Concern slowly crept over Esther Lim as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the United States. Not just for his health and that of his parents, but also for their safety in the face of increasing attacks on Asian Americans.
After the assault of one of her friends, hit by a driver for racist reasons according to her, the thirty-something decided to act. She bought pepper spray for her mother, learned judo with the help of her father, and wrote an informational booklet called “How to Report a Hate Crime”.
“I wanted to do something proactive rather than let myself be overwhelmed by fear,” says Esther Lim, an American of Korean origin.
The booklet, printed earlier this year in six languages — Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese — contains tips on the best way to interact with the police, and English phrases to show passers-by. witnesses an attack to ask for help.
She distributes them to friends and to community centers in the Asian community in Los Angeles.
Attacks against Asian Americans, mostly elderly people, have jumped in recent months, fueled according to many activists by the speech of former President Donald Trump, who often referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”.
They range from the looting of businesses run by Asians, to the destruction of homes and cars, and violent and sometimes fatal assaults on the streets.
In a serious speech, delivered one year to the day after the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to qualify COVID-19 as a pandemic, President Joe Biden condemned Thursday evening this unacceptable violence against members of the Asian American community, “attacked, harassed, blamed and used as scapegoats”.
In particular, people of Filipino, Thai, Japanese, Laotian and Chinese origin have been targeted.
While it can be difficult to establish the racist motivations behind an attack, anti-Asian hate crimes nearly tripled from 49 to 122 last year in 16 largest US cities, study finds of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism based in San Bernardino.
At the same time, however, the number of hate crimes overall fell by 7%.
“Protect the community”
Upon coming to power, Joe Biden signed an executive order condemning racism against the so-called “AAPI” community (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) during the pandemic.
Some states like California and New York have followed suit, freeing up more funds for the fight against anti-Asian racism and with bills under discussion.
But “I do not think it will be done quickly,” laments Esther Lim.
Like her, other Asian Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands, through online campaigns, fundraising and the creation of self-help groups.
Jimmy Bounphensy has assembled volunteers to escort elderly Asians to their homes and patrol the Chinatown neighborhood of Oakland, California, after a wave of attacks and thefts.
“If I can save a person, then I’m happy,” he told AFP during a round.
“Our presence is to let people know that we are really there to protect the community at all costs, to make sure that everyone goes home safely,” he continues.
“Those days are over”
More than 2,800 racist and discriminatory acts, sometimes non-physical, targeting Asian Americans were reported online across the United States between March and December, according to the Stop AAPI Hate association.
Beyond the anti-Asian rhetoric linked to the pandemic, the upsurge in racist attacks has triggered a reflection on hatred targeting this community whose roots are deeply rooted in the country’s history.
Historical examples are indeed not lacking: mass lynchings of Chinese workers at the end of the 19th century.e century, Chinese exclusion law passed in 1882 – the only US migration law to exclude an entire ethnic group, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The Asian community must also face the stereotype of the “model minority”, which portrays the image of a monolithic Asian diaspora “adjacent to whites”.
This cliché leads to the erasure of a rich history and to the misconception of a community that is not the victim of racism.
“Whatever kind of acceptance (…) Asians have in the United States, it has always been conditional,” said Liz Kleinrock, author and consultant on racism issues, herself an American of origin. Korean.
Thus, “Asians are only respected and valued when they keep a low profile and stay in line,” she says. “Those days are over.”