A 91-year-old man shoved to the ground in Oakland's Chinatown. A dead cat left at a family-run butcher shop in Sacramento. A 51-year-old teacher's aide beaten with his own cane in Rosemead. A fire and vandalism at a Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo. The harassment of an immigrant family in Ladera Ranch. A Sacramento high school teacher making disparaging slant-eyed gestures during a Zoom call.
These horrific incidents all occurred within the last month. And the trend isn't limited to California. Attacks on Asian Americans have drawn an outcry in New York City as well. Voice of America has documented similar surges in hate crimes in Boston, Seattle and other cities.
The increase in attacks over the past year has no single cause. But there can be no doubt that former President Trump's invective against immigrants and against China — he referred to the coronavirus as "the Chinese virus" and COVID-19 as "kung flu" — contributed to an atmosphere of xenophobia and scapegoating. It is only the latest in a long and ugly history of hostility toward Asians, marked by such outrages as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing minority group in America, and they have become pivotal voters in some elections. The community is characterized by staggering diversity.
One of the few things that unites this group's members, sadly, is being the target of hate crimes. The anti-Asian violence does not discriminate by national origin; for example, a 27-year-old Korean American was assaulted last month in Koreatown by two men who allegedly accused him of carrying COVID-19 and told him to "go back to China." Or consider Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, who was beaten to death in 1982 by autoworkers angry about economic competition from Japan.
That's one reason Trump's tough-on-China rhetoric was so harmful. As China continues to grow in wealth and influence, so too does mistrust in the United States — some of it justified — about the Chinese regime's intentions. But as the persecution of German Americans in World War I and Japanese Americans in World War II shows, rivalry with a foreign power can easily spill over into terrible abuses at home.
There is some good news. The recently enacted California pandemic aid bill includes $1.4 million to support research by the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA and data reporting by Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of advocacy groups established a year ago to collect information on racially motivated violence and harassment. Hate crimes have been underreported because many Asian Americans have limited English proficiency or do not trust the police.
It's also good that activists and entertainers, such as Daniel Dae Kim, have spoken out against anti-Asian hate. But more leadership will be needed to prevent this latest trend from getting worse — or turning deadly.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.