Asian and Pacific Americans Refuse to Be Ignored

There is a lot to celebrate as May was Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, and on June 12th we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of Spanish rule and Philippine independence. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander-Americans have made great strides in this country, but recent events have illustrated both the challenges that remain and the new ways in which our community is rising up to those challenges.

Between March 19, 2020, and March 31, 2021, the non-profit Stop AAPI Hate documented 6,603 incident reports of discrimination, including verbal harassment, physical assault, and workplace discrimination. Notably, over 2,600 of these reports came in March of 2021 alone. There are two, not mutually exclusive, possible explanations for reports rising so sharply. The first and most obvious explanation would be that these incidents are on the rise, something that anecdotal evidence suggests may very well be the case—a depressing and alarming trend.

However, the second potential explanation is that we, as a community, are being more proactive in documenting such incidents and ensuring that our voices are heard. I have talked before here about the model minority stereotype and the very real phenomenon of people within our community underreporting discrimination out of a desire to remain unseen and not make waves. If indeed, the uptick in reports is a reversal of this trend, it is encouraging.

On May 20th, President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. Rather than take the already proven ineffective step of increasing penalties in hopes of deterring such acts, the Bill smartly focuses specifically on making reporting more accessible to marginalized communities through an increase in public outreach and resources. The bill also authorizes grants to local authorities both for programs designed to prevent such crimes before they happen and to augment the resources utilized to investigate them when they do.

This bill did not happen in a vacuum. It happened because our community refused to be silent and refused to be ignored. By insisting that the nation reckons with the discrimination and violence being visited upon our community, we demonstrated the political power we possess as a community. Obviously, we cannot stop here. The organization and activism that were necessitated by the crisis our community faced during the pandemic have the potential to be a silver lining if we continue in our efforts to come together and ensure that our voices are heard.