Orange County community leaders unite against anti-Asian rhetoric and violence

Orange County Board of Supervisors chairman Andrew Do speaks at a news conference.
Orange County Board of Supervisors chairman Andrew Do on Thursday during a news conference about anti-Asian hate and rhetoric that he hasn’t seen the level of xenophobic language and racist attacks seen today since he moved to Orange County in 1976.
(Agnes Constante)

Asian American community leaders and elected officials in anews conference on Feb. 25 urged the public to stop and report incidents of anti-Asian rhetoric and violence, which have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Between March and December 2020, there weremore than 2,800 reported anti-Asian hate incidents across the nation, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition tracking anti-Asian hate and discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic. Of these incidents, about 7.3% of cases involved people over the age of 60.

Among attacks on Asian American seniors that have been reported include 84-year-oldVichar Ratanapakdee in the San Francisco Bay Area who was killed during a walk around his neighborhood in January andNoel Quintana, 61, who was slashed across his face on his way to work in a subway train in New York in February.

Christie Nguyen, co-founder of Nailing it for America, a volunteer group that formed last year and has provided PPE and meals to frontline workers and seniors in Southern California, said seeing attacks on the elderly has been upsetting.

“We must do better,” she said. “We must end the violence of hate racism and discrimination.”

Orange County District Atty. Todd Spitzer said the county has filed more hate crimes in the last two years than in the previous 22 years.

Don Han, operations manager at the Orange County Human Relations Commission, an agency established in 1971 to help the county track hate incidents and hate crimes, said it has recorded 40 hate incident cases against Asian Americans since January 2020 — 10 times higher than previous years.

Orange County Board of Supervisors chairman Andrew Do said these numbers don’t include the larger number of unreported incidents, which may not be documented because victims are reluctant to come forward or don’t know how to file a report.

Violence and hate incidents directed at Asian Americans have surged across California since the pandemic, with some blaming Asians because of the coronavirus’ origins in Wuhan, China.

“As a resident of Orange County since 1976, not since then have we seen this level of xenophobic rhetoric and racist language used so openly, nor have we seen so many people physically attacked in open daylight,” Do said.

Linda Nguyen, executive vice president of 360 Clinic, shared an encounter she had early in the pandemic when a couple approached and accused her of having the coronavirus. It was a moment that left her in tears for several minutes.

“In the 40 years I’ve lived here in Orange County, I was shocked because I had never experienced anything like that living in this melting pot,” she said. “It was a painful experience and although it was not an act of violence, it was emotionally painful and it was embarrassing.”

Trang Hoang, a USC professor who specializes in Asian Pacific Islander adult mental health, asked community members who discriminate and hold racist views to challenge themselves to change their behavior by not acting out but instead managing their fear of COVID-19 in a peaceful way.

Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones said his city condemns any acts of discrimination, violence or hate against any person. He added that Garden Grove’s diverse communities contribute to multiple facets of daily life, from cultural traditions to business, and civic, educational and social activities.

“More importantly they broaden our understanding and appreciation for living in an environment that values and celebrates that we are all unique individuals but together we are one community,” he said.

Garden Grove Deputy Police Chief Amir El Farra said the Garden Grove Police Department will do everything in its power to make sure Asian Americans feel safe in the community. One of the ways they’re working toward this is by dispatching patrol to areas where Asian American elders congregate, such as senior centers or areas where they exercise, El Farra said.

“We are just as aggressive at enforcing the law as people who use hate speech and manifest it in physical activity against a person,” he said. “We will fight them back with everything we have in our resolve.”

Do said Thursday’s news conference was a public statement that racist conduct won’t be tolerated and that the community is united in fighting against bigotry and ignorance.

“We are also standing up today to protect our community’s future,” he said. “Racial discrimination creates serious and long lasting harms against the physical health and psychological wellbeing of our children, especially young kids.”

Speakers urged community members to report hate incidents to places including the Orange County Human Relations Commission by calling (714) 480-6580.

Agnes Constante is a contributor to TimesOC.

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