State Asians, Pacific Islanders Face Hostility, Panel Tells Van de Kamp

Times Staff Writer

Although one out of 10 Californians is of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, a report issued Friday to Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp said they continue to battle resentment and hostile acts because of widespread misunderstanding of their culture.

The 130-page report, issued by the Asian and Pacific Islander Advisory Committee, describes problems in relationships between the state’s fastest growing minority group and law enforcement officials, school administrators and other public servants.

The study also said Asians and Pacific Islanders who have been victimized rarely report crimes because of fear and a lack of understanding of this country’s legal system.

Compiled after four public hearings in the state, the report offers 38 recommendations to alleviate these problems, including the development of police outreach programs, aggressive recruitment of police officers who speak an Asian/Pacific Islander language, the development of school programs that encourage students to share their cultural differences and organized opposition to a proposed English-only amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


‘Has to Stop’

“There is an intolerable level of hostility against Asian/Pacific Islanders throughout this state, and it has to stop,” said Van de Kamp at a news conference.

The 1980 census counted nearly 1.4 million Asian/Pacific Islanders in California. About 60% of them are foreign-born, in the United State because of increased immigration from Asian countries since 1965 and the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees that began in 1975.

A 1987 report by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission said that in 1987, the number of hate crimes hit a record high, partly because of increasing “white power” groups. Of the 79 racially motivated crimes that year, 19% were directed at Asians, the report said.

Martin Lee, a Los Angeles attorney who served on the state committee, has experienced such an attack. He said that last year, while he was sitting at a bar with his brother and another Chinese friend, a couple of whites asked, “Where’s the Honda convention?”

“When we told them to leave us alone, they asked us where were our cameras,” Lee said. “It ended up in a big wrestling match.”

To end such attacks, the report also calls for:

- Legislation to require law enforcement officials to collect and report information on any criminal acts that appear to be motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

- Development of community and police partnership programs to improve communication and understanding between immigrants and police officers.

- Concentrated efforts to make the Asian/Pacific Islander communities more aware of civil and consumer rights laws.

- A requirement that new teachers complete courses on the cultural diversity of California students and ways to foster relationships among students of different backgrounds.

Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said he agrees with the report’s recommendations and hopes they will be backed up with action.

‘Specific Legislation’

“There are terrible problems with hate crimes in this city, and the Police Department has been trying to monitor them. Many groups want more Asian officers on the police force, but there have been concrete barriers keeping that from happening,” Kwoh said. “The attorney general needs to back up these concepts with specific legislation or else they will never be realized.”

Dale Minami, a San Francisco attorney who chaired the committee, suggested that police could successfully recruit more Asian officers if they lowered their English proficiency standards.

“For example, if an officer did not speak English too well, but he could speak two dialects of Chinese, they should put him on the force and allow him to work only in Chinese areas of town,” Minami said.

That idea did not appeal to Lt. Jim Darr of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Asian Task Force.

“No way. This is the United States of America, an English-speaking country,” he said. “If you were in Japan, would they let you on the police department just because you spoke English?” Beyond that, Darr said, the department has already taken several of the steps recommended by the committee.

‘Real Nervous’

Other response to the report was positive.

Jean Akashi, director of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Asian/Pacific American Education Commission, said it is imperative for teachers to be educated about these cultures because common occurrences in this country often frighten immigrant children.

“Sending students to see a counselor is usually no big deal, but some Asian students think only crazy people see counselors, so they get real nervous,” said Akashi, whose commission acts as a liaison between the district and the Asian/Pacific Islander community. “We support any program that would help educate our teachers and administrators of these cultural differences.”

School board member Warren Furutani also praised the report’s recommendation to get immigrant parents more involved in schools.

“The school board is already working to do that by concentrating on hiring more administrators from the Asian/Pacific Islander community who will go out and earn the trust of parents who may be fearful of officials,” he said.