Asian Americans face growing anxiety about racial attacks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – everything from ostracism to cruel comments and physical violence.
The Atlanta shootings that killed six Asian women have brought these concerns even further to the fore. Some say they go out less – and when they do, they go with other people for protection. Others say they have smartphones ready to record hate incidents.
Here are some voices from across Southern California:
Buy pepper spray in bulk
Lien Hoa BBQ Deli’s slightly socially distanced line has stepped forward. Patrons at the Little Saigon takeout restaurant in Orange County couldn’t help but get closer to each other as they approached the cashier to pay for a roast pork and scented duck.
People ordered juicy, sizzling meats from a heated display cabinet as talks revolved around headlines including the arrest of what some have described as “the American man attacking Asian women.”
“I saw on the news that the police did not understand why they had committed this crime. Is it because a person from a minority culture does not deserve so much protection? Or is it because they deserve to be permanent targets? Said Bill Tran, a tutor from Santa Ana. “It’s ridiculous that my sister, my aunt, my grandmother can’t experience safety in their own city. No one feels like they can just run outside at all times.
Tran asked a barbecue worker if he felt safe about the increase in racially motivated attacks. The man shrugged, then confided that his daughters had bought pepper spray in bulk.
“Even people in ethnic enclaves are preparing,” said Tran, 31, who is of Vietnamese descent. He makes sure his phone’s battery is always charged “in case something happens and I need to save it.” The videos will be our record.
A buddy system, ready to witness the hate
Near the entrance to the Beijing Kitchen, along bustling Santa Ana 17th Street, Mary Lau and her friend Lynn Porter texted family members to find out if they had any food orders.
Women in their twenties say this week is a good time for comfort food, given what’s going on in Southern California and across the country.
“We’re interested in vaccine news – you know, how to get it – but all we hear is about violence,” said Lau, from Anaheim, who is Taiwanese.
She visited Porter, who lives near the restaurant, and they decided to follow their model of supporting small businesses during the pandemic.
She said some of her friends are worried about “what will happen if these troubled stores become targets.”
Lau worries about the mental health of immigrant families “are just trying to live their lives and stay safe. A lot of them do honest work. They need public support for their right to a life free from harassment. “
Lau and Porter, who are half Chinese, say that when they leave the house they’re never alone – they make sure they are accompanied.
“In this environment, you need a buddy. Someone more to witness, “Lau said,” in case something goes wrong.
Talking about racism on Instagram
Kym Estrada, a 29-year-old business owner in Long Beach, took to Instagram to express her frustration at the anti-Asian hatred that surfaced last year.
“We’re not a monolith,” she wrote from the San & Wolves vegan bakery account. “We cover all the different parts of an entire continent. All my life I have seen my elders and my peers being treated worse than because of their slanted eyes and because they did not pronounce a word correctly because English is their second or third language !? I’m telling you right now, this generation and future generations of Asian Americans will not allow this hatred to continue. “
It’s probably not the most strategic decision to be so open about your beliefs on social media, and people are directing her to tell her so, she said. But she doesn’t care.
She wants people to know what’s going on in her community, especially white people who make up a large part of the vegan community and its supporters.
She writes from the security of her computer, a privilege her immigrant parents did not have.
When she heard the news Wednesday morning about the assaults on Asian women in Atlanta, she was surprised to be so upset because it was so distant from her. But the moment sparked memories of racism and prompted her to take a stand.
Estrada said she remembers people calling her Chinese when she was a child and laughing, like it was an insult, even though she is Filipino. Her parents did not teach her Tagalog for fear that she would separate from her peers. They never gave her homemade lunches to take to school – instead they packed Lunchables, so she could be like everyone else.
When she got old enough to this day, she remembers being very aware of the fetishization of young Asian women. She tried to be strong and vocal, to avoid being seen as submissive and targeted by men. She avoided dating white men.
So it’s no surprise to her that investigators claimed race was not a factor in the Atlanta bombings and that the suspect claimed to have a sex addiction.
“To me it’s pretty obvious it was racially motivated,” she said.
Over the past year, she has seen an increase in disturbing encounters with strangers, she said.
Once someone pushed her off a sidewalk. Another day, a man knocked her over as he walked past her. Her partner, who is also Filipino, has been repeatedly invited to return to his country.
Despite years of racism in her own life, this is a “light bulb” moment, she said.
“I’ve always experienced some kind of anti-Asian hate in my life, but growing up I didn’t see it as hate. I saw him as people making fun of me and my parents, ”she said. “I accepted that ‘Asians look funny.’ There is a lot of unlearning to be done.
Estrada said that until now she hadn’t given much thought to her safety as a young Asian-American business owner. She worries more about her mother, who works as a bank teller and has had racist encounters all her life in public spaces.
Estrada said she likely won’t tell her parents about her fears or the violence.
It is a “delicate” conversation due to the divergent political views between the generations, she said.
A feeling of inevitability
Michelle Nguyen Bradley said she is only now learning to have conversations about race with friends and family, despite having struggled with these issues her entire life.
“The myth of the model minority is so bad for us because it means they think we are all either ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ or doctors,” said Nguyen Bradley, a 38-year-old Palms resident. and online program host.
She choked on the thought: “We teach Asian Americans not to take up too much space or talk too much about ourselves. When some of us speak up, it feels like no one is listening.
In the past, it was easy to get your head in the sand, she said, as the horrific racist attacks did not happen directly against her or in her neighborhood.
As you get older, it’s harder to do, she says.
“I was afraid it would happen, and it eventually happened, but not for me. And it’s not better, ”she said.
And she knows it could happen to her.
“You carry that sense of inevitability,” she said.
Nguyen Bradley said she worried about her Vietnamese immigrant parents and struggled to bring up the subject of racism in light of the Atlanta bombings.
They mostly stayed at home during the pandemic – her father is recovering from COVID-19. But she worries about times when they have to leave their home in a predominantly white neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
“Of course I worry if they go to Walmart or that sort of thing,” she said. “Asian children, we don’t want our parents to worry. We see how far we can go without talking to them.
As for herself, Nguyen Bradley started taking precautions early last year, given the racist rhetoric at the start of the pandemic, but has since let it go a bit.
She would avoid walking her dog or receiving mail at night, asking her husband to do the chores instead. She clutched her phone in her pocket while she was outside, ready to call someone or take pictures if she needed to.
But now she’s exhausted.
“I can barely get out of bed,” she said. “You cannot live your life constantly on your guard.”
Consider a future where she feels secure “is very cloudy.”