Hate crimes against Asians have gone up exponentially across the country — and around the globe — in the last year due to the pandemic. In a report published by the Asian American Bar Association of New York, there were 145 coronavirus-related hate incidents involving Asian Americans reported to the New York City Commission on Human Rights last spring. The case of Noel Quintana, whose face was slashed as he was on the L train on Feb. 3, has scared many in NYC into staying indoors and off the subway. Spurred by Quintana’s story and the fact that no one helped him, on Feb. 27 the Asian American Federation hosted the #RiseUpRally at Federal Plaza in downtown.
Asian American Federation deputy director Joo Han called it “an emergency rally,” held in the same area as another attack — a stabbing of a 36-year-old man — that occurred just days before, and was not deemed a hate crime.
“There’s just this fear that without more safety measures,” said Han, “that people may be seen as easy targets for individuals who are emboldened by what’s been for the most part silenced by the mayor and elected officials around this whole time and what we see as a public health crisis since COVID began.”
A plethora of politicians were in attendance, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Margaret Cheng and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“We have to change how we educate this entire community. Because when you hear voices trying to blame Asian Americans for the crisis we’re all in, and that is wrong. It is unacceptable and we will fight it,” said de Blasio. “We will fight it in our schools with a curriculum that teaches respect for Asian-Americans and all they have done to build this city and this country. We will do it every day in our words and our deeds... And every community needs to stand with the Asian community right now. Because if Asian Americans are being attacked, every single one of us is vulnerable.”
State Senator Brad Holyman, who was also at the rally has, along with Assembly Member Karines Reyes, introduced the Hate Crimes Analysis & Review Act which recently passed in the Senate’s Finance Committee. This act would require New York State to collect and maintain data on these crimes and the New Yorkers who are involved in them.
“This data will be a crucial step towards understanding the spike in hate crimes and determining ways to stop it,” said Holyman. “As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Let’s be clear: there’s no room for hate in New York State.”
“It’s Been Building Up”
This might be a step in the right direction, but it will take more than analysis to fix the deeply embedded systemic racism, according to Han. “It’s not a problem that’s going to go away. It’s been building up for more than a year, we know that prior to Trump with anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, he’s built up an atmosphere of targeting people,” said Han. “Once everyone’s vaccinated, this is going to be something that we’re going to be having to deal with the next year or a few years. We want to make sure that investment is properly supported, so that we can make sure that that this doesn’t keep happening.”
On March 6 in East Harlem, after an attack on an employee at Pro Thai Restaurant , State Senators Brian Benjamin and John Liu and Borough President Gale Brewer spoke in front of the restaurant. “Our message is that all are welcome in this historic & cultural heart of the Black & Latino community,” Brewer wrote on Twitter.
“We celebrate, embody and embrace the diverse community of East Harlem, which we have served for over 125 years,” Pro Thai said in a statement on Instagram. “We strongly believe that the only way collective change will happen is when we raise our voices and call for others to join us as we work to create an inclusive and equitable society.”
“Talking About It”
Hailing Chen, who immigrated to the city from China as a teenager, is now running for City Council in Flushing, Queens. Chen also attended the #RiseUpRally. He, like many, believes the current pundits aren’t doing enough to serve the community.
“We have been talking [about] outreach for decades, but we have hardly seen any outreach in the community to talk about the safety, to talk about the protection, to talk about how we [are] able to best assist our immigrant communities — the communities of color, the communities that are most vulnerable to those hate crimes.,” said Chen. “It’s not in discussion.”
Chen believes that this is something that starts with the community and should be handled with the people.
“Tackling this issue can’t be just sitting behind a desk,” said Chen. “It has to be going out there and talking about it and showing we care and showing how are we able to deescalate the situation.”
The attacks over the last year have sowed fear and desperation in the Asian community and have inspired dozens of Facebook groups, like “Asian Americans United Against Violence,” which was founded on March 23 of last year and has over 1,500 members, where people share stories and other information for staying safe.
Kimberly Powell is a member of “Asian Americans United Against Violence” on Facebook.
“Most of the attacks have been happening not that far from my home — two, three miles away, I believe the closest was like one and a half miles away,” said Powell, a resident of Queens. “That has definitely changed how I live with my parents. My mother is a Chinese woman in her 70s. My dad doesn’t go out much. He’s just a white man in his 70s. But it has definitely changed how we behave.”
In order to stay safe, Powell keeps a group chat with her family to “deal with these issues,” and to know what streets to avoid and when. But even then, she still isn’t immune to the hatred and bigotry.
“I’ve always gotten like the racist attacks online. It’s always been an issue. You know, find the thing that you can pick at a person and say it kind of a deal,” said Powell. “As a teacher, I have an education Instagram where I post teacher tips and that kind of thing. And I would get DMs making comments. I have another Instagram where I post about regional Chinese cooking and pandemic baking — and it’s for myself and my daughter — and we get it there. And it’s maybe they were brought there by like a hashtag. We’re both ambiguously mixed, like you can tell her something, but you can’t really quite put your finger on it ... It’s just, it’s bizarre. It has gone up.”
Han, for one, is hopeful that the large group of politicians that attended the rally will bring about positive change for the Asian American community. “We think that’s a sign that they are going to be prioritizing and throwing their weight behind solutions to make sure that we are creating more safety measures for our community members,” she said. “We have been talking about this behind a lot of meetings and nothing really happened; the needle hadn’t really moved much.”
“You hear voices trying to blame Asian Americans for the crisis we’re all in, and that is wrong. It is unacceptable and we will fight it.” Mayor Bill de Blasio