The recent surge in racist sentiment and hate crimes toward the Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) community since the coronavirus pandemic started is disheartening. Unfortunately, it is also not something new.
Throughout America’s history, Asians have continuously faced discrimination. This includes the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese migration to the United States, to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II that incarcerated 120,000 individuals, most of whom were citizens. Both of us know too well the Japanese internment story, as multiple family members were interned.
The Stop AAPI Hate Coalition, a nonprofit organization that set up a website for reporting anti-Asian incidents, including those not reported to the police, has recorded nearly 3,000 hate incidents toward Asian Americans in 2020. It is believed that in reality this number is just a small fraction of the real total. AAPI victims may not report crimes or incidents due to distrust of the government, language barriers, or feelings of shame. Most disturbing is that the majority of these incidents and crimes have been toward the elderly community.
As “Asian Americans,'' a term coined in the late 1960s at UC Berkeley, the two of us contend daily with the “model minority” myth. The myth pits us against other communities of color and promotes the assumption that because of our hard work ethic, we are successful and that we do not face the same barriers as other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Coupled with our traditional and cultural values, “to avoid being the nail that sticks out because it will get hammered down,” the trend is for Asian Americans to be an invisible minority. It is believed that we do not experience racism, microaggressions, or disparities. Yet, we are also seen as perpetual foreigners, being asked where we were born and where we are really from. In reality, many of our families have been in America for several generations.
Mountain View is not immune to these occurrences. Just a few weeks ago, while volunteering at the grab-and-go senior lunch program at the city’s Senior Center, as I (Margaret) was checking in a client who was Caucasian, she yelled, “Stop talking. I don’t want to hear you. I only want to listen to American English.” I was conflicted as to whether to report the incident to the program director but became compelled to report it upon learning that this client was hostile to another senior Asian client. I could not condone such behavior, especially on city property that I oversee as a city council member.
We must talk about our personal experiences to raise awareness, to be seen and counted. This is why we both became involved politically in the first place – as AAPI elected officials, we aim to use our voices to be heard, seen, and ensure our place around the conversation and decisionmaking table.
The AAPI community is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. Forty percent of Santa Clara County identifies as Asian, with nearly 30% in Mountain View. Thus, last May, we were proud our City Council passed a resolution condemning anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia. Soon after, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we launched the council Subcommittee on Race, Equity and Inclusion. We knew from our own experiences that to truly address systemic racism and implicit bias, we had to go broader and deeper to examine all aspects of our community, including looking at the city budget, land use policies, and service delivery with an equity lens.
In Mountain View, we celebrate the diversity of our community. We condemn racist acts and behavior. Hate crimes have not and will not be tolerated. As demonstrated with the recent incident at an AAPI-owned small business on Castro Street, we take these crimes seriously and they will be investigated to the fullest extent.
We implore more minds to be open and cognizant of all forms of discrimination and hate, and more voices from all sectors to speak out and take action. Support the minority-owned small businesses in our community that are facing discrimination. Talk with family members about the fears AAPI elders have to leave their houses because of the way they look. If you see something, say something. Let’s celebrate and cherish our diversity, which is what makes our city such a special place.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga is the former mayor of Mountain View and Ellen Kamei is the current mayor.