Anti-Asian Racism

Rise in Hate Incidents Toward Asian Americans Leads to Solidarity

One advocacy group reported nearly 3,800 hate incidents nationwide between March 2020 and February 2021.

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, in 2021, comes on the heels of an increase in hate incidents nationwide, as many Asian Americans find themselves unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attacks are often verbal, though some turn violent, and even deadly. In several cases, the Asian American victims are told to go back to their own country, even when their country is the United States.

"This is literally my hometown," said one woman, Jackie, who received a profanity-laced letter in March telling her to "get out" of the United States.

"I literally was born and raised here," she added, choking back tears. "For you to tell me I don't belong here? That's kind of messed up."

The incidents keep occurring. Last month in Santa Cruz, a Japanese American woman says someone left a cup of what appears to be urine on the windshield of her vehicle, along with the words "die China."

And in Seal Beach, a grieving Korean American widow received a letter telling her that her husband's death makes "one less Asian to put up with."

According to advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate, between March of 2020 and February 2021, there have been nearly 3,800 hate incidents nationwide. A Cal State University San Bernardino report found that such hate crimes surged nearly 170% in the last year.

"I'm an Asian American woman speaking up." Alice Tsui's poem "Golden Light," shared with NBCLX for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, raises a battle cry against AAPI hate and anti-Blackness.

But that rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans has lead to a new movement, of Asian Americans speaking out in solidarity.

Vietnamese American filmmaker Bao Nguyen, whose documentary about Bruce Lee "Be Water" aired on ESPNN's "30 for 30" before the pandemic began, has been on the front lines fighting against Asian hate.

The documentary tells how Lee was as much a civil rights leader as he was a martial artist, speaking out against the racism he experienced in the 1960s and 70s.

"Bruce Lee's presence on screen was his protest," Nguyen said. "I think that's really telling of how we feel like we're not seen as Asian Americans and we're not heard."

Nguyen's new short film, "Together," features celebrities such as Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong discussing present and past hate incidents.

"It's not just passing the torch of tragedy," Nguyen said, "but also passing the torch of solidarity in many ways."

With rallies and marches, that solidarity is becoming more visible. Some chaperones are even patrolling the streets to protect seniors from violence.

Among those chaperones is Hong Lee, a victim of a hate incident herself. Once shy and soft-spoken, she now serves as a powerful advocate for the AAPI community.

"I want to make sure that our elderly, our vulnerable population don't get judged and attacked just because the color of their skin," Lee said. "My overall message is to remind people to have the strength and courage to speak up and to report, because chances are you may not be the only victim."

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