Asian Americans have been in the crosshairs of small-minded bigots | Tammy C. Barney

The passage of the COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act is an important step

Protestors hold signs that read "hate is a virus" and "stop Asian hate" at the End The Violence Towards Asians rally in Washington Square Park on Feb. 20, 2021 in New York City. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, violence towards Asian Americans has increased at a much higher rate than previous years. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 164% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same time last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. The attacks caught on video or described in news reports have been appalling: 

In New York’s Times Square on March 29, a Black man kicked a 65-year-old Filipina woman in the stomach and stomped on her head over and over again while yelling anti-Asian statements. The incident occurred in front of security guards who did nothing to intervene as they watched from the lobby of a luxury hotel. One of the guards shamelessly closed the door as the woman lay on the ground with a broken pelvis.

On May 2 in New York, a Black woman struck a 31-year-old Asian woman in the head with a hammer as the victim and her friend walked to the subway, and on March 16, a White mass shooter killed eight women, six of them Asian, at three Atlanta spas.

In Louisiana, none of the 26 hate crimes recorded in 2019 (the last year with data) was driven by anti-Asian hate. But we have anecdotal evidence of a growing problem. A 7th grader at a Metairie school recently told a TV reporter that he was afraid after being bullied for being Asian American. Name-calling was not enough for his bullies. They broke his foot. In an April 8 brproud.com article, LSU’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Ambassadors, who have personally experienced and witnessed Asian hate, said they have seen an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Anti-Asian hate is not new. Chinese massacres, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II illustrate that discrimination against Asians has existed in the United States for centuries. The origin of the new spate of attacks can be traced back to former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who wrongly blame the Chinese for the spread of COVID-19. This misguided blame has put all Asian Americans in the crosshairs of small-minded bigots.

Tuesday’s passage of the COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act is an important legal step toward preventing anti-Asian violence. The legislation, which the House passed by a 364-62 vote (Republicans cast all 62 opposition votes) creates a Justice Department position focusing on anti-Asian hate crimes and provides resources to beef up state and local reporting. Now headed to President Joe Biden for final approval, the bill also provides online reporting resources in multiple languages. 

Another way to stop the hate is to honor Asian heritage and history, communications professional Ted Nguyen said during a recent Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month program. Unfortunately, a lot of Asian American history remains unknown to many Americans — including Asian Americans. Like Black history, Asian American history has been whitewashed or left out of textbooks.

Let’s start with the present day and go backward. Some of our country’s notable businesses were founded by Asian Americans.  Eric S. Yuan founded Zoom; Ben Silbermann co-founded Pinterest; James Park started Fitbit; Tony Xu, Stanley Tang and Andy Fang founded DoorDash; and Jenny Ming founded Old Navy.  In the film industry, Director Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” broke box office records in 2018, becoming North America’s highest-earning romantic comedy in a decade.

In politics, David Saund of California was the first Asian American, first Indian American and the first Sikh to serve in Congress. Hiram L. Fong, the son of poor Chinese immigrants, was Hawaii’s first U.S. Senator. Patsy Mink of Hawaii was the first Asian American and the first woman of color to serve in Congress. Kamala Harris is the first woman, first Black woman and first Asian American woman to be sworn in as vice president of the United States.

The California Gold Rush triggered the first major wave of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. beginning in 1859. According to the Library of Congress, 25,000 had arrived by 1851. Faced with unstable work, hostile locals and a language barrier, the Chinese laborers had no choice but to take on the dangerous job of building the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869.

The first Japanese immigrant was a 14-year-old fisherman who was adopted in 1843 by an American captain who rescued the boy and his crew from a shipwreck 300 miles from Japan’s coast.

But the earliest examples of Asian influence on our country happened right here when Filipino sailors, who worked as crew or indentured servants aboard Spanish ships, jumped ship in the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans and in 1763 established the first documented Asian American communities in North America. 

According to historian Marina Espina, author of Filipinos in Louisiana, the sailors set up eight villages in the state’s bayous. They fought alongside the U.S. in the Battle of New Orleans; built houses on stilts similar to the nipa huts in their homeland; became fishermen; established ethnic organizations; and intermarried with local Cajun and Creole families, now spanning eight to 10 generations of Filipino Americans.

There is so much more to learn about Asian American history and notable Asian Americans. If the anti-Asian haters took a moment to educate themselves, they wouldn’t have time to attack the Asian American elders or children who cannot fight back.

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Tammy C. Barney
Award-winning columnist Tammy Carter Barney earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans before starting her career at The Daily Comet in Thibodaux. She covered city government and education, wrote a column and was the first Black woman to work as the paper's managing editor. She worked at The Times-Picayune as a bureau chief, assistant city editor, TV editor and columnist and while there earned a MBA from Tulane University. She left The Times-Picayune for The Orlando Sentinel, where she served as an editor and wrote a weekly column for the lifestyle section. Her writing has won her multiple awards, including the prestigious Vernon Jarrett Award for Journalistic Excellence for a series of columns on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In addition to writing, Tammy is passionate about quilting and singing with the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Praise Team and Contemporary Choir. She also serves as chair of the New Orleans Human Rights Commission. For 17 years, Tammy was married to the late Keith G. Barney. She has one daughter and one granddaughter.