Asian student leaders speak out for community, elderly

Asian student leaders speak out for community, elderly

Photo Credits: Cathy Tang / Aggie

In the wake of a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, students find ways to give back to the community and raise awareness

Students are speaking out in response to a recent influx of anti-Asian hate crimes in California, noting that the pandemic exacerbated racism that Asian and Asian American students and their families have always experienced. 

According to a report by Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate, over 800 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in California during a period of three months in 2020, with 700 occuring in the greater Bay Area alone since the beginning of the pandemic

As of Fall Quarter 2019, 32% of undergraduates at UC Davis identify as Asian/Pacific Islander (API), according to the UC Davis student profile. Raquel Aldana, a law professor at UC Davis, said that oftentimes disparate communities of Asian Americans can be lumped together even though they have distinct experiences and cultures, and she has spoken out about desegregating data on API students.

Linhchi Nguyen, a fourth-year political science and English double major and the current president of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA) at UC Davis, shared the same sentiment as Aldana.

“People have this misconception that Asians, despite being a minority, are protected from any form of discrimination because they’re viewed as this ideal group,” Nguyen said. “That’s definitely not true at all. Ever since the pandemic, that has definitely come to light.”

Aldana said Asian Americans have been assumed to be a “well-integrated” group, and have had so-called “positive stereotypes” that have hindered their ability to be taken seriously by media outlets.

“Take [anti-Asian racism] seriously and make it visible,” Aldana said. “I think a lot of times there is an invisibility around the suffering of certain groups because of all the myths.” 

APAPA promotes education, professional development and civic engagement centered around social issues impacting the AAPI community. APAPA hosts events to raise awareness and facilitate discussions about these issues. In addition to providing support for students, APAPA has raised money for organizations that fight against anti-Asian discrimination, such as Stop AAPI Hate.

“It’s important to look up different Asian-based news sources because they are the ones who are definitely vocalizing about the different hate crimes,” Nguyen said. “It’s hard to see it in like mainstream news media, but it’s definitely out there.”

The Japanese American Student Society (JASS) at UC Davis is a social and service-oriented club open to students who are interested in Japanese and Japanese American culture. JASS participates in outreach events led by its two social chairs, Ashley Uyehara, a second-year animal biology major, and Joseph Hong, a third-year biotechnology major. 

“Now is the time for Asian Americans to band together under a common unity, to stop not only hate against Chinese Americans or even Asian Americans as a whole, but to stop hate in general,” Hong said.

The two are working with the Sacramento Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to organize a group of students who can escort elderly Asian Americans, as this group is often the target of hate crimes.

“We’ve definitely felt the need to take action,” Uyehara said. “It’s really frustrating to see something like this because of the past history of strong racism against the Asian American community.”

Uyehara is also the educational chair of the Nikkei Student Union (NSU), an organization that promotes civic awareness and social justice for the Japanese-American community. She said she felt personally affected by the destruction of the Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, as her grandparents used to visit the site regularly.

“When I was growing up, we were a part of a Buddhist church,” Uyehara said. “After feeling like they’ve given so much to me and helped shape who I am today, I want to give back in some type of way. And to see that my Japanese-American community is being affected this way really hurts my heart.”

Emiko Miller, a third-year human development and English double major, is one of the two coordinators of JASS’ family program in which members get to connect with one another in smaller groups, or “families.”

“As unfortunate as it is that all these hate crimes are occurring and increasing, it’s also bringing more light to how people have been treating Asian Americans for a long time,” Miller said. 

Miller emphasized the importance of educating oneself, not only about current issues but also about the history of discrimination against marginalized communities. She explained that one way she educated herself was by taking an Asian American literature class at UC Davis.

“I never felt represented all through high school,” Miller said. “English was always my favorite class, but I only read books by white authors. [During this course], I got to read a book by a Japanese woman which was very moving for me.”

Hendry Ton, the associate vice chancellor for Health, Equity Diversity and Inclusion, said that anti-Asian racism has gotten worse over the past year. 

“Speaking with our students, it’s certainly a fear that they have had in recent weeks,” Ton said. “The fear has been for their parents and their grandparents and the anxiety that they are not close at hand to help protect their parents.”

There has been a tradition of relying on children to navigate the social systems for their parents and grandparents who have limited English proficiency, Ton said. That, coupled with the recent targeting of Asian American elders, has weighed on students who have left their families to attend UC Davis.

“The message is: please see the suffering, please speak to it when you see your colleagues, check in with them,” Ton said. “They may not be talking about it, but the pain is nevertheless there.”
Written by: Liana Mae Atizado and Kathleen Quinn — features@theaggie.org