For the Asian neighborhood in San Diego, the Georgia shootings mark a 12 months of pandemic hatred

An elderly man slammed on the sidewalk in San Francisco. A mother and daughter continued to spit in New York. The body of a mutilated cat went to a butcher owner in Sacramento.

As these and other violent signs of anti-Asian hatred made headlines across the country in the past few months, a growing sense of fear, grief, and fear gripped Asians and Pacific islanders in San Diego.

That fear has only worsened since Tuesday, March 16, when a shooter massacred eight people – six of them Asian women – at massage companies in the Atlanta area.

“There are many people in the community who strive to say, ‘Is it safe for my mother or grandparents to go to the store in the face of increasing crime? Is it safe for you to ride the trolley? Said Lauren Garces, a member of a coalition of organizations in San Diego that have come together to denounce hatred against the Asian and Pacific Islander communities (API).

“Of course it concerns us.”

Anti-Asian bigotry has risen sharply since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit clearinghouse that tracks down hate incidents. Nearly 3,800 such incidents have been reported to the organization nationwide.

Chinese people quickly became scapegoats when Wuhan was identified as the epicenter of the virus and unsubstantiated reports swirled that it was created in a Chinese virology lab. Former President Donald Trump’s repeated insistence on calling it “China flu” and “Kung flu” has further entrenched the racist rhetoric and turned against Asians, whether Chinese or not.

The same language was said to be used in verbal attacks on Asians in San Diego, said assistant district attorney Leonard Trinh.

“Most of the people in the API community were either going to work or running errands and someone was shouting an arch off the street,” said Trinh. “There were a lot of comments on the topic of“ China Virus ”and COVID. It’s pretty clear what is causing the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents and hate crimes – this is usually related to COVID. “

California has reached most of all states, including at least 42 in San Diego County. On site, more than half – 24 – consisted of verbal harassment and naming. Most took place in businesses, while fewer took place in the streets or in public parks.

That’s probably only a fraction of the problem, said Kent Lee, co-chair of the coalition and executive director of the Pacific Arts Movement, which hosts the San Diego Asian Film Festival.

“We know there must be hundreds,” he said. “It’s hard to swallow.”

But not surprising either. According to experts, hate incidents and crime are traditionally underreported, especially among Asian victims.

“Often times we keep things to ourselves, we don’t want to cause problems – that’s what our grandparents would say,” We don’t want to interfere, “said Garces, the public relations, marketing and events manager for the San Diego Asian Business Association. “That’s where the underreporting comes from.”

Language barriers are an issue, as is previous experiences that lead victims to believe that a report will fail.

According to Lee, reports of hateful confrontations tend to circulate unofficially in the community. He has heard of several.

In one case, a Filipino grandmother, mother and teenage daughter were molested and physically threatened while walking down the street, he said. In another case, a woman in her seventies who was born in a Japanese detention center said she was accused of spreading the coronavirus over lunch with a friend.

Last March, a US-born Hong Kong Uber driver posted a video picking up passengers in the Convoy District of San Diego and being harassed with coronavirus jokes.

Trinh, the district hate crime attorney, has heard of similar reports on the agency’s hate crime reporting hotline since it launched last April. Of the 129 tips so far, 10 were anti-Asian.

As the pandemic began, hate incidents against Asians increased but subsided when the country was locked, Trinh said.

“People stayed at home, they weren’t out and about,” he said. “With the states reopening and vaccines available, people are back on the move and we’re seeing an increase again.”

Few incidents have risen to become a hate crime, largely due to the high threshold required to prove in court that the crime was motivated by racial or ethnic bias and that it was more than a distant or trivial factor.

Local prosecutors have filed three hate crime cases involving anti-Asian bigotry since the pandemic began. Two of them involved violence and the other property damage, Trinh said. He declined to provide further details.

No such cases were filed in 2018 or 2019.

A fourth incident – a Filipino woman who was slapped on a cart heading downtown in February – was reviewed for possible hate crime charges but was eventually filed as an assault on allegations of molesting the elderly.

Whether the Atlanta attack was motivated by racism, misogyny, an overlap between the two, or something entirely different remains unclear.

The grief for so many Asian lives lost doesn’t matter.

“There are just no questions – it’s still very annoying,” said Lee. “The series of them together says a lot about what happens.”

Racism against Asians is deeply rooted in US and state history.

The first great wave of Chinese immigrants to California came during the mid-19th century gold rush. Chinese migrant workers were used – often exploitative – to build the transcontinental railroad.

After the civil war, Chinese immigrants were blamed for an economic downturn, portrayed as a racist caricature of the “Yellow Peril,” which posed a faceless threat to Western ideals.

Institutional racism was evident, as demonstrated in an 1854 California Supreme Court ruling that banned three Chinese men from testifying in the case of a white man accused of killing a Chinese man. The court held that the Chinese were “a race of people who were naturally considered inferior” and that permission to testify would allow them to enjoy all of the same rights of citizenship, and we could soon get them to See the elections in the jury box, on the bench and in our legislative chambers. “

California passed several anti-Chinese laws, including one in 1858 that made it illegal for people of Chinese origin to enter the state and one that restricted Chinese employment. Later, the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882 banned Chinese immigration to the United States for 10 years. The law was repealed in World War II.

“If you look at history … every time there was an outbreak or disease, the US scapegoated Chinese immigrants who came overseas,” Lee said.

However, public awareness of anti-Asian racism declined in the second half of the 20th century when the myth of the “exemplary minority” took hold. The idea discourages East Asians in particular from successfully assimilating and achieving financial success in the US, and leads to the perception that they are “whiter” than other minorities.

The myth has often led Asians and islanders in the Pacific to stop talking about xenophobia and hatred, according to members of the community.

As the initial wave of hatred made itself felt as the pandemic began, about 20 local groups serving the API community realized they needed to form a united front as the San Diego Asian Pacific Islander Coalition.

“We wanted to stand together to denounce hatred and ask elected officials to do the same,” Garces said. “The way governments use rhetoric has a huge impact on the communities they serve.”

On Tuesday evening, March 16, an AAPI community will come together in person to mourn the victims of the Atlanta murders. According to the flyer, the interfaith candlelight vigil is “to honor our anger and anger, to affirm and confirm our pain, to mourn and belong together”. The socially distant outdoor event begins at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Performance Annex of the City Heights / Weingart Library.

– Kristina Davis is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune