In the wake of last week’s shootings at Atlanta-area spas, leaving eight people dead — six of them Asian women — a recent surge of xenophobia, hate and violent incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the nation is coming to light, and La Cañada Flintridge residents want to stand in solidarity.
As part of the nationwide call for an “Asian American Day of Action,” this Friday, LCF resident and La Cañada Elementary School mom Nirosha Ruwan is planning a family-friendly walk from the school to Memorial Park to recognize the rise of anti-Asian harassment and violence witnessed since the beginning of the pandemic. The event will be “kid-driven and kid-centric,” she said.
“We are trying to raise awareness in La Cañada and elsewhere, where people might not really understand that this is happening,” Ruwan said. “This is such a huge issue and we want to make sure kids and families know about it and that we stand in solidarity, that we will take a stand and not tolerate the rise of these incidents, as well as empower our kids to stand up when they see injustices.”
Since the pandemic took hold more than a year ago, there has been an alarming increase in the number of reported anti-Asian discrimination and hate incidents, which can include online harassment, micro-aggressions, shunning, slurs and physical attacks. According to research released by Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination amid the pandemic, there were about 3,795 incidents reported over the course of the pandemic year. Asian women have been disproportionally targeted, the data shows, and Asian elders have also become a target. Many of those attacks have been unprovoked.
“It’s not like this is some abstract idea; this is very real and very scary, and it’s affecting people’s everyday lives,” Ruwan said, noting that AAPI friends and family members she knows have become afraid to travel or venture outside.
LCF has a significant Asian American and Pacific Islander community, with about 31.1% of the city’s population identifying as Asian American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers from 2019, the most recent available. Census data on more specific descendants from the continent of Asia were not available, but within the La Cañada High School 7-12 student body, about 35% identify as Asian, East Asian, South Asian or Pacific Islander, according to figures released by LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal.
When local resident Ahee Han heard the news of the Atlanta-area killings, as well as the now-infamous explanation by a local police official saying the crime didn’t appear to be race related but that the shooter “had a bad day,” she felt stunned.
“It felt like the last straw. I thought here we go again being silenced and not heard, just the inherent sexism and misogyny that is layered in a statement like that,” she said, adding that hate crime incidents often go underreported out of shame, language barriers and the fact that proving a crime was committed out of hate is difficult to do.
Hearing about the recent violent attacks on Asian elderly people has been especially difficult to bear, Han said, since part of AAPI culture is founded in caring for and revering the older generation.
“We are charged with caring for and respecting our elders as we are growing up, so it’s devastating to say the least. I think that is part of why we have to come together, stand in solidarity and demand action,” she said. “Even though we are angry and sad, it’s also a relief that we don’t have to stay silent anymore.”
According to the data released by Stop AAPI Hate, businesses are the primary site of discrimination (35.4%), followed by public streets (25.3%) and public parks (9.8%). Online incidents account for 10.8% of the total incidents.
Local resident and parent Patty Whong said she has been hyper aware of the rise in discrimination and has made a concerted effort to shop locally or in predominantly Asian communities, partly out of safety concerns. Whong, who grew up in LCF, was cognizant from an early age about the vitriolic hyperbole that could be aimed at Asian Americans. Her father, an immigrant from Korea, served as a medic in Vietnam and he “recalled that time as being pretty awful” as far as the discrimination he faced.
“I always understood that the privilege of immigrating to the United States comes with a slice of racism. That’s just life in America as an Asian,” she said. “But this recent rise in violence feels like it’s turning into a watershed moment, especially with our older and defenseless generation being picked on, I think it’s finally being recognized for what it is.”
The La Cañada Unified School District also addressed the attacks in Atlanta last week, highlighting the recent rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community and providing resources for information and support, with Superintendent Wendy Sinnette issuing a letter to all district families.
“I am heavy hearted, as I am sure we all are, by the horrific attacks in Atlanta this week … the fact that many of the victims were Asian women makes poignant the reality that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander persons, families and communities have increased,” she wrote. “These acts damage our society and take a great toll on our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander students, staff, and families, and it is critical that we acknowledge that harm and provide resources, safe spaces, and grace during this time to support all those in our community who are hurt and negatively affected.”
Meanwhile, LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said school officials have been made aware of the rising anti-Asian discrimination as part of the ongoing discussion topics associated with the steering committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. At the high school, recent daily bulletins have also addressed the incidents, along with providing links to information.
“As a learning community, LCHS is a diverse place. Perhaps differently diverse than other learning communities in southern California, with nearly a third of our student body identifying themselves with a heritage and parentage associated with various parts of East and South Asia,” a daily bulletin said last week. “Recent events like the attack in Atlanta, Georgia, against businesses that employ largely Asian staffs, along with an increasing numbers of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans, leaves many in our learning community concerned, fearful, and angry. As we go about your school day and beyond, please be aware of how events near and far to LCHS are affecting yourself and your classmates.”
On Friday, the march for solidarity is open to the community; Ruwan emphasized, and encouraged people to come. So far, she has received positive feedback.
“It makes my heart full to see the support and response we’ve had so far. Hopefully we can help the healing of anyone who’s been affected by this and help Asian Americans know they are not alone,” she said.
The march is scheduled to kick off at Memorial Park at 2:30 p.m. and set to continue at 3:15 p.m. to the Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard intersection.