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Asian American leaders in Orange County condemn anti-Asian violence after Georgia shootings

Garden Grove Mayor Pro Tem Kim Nguyen is tired of having to explain to White people the history of racist, anti-Asian violence in the United States.

“I’m exhausted, and quite frankly, I didn’t want be here today,” Nguyen said, speaking into a microphone at a news conference Saturday in Fullerton alongside other Asian American elected officials in Orange County to decry the growing number of anti-Asian violence incidents across the nation, which hit a boiling point Tuesday when a White gunman shot to death eight people, including six Asian women at Atlanta-area spas. “It is not our job and should not be our job to educate you, but here we are, enraged, scared, exhausted and traumatized, telling you why our stories matter, and begging you to stop aiding in the erasure of our Americanness and to please stop making excuses for White violence.”

Incidents like the killings in Georgia and other recent anti-Asian attacks, officials said, didn’t start only with former-President Donald Trump’s presidency or the coronavirus pandemic, but are rooted in a long American history of racism, a narrative, which for Asian American elected officials, is deeply personal.

In elementary school, Nguyen recalled White kids yelling slurs like “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at me” while pulling their eyelids back. She remembered the comments of White men, exoticizing and sexualizing her.

As the only Asian in a majority-White class at his school in the 1970s, Fullerton City Councilman Fred Jung shared memories of being bullied and hazed. At the age of 10, Jung’s father changed his name to “Fred,” shedding his Korean name, to protect him from the constant violence and verbal attacks.

Santa Ana City Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan remembered, as a child, other kids yelling similar racial slurs at her Santa Ana public school, including one incident where a vandal graffitied “chink” onto their lockers.

Shortly after Phan was elected in November 2020, becoming the first Asian American to serve on Santa Ana’s city council, she said some in the city “said there might be too many Asians; we can’t let the Asians take over.”

“And that’s in my lifetime,” she said, calling on others to educate themselves on a history of the hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian women in America, a layer to the Georgia shooter’s motive, which according to experts, often leads to harassment, discrimination, and violence.

Santa Ana Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan spoke at an event aimed at addressing recent anti-Asian attacks in the U.S. (Courtesy of California Assembly Democrats)

Citing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese workers from immigrating to the U.S., and the incarceration of thousands of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II, Stanton Councilwoman Hong Alyce Van, the first Asian American elected to her city’s council, said anti-Asian sentiments in America were built within its policies and systems of government.

The same day as the Atlanta shootings the national organization Stop AAPI Hate reported that it received 3,795 incident reports from March 19, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021, with the nearly half of those incidents — 1,691– reported in California.

The report said 68% of the incidents involved verbal harassment and 11% were physical assaults motivated by anti-Asian hate. A little over 7% said people coughed or spat at them. Most of the incidents — about 68% — were directed at Asian women, the report found.

Diedre Nguyen, a Garden Grove councilwoman, mentioned Ngoc Pham, an 83-year-old Vietnamese man who earlier this week was attacked by a White assailant while grocery shopping in San Francisco.

“He came here to seek a better life, and yet this is what he had to face,” she said, underscoring what she sees as the fragility of the American Dream.

To stem the swelling number of anti-Asian incidents across the nation, some officials who spoke Saturday encouraged more robust research and reporting of hate crimes.

“We are tired of being invisible, we want to be seen and heard and we need you to stand with us and loudly and firmly tell us, ‘You are welcomed and cherished here, your lives have meaning and value,’” said state Sen. Dave Min, adding that state lawmakers recently passed  a bill that allocates $1.4 million toward more accurately tracking violent crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who also spoke at Saturday’s event, said he has prosecuted more hate crimes during his two years in office than the last 25 years in the county. He pledged that his prosecutors would continue to seek hate crime charges in these cases.

“You cannot attack individuals because of the color of their skin, or the way they look in Orange County without understanding you will be prosecuted,” Spitzer said.

Leaders agreed that many hate crimes go unreported. Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Park of Buena Park said many Asian Americans are taught to be non-confrontational and deferential to authorities, which discourages them from reporting. She also called on police to receive better training to recognize the “racial undertones” of cases that may not be explicitly or overtly racist.

Min said he has co-authored a pair of state Senate bills, one that would develop more hate crime training for police departments around the state and another that seeks to establish a domestic terrorism unit within the state’s Department of Justice that focuses on hate crimes.

The spa workers killed in Georgia were identified this week as Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Soon Chung Park 74; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Xiaojie Tan, 49, who owned one of the massage businesses. As more revelations about their lives, including a mother who was putting her children through school by working at one of the spas, Asian Americans began to see themselves reflected in their stories.

“When I found out about the shootings, I thought of my aunts, the women in my life, who did everything they could … to make ends meet for their children,” Phan said. Her relatives worked in service industry jobs like bars and massage parlors, to help pay for her law school.

Nguyen thought of her own aunties who worked as nail technicians, having to put aside their expertise as dentists and nurses after immigrating to the U.S., surviving off low wages and tips.

“As Asian Americans, we are told to put our heads down to work hard and everything will be okay,” Nguyen said. “We are pitted against communities of color by being labeled the model minority … We have to dismantle it all.”

Saturday’s conference is one of several public events aimed at addressing anti-Asian violence, including a rally and vigil on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Village Green Park in Garden Grove. Organizers in Los Angeles County also held various marches and demonstrations on Saturday including in the San Gabriel Valley, which has a significant Asian American population.

Staff writer Deepa Bharath contributed to this report. 


Source: Orange County Register

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