Jeremy Lin, Olivia Munn join NBC News town hall on anti-Asian hate crimes

In an NBC News virtual town hall Wednesday night, Asian American advocates, journalists and celebrities discussed the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, bias incidents and racism since the start of the pandemic.

"The Racism Virus" town hall on NBC News Now featured Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; basketball star Jeremy Lin; actress Olivia Munn; Russell Jeung, an Asian American studies professor at San Francisco State University; the Nobel Prize nominee and activist Amanda Nguyen; comedian Margaret Cho; actor Brian Tee; NBC Asian America reporter Kimmy Yam and more.

NBC News investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen moderated the event hosted by NBC Asian America and NBC News Now.

The conversation covered how the Asian American community has dealt with the stigma of being associated with the coronavirus, which has not only taken an economic and personal toll, but led to an increase in violent attacks, reports show.

Lin shared early memories of being discriminated against for his race. Lin, who is Taiwanese-American and now plays for the Santa Cruz Warriors (the Golden State Warriors’ G League affiliate), talked about being told to "go back to China" and asked in college if he "could see the scoreboard with those eyes."

Lin also recalled how, in one crucial college game, he played terrible and "lost control" after being called a slur repeatedly.

"That's when I realized my assistant coach at the time, Kenny Blakeney, he explained to me his experiences as an African American trying to play at Duke and what that was like," he said. "For me, it just really challenged my perspective to see that when people come in and they say those things, they're trying to get you out of your element."

Lin also spoke about how someone had called him "coronavirus" during a game.

"I wrestled with whether to talk about it, whether to bring it up and things like that," Lin said. "That's verbal and that's something that happened to me on the court, but I think what I'm trying to do is bring awareness to what is happening off the court, to people, to the elderly, to important people that we love and in our community."

After watching a video of a man in New York City violently shove a Chinese woman, who then needed stitches in her head, Munn pushed for his arrest on social media. The man was arrested within a week of the attack. The actress is now using her platform to stand up for the Asian American community.

"It has been really disappointing to see how quiet everyone has been," she said in the town hall. "If you are anti-racist, you have to be against what's happening to Asian Americans right now."

AAPI business owners have also felt the economic impact of the pandemic-related racism. One New York City restaurant owner said during the town hall that he was forced to change the way he did business due to hateful attacks on his Asian staff.

Xi'an Famous Foods CEO Jason Wang said several employees had experienced violent attacks during their commutes leading him to close his restaurants earlier to protect his staff.

"Our restaurants have already been suffering because of the pandemic but — in addition to the pandemic — our limited hours put us at an even lower amount of sales volume. I would say right now our restaurants are operating around 20 to 30 percent of what it used to be," Wang told business and technology correspondent Jo Ling Kent.

"We're not making anything, we're actually losing tens of thousands of money every month. In the meanwhile, just survive. It's not about making money right now, it's just about survival. We're just hoping for better days," he said.

Anti-Asian violence has surged since the coronavirus pandemic began. A recent analysis that examined hate crimes in America's largest cities revealed that while hate crimes decreased overall by 7 percent, hate crimes targeting Asian Americans increased by 150 percent last year.

Vicky Nguyen said that while watching the viral attack videos have been painful, she does see a silver lining.

"We're talking about this in a way I feel like we really haven't, so this is quite a moment," she said Wednesday on the "TODAY" show.

"I'm just really excited we have so many interesting people from all over the country who are going to join this conversation."

Read about anti-racism resources to support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community here.

Victims can report bias incidents via the online reporting tool Stop AAPI Hate, AAPI Emergency Response Network -- a nonprofit resource spearheaded by the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans -- or Asian Americans Advancing Justice's hate crime tracker.

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