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'You Started The Corona!' Asian American Californians Have Reported Over 800 Hate Incidents During Pandemic

The following article was originally published June 9, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

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Story by Josie Huang

 

Lena Hernandez was captured in a video shared on social media. |  (Dana Amihere/Photo illustration)
Lena Hernandez was captured in a video shared on social media. | (Dana Amihere/Photo illustration)
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"F*ck you, Chinaman."

"We Are Going To Bomb Your Store."

"You Started The Corona!"

These are among the racist verbal attacks reported in recent months to a national aggregator of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In California alone, that group has collected more than 800 accounts of racist tirades, shunning and physical assaults since the pandemic started.

Some of the most high-profile incidents of late have taken place in Torrance, which is more than a third Asian. Last month, a Japanese cookware shop in Torrance received a letter containing a bomb threat.

Also last month, a woman was captured on a video shared on social media verbally attacking Asian Americans in two separate incidents.

That woman has been identified by authorities as Long Beach resident Lena Hernandez. LAist attempted but was not able to reach Hernandez.

Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance, said that the city prosecutor plans to announce whether charges will be filed against Hernandez by the end of the week. Muratsuchi said the prosecutor is trying to grapple with the question: "When does free speech become a crime?" The prosecutor's office did not return calls seeking comment.

But city officials have heard "loud and clear that this is a top priority for the large Asian American community and the city of Torrance," Muratsuchi said.

CALL TO ACTION

Asian American state legislators joined the founders of the STOP AAPI Hate online aggregatoron a Zoom call Wednesday in linking the rise in incidents to President Trump's anti-Chinese rhetoric regarding the virus.

"This pandemic of racism is being perpetrated by the commander-in-chief of the United States," said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who chairs the state's Asian American Pacific Islander legislative caucus.

Chiu says Trump's attempts at deflecting blame from the pandemic crisis are effectively dog whistles that invite racism.

China and Chinese people have been invoked in many of the reported incidents, said Cynthia Choi of Chinese for Affirmative Action in San Francisco, which co-founded the hate tracker. 

"Our reports reveal consistent parroting of Trump's language, how animus is tied to beliefs about Chinese as the source of the spread of the coronavirus and pervasive use of orientalist stereotypes about Chinese diet and hygiene," Choi said.

A coalition of AAPI state legislators and advocates are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to step up action against discrimination targeting Asian Americans. 

The group had unsuccessfully lobbied for $1.4 million to be included in the state budget for research and advocacy on how COVID-19 is affecting California's AAPI communities in relation to health and racism. 

Community leaders like Manjusha Kulkarni say it is now incumbent on Newsom to include AAPI leaders on his coronavirus task force to ensure racial discrimination stays a front-and-center issue. 

"We also encourage the governor to engage with the state and the state superintendent to urge school districts to declare their schools as 'safe havens' from bullying," said Kulkarni, who heads the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, another founder of Stop AAPI Hate. 

School bullying against Asian students has been one of the byproducts of the pandemic. In February, an Asian American middle-schooler in North Hollywood had to go to the hospital after being taunted about the coronavirus and beat up. (At the same school, another Asian American boy reported being made to go the school nurse for a cough even though he was not sick.)

In response to concerns raised by the coalition, the governor's office responded that it valued its relationship with the API Caucus.

"Racism and xenophobia have no place in California — not during a public health emergency when it is essential we come together to support all of our communities — not ever," spokesman Jesse Melger said in a statement to LAist.

Most of the incidents reported have involved verbal attacks and shunning, but sometimes involve assault, according to Stop AAPI Hate. A few examples from the online tracker:

  • In San Francisco, someone threw a bottle at an Asian American woman while she put her baby in a car seat and yelled "Go home, Chink!"
  • A video surveillance camera captured another incident in San Francisco where a white male used a bent elbow to strike an Asian American man in the back and yelled "Chinaman, go back to China!"
  • In Los Angeles, an Asian American family was reportedly harrassed in the elevator of their apartment complex by a couple without face coverings who said "This f**king virus came from your motherf**king country" and "You nasty as roaches."
  • In Rosemead, an Asian American reported that "three Hispanic and two White individuals entered the store and cut in front of me. I spoke up and said, 'Hey, I've been in line and I'm next.'" Then the Asian American was name-called and spat on, and told to keep waiting. "The cashier spoke up and said they had (to) stop that and asked if I wanted to call the police. I declined and left the store immediately, not wanting any more confrontation."
  • A Santa Clara resident reported that a man kicked his dog and told him to shut his dog up, then spat on him, saying "Take your disease that's ruining our country. Go home."

Donalene Ferrer, a nurse from San Diego who identifies as Asian American, joined Wednesday's call to talk about her personal run-in with racism in April while she and her teenaged daughter visited her mother in Oceanside and took a walk with their masks on.

A neighbor who lives three doors down from Ferrer's mother drove by with his family and shouted: "You started the corona!"

Ferrer walked over to that family's house: "So I just kind of told them 'For your information, I'm a nurse. My dad was in the military, he fought for this country, and you really shouldn't be teaching your kids racism."

Ferrer said the woman in the family started shouting obscenities at her, and her mother convinced her to walk away.

"I just feel like there's something definitely in the air," Ferrer said. "I just couldn't believe it happened to me and my daughter and my mom."

 

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