NEWPORT NEWS — Apart from the obvious and highly publicized effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one issue that has boiled just below the surface. The spread of the virus has also coincided with the rise of hate speech and crimes against members of the Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community.
A study performed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism revealed that Anti-Asian hate crime in 16 of America’s largest cities increased by 149% in 2020.
Stop AAPI Hate, a report center that tracks and responds to acts of violence and discrimination against the AAPI community, received 3,795 hate crime reports between Mar. 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.
This number only shows a fraction of actual incidents that occurred in the United States. According to Stop AAPI Hate’s National Report, Virginia was rated number 11 as one of the top states with the most incidents, contributing 49 reported incidents.
There have been multiple high-profile incidents of hate against the AAPI community in recent months, particularly the deaths of six Asian women in Atlanta, Ga. But what does this hate look like locally?
Seven students from Christopher Newport University, who are all members of the Asian Student Union (ASU), shared their thoughts and experiences with WYDaily.
Cynthia Huynh, a junior and president of ASU, said that after the spa shootings in Georgia, she was scared for her own family.
“Because of that shooting and how it happened in a spa, it was terrifying. A lot of my family members work in the beauty industry, and I didn’t want that happening to them,” she said.
Huynh, along with Matt Villanueva, also a junior and vice president of ASU, founded the group their freshman year. Together, they both run ASU to provide a place where students identifying as Asian American and Pacific Islander could connect with others.
For AAPI students, the experience of attending a predominantly white institution such as CNU can have an isolating effect. Maria Pham, a senior, said before the group was founded, she had no one to practice Vietnamese with and was scared of losing that connection to her heritage.
But after seeing a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, Pham said that the group became much more than a school club: It became a safe haven.
“After the Georgia shootings, I was scared to leave my apartment,” Pham said. “I was constantly wondering ‘What do people think when they see me?’”
Chloe Naughton, a sophomore and ASU’s events coordinator, was visiting her sister in Lynchburg when she got a text from a family member asking if she was okay. This is how she found out about the Georgia shooting.
“I literally couldn’t function,” she said.
But this type of fear and anxiety existed long before the deadly Georgia shootings or even the pandemic. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the issue of racism towards the AAPI community that already existed in the United States.
Angelina Nguyen, a freshman and ASU’s education director, said that her experience at CNU has been overall positive. The only issue she spoke of was an incident with a suitemate making racist and ableist comments. Nguyen said that she and her roommates ended up moving out, and after reporting the suitemate to the school, they state that no other actions were taken against the student.
Fellow CNU freshman and ASU member Megan Tucker, said that she once had to sit through a horrifying lunch in the school’s dining hall where another student listed their favorite anti-Asian slurs.
“Nobody ever tells them this is wrong,” Tucker said. “People think if they finish it with ‘I love you,’ that it’s okay. It’s not.”
So what can be done now?
While ASU has several ideas, the burden shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of these students. Social and systemic issues like these require a mass effort from people outside of the AAPI community to not only think better, but do better.
Where should people start?
“Have conversations with friends in the Asian community,” Huynh said. “Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable.”
YenNhi Hoang, a sophomore and treasurer of ASU, said what really helped her was when friends took the time to ask if she was ok.
“I’ve taken comfort in knowing we have really good friends,” she said. “When they take time to reach out and see how I’m doing, that’s incredibly helpful.”
While reaching out to friends is important, Pham said that getting off of social media helped her to reduce stress and refocus. She added that supporting AAPI-owned businesses is crucial to their survival.
Tucker said that, above all, standing up and speaking out when an incident occurs is essential. “If you see something, say something. There isn’t such a thing as an innocent remark. It’s tiring and it’s about time people start caring,” she said.
Villanueva agreed, saying, “I think people need to start asking themselves, ‘What kind of world do you want your children to grow up in?’”
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