Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a string of attacks against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, especially the elderly. According to Stop AAPI Hate, the total number of anti-Asian incidents reported during the pandemic last year has doubled by March alone. In California, the increase is even higher. A new report from the state’s Department of Justice found that hate crimes against Asian Americans in California increased by over 100% in 2020.
Data released by Stop AAPI Hate found that almost 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian hate were reported over the last year during the pandemic, a majority of which targeted both women and those over the age of 60. With the number of cases being reported in almost every state nationwide increasing daily, Asian Americans are learning to fight back.
Over the last year and a half, Asian American elders and others have been verbally and physically assaulted including being spat on in public. Cowardly racists are targeting them due to their age amid the rise in misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic. In one incident in San Francisco, an 84-year-old Thai man died after being slammed onto the pavement during his morning walk. These incidents and others have spread fear amongst the community about the safety of their loved ones going about their everyday activities.
“I will strike them in the eyes,” 64-year-old Minh Hoang said through an interpreter in Vietnamese, according to The Boston Globe.“Or I will throw my fist at them and overpower them.”
Through different classes including one being taught by the tutelage of kung fu master Mai Du, Asian Americans are learning where they should strike an opponent should they be attacked. Du reminds them to draw power from their core, stay alert, listen for footsteps, and walk-in well-lit areas. “You can do this!” she encouraged her students in Vietnamese. “Even though they may be more able-bodied than you!” According to The Boston Globe, some of Du’s students have been attacked before.
The program she is teaching the elders self-defense through is funded by a $7,500 grant from the city of Boston’s Age Strong Commission. She and her colleagues hope the program will provide a sense of safety to the elders who have been living in fear.
“I pray that I will never have to use these practices,” 88-year-old Linh Mat said in Vietnamese through an interpreter, the Globe reported. “But if it comes to it,” her best friend, 95-year-old Thoi Phan, added, “we will.”
In addition to teaching elderly community members self-defense, other programs to protect the community have also been developed. In efforts to make community members feel safe, volunteers have been coming together to accompany and escort Asian Americans concerned about their safety around major cities. While the project began in Oakland, California, where crimes against the community were high, it has expanded to other cities including New York City.
But this isn’t the first time the Asian American community has taken to fighting back. A video in which a 75-year-old woman fought back against her assailant during a violent attack in San Francisco went viral in March. According to KPIX5, the woman, identified as Xiao Zhen Xie, who spoke through a translator, said she was standing at a traffic light when a man approached her and punched her in the eye. Thinking quickly Xie fought back by picking up a wooden board nearby and hitting the man.
Footage captured by KPIX5’s Dennis O’Donnell showed that Xie’s self-defense left the man with a bloodied face and he was handcuffed to a stretcher when officers took him away. Following the attack, Xie too was left severely injured prompting supporters to create a GoFundMe in her name which raised $900K, but Xie chose to donate the funds instead of keeping them.
While xenophobia against the AAPI community is not a new phenomenon, the rate at which these crimes are increasing is more alarming with every data report released. Hate crime data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino found that hate crimes against Asian Americans surged in 2020 in at least 15 cities, Daily Kos reported. As the cities were further reviewed, a new report indicated that crimes against Asian Americans rose by 169% when comparing the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.
Now more than ever the Asian American community needs our support. We need to take action whether it be checking in on our family and friends, spreading awareness of COVID-19 misconceptions, or contacting members of Congress to do more against anti-Asian hate. Check out this guide on resources and ways to support the AAPI community and our Asian friends. Community members should not have to learn how to fight to feel safe.
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