to support society’s most vulnerable during this difficult time? 

Arin Parsa: Thank you. First and foremost, respecting the shelter-in-place orders itself is a show of support to those who are most vulnerable. Protecting ourselves is protecting others. Checking out state and county websites are great places to know how we can help: sewing masks (with mom’s help if needed) or using a 3D printer if you have one, creating care packages, writing thank you emails to hospitals,  making yard signs of hope, doing grocery runs for our elderly neighbors, or simply calling a senior center and enquiring are ways we can help. Having a sense of purpose and togetherness can help us get through these difficult times.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.