By Kendra Sitton
Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian American discrimination released data on March 16 about receiving a total of 3,795 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) across the U.S. between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.
That same night the data was released, the number of hate incidents would increase in a terrible way as a mass shooter killed eight people, including six Asian women, at spas and massage parlors in Atlanta.
Reports about other Asian women across the nation facing violence quickly made national headlines in the following days.
As the onslaught of news about attacks continued, a group of Asian mothers in San Diego turned to each other for ideas in how to combat racism and defend themselves.
Viva Kwan-Nguyen started the Facebook group Asian Moms San Diego 10 years ago when she first moved to the city and wanted help from other parents raising bilingual children.
In the past few months, the group has pivoted to take on thornier topics.
“Now the group is more than just a regular mom group, we discuss about racism, and how do we respond, how do we explain this to our kids,” Kwan-Nguyen said.
When someone’s son faced discrimination, the other moms were able to offer advice on how to respond and give support.
One member, Raquel Cusi, knows self-defense and is planning classes across the county for members of the group. Many of the recent attacks have targeted Asian women and elderly people. Kwan-Nguyen said the women want to be prepared for a situation in which they may need to protect themselves and their children.
Since the group refocused, a lot of new members have attempted to join the private group. Kwan-Nguyen carefully vets them before letting them join. Currently, there are just over 500 members.
“I want to create a safe and judgment-free zone for the members to share experience, especially right now with so many things that’s going on,” she said. “We have familiarity as minorities. We understand this. We understand each other and most of us experienced this before so it’s nice to have a place where you can share specific thing without racism in the group, without being judged.”
Stop AAPI Hate was founded in 2020 amid growing racially motivated violence against Asian Americans tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that we get blamed because of this coronavirus, because it’s coming from China. But you know, we are American. We live here so we got nothing to do with that,” Kwan-Nguyen said. “But if we look like Chinese people, they don’t even care [that] they affect Asians, they don’t care if Korean or Vietnamese. They don’t see the difference.”
In the data Stop AAPI collected, there were 343 reports of hate incidents against children age 0-17 years between March 19, 2020 and February 2021.
A national report found Asian American children were returning to in-person school at lower rates than their peers. A U.S. Education Department survey shows that as of February 2021, almost 7 in 10 Asian American K-12 students were still learning online only. While there are many factors affecting this disparity, it has been partially attributed to the increase in hate incidents in the past year.
Kwan-Nguyen does not want her children, a first-grade boy and a preschooler, to experience the same racism she has. Although she has not faced a violent attack, she has been called names and racial slurs in the past.
“It sounds small, just calling you names, but it hurts. That type of thing, it’s been a lot of Asian women’s experiences. I really think my experience is something that does lead to trauma,” she said. “I believe it’s not okay and not acceptable in any way, verbally, physically, anything.”
Kwan-Nguyen, who lives in Chula Vista, called on the wider San Diego community to support Asian Americans living here. She suggested raising awareness on social media by sharing articles, something she noticed made a big difference during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. She does not want this discrimination to continue being overlooked. She also asked people to intervene if they noticed a hate incident happening in front of them as well as to report it so hate incidents are not undercounted.
“I think everybody can contribute and support to end the violence because it’s been going on way too long and way too many victims already,” Kwan-Nguyen said.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.