AAPI Heritage Month: Anti-Asian Hate Crimes, Advocacy Efforts, and Next Steps
Updated: Jun 7
By Claire Oberle
The COVID-19 pandemic left a frequently discussed legacy on our economy, healthcare system, and government practices. Yet, its impact on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities is often overlooked. As we wrap up AAPI Heritage Month, it is crucial to discuss how the pandemic affected AAPI communities, what has been done, and what more needs to be accomplished to achieve racial equality.
The Stop AAPI Hate coalition was founded on March 19th, 2020, following a rise in hate incidents fueled by the COVID-19 Pandemic. This coalition, co-founded by the AAPI Equity Alliance, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University, is a hub of information regarding AAPI advocacy work and reports and tracks AAPI hate incidents.
Between March 2020 and 2022, the coalition reported over 11,400 hate incidents against the AAPI community nationwide. California alone accounts for over 4,000 of these incidents. One of the more prominent events was a series of shootings in March 2021 at three spas in Atlanta, Georgia, killing eight individuals, 6 of whom were AAPI individuals.
In May 2021, President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. Acknowledging the rise in hate crimes throughout the pandemic, this legislation focused on increased violence in AAPI communities. The act aims to make hate crime reporting more accessible by increasing public outreach and translation options, calls on the Department of Justice to designate a point person to review such incidents, and authorizes grants to conduct crime-reduction programs. Shortly after signing this legislation, Biden established the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for these communities.
The Stop AAPI Hate coalition started a social media movement under the hashtag #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate in May 2021 calling an end to all instances of hate, from violence to micro-aggressions. Fostered by widespread governmental and social support, this hashtag quickly gained traction with hundreds of thousands of posts and almost 100 rallies nationwide. Succinct and powerful, this hashtag created an urgent call to action. Unfortunately, the call was not sufficiently answered.
Incidents of hate towards Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islanders continue and dominate the strides of large-scale advocacy initiatives. Although the pandemic is no longer a global health emergency, many fear that the amplified threat of China to national and economic security will only continue to worsen hate incidents. In February 2023, Representative Lance Gooden of Texas publicly questioned Representative Judy Chu’s loyalty to the United States. Chu, the first Chinese American elected into Congress, reflects that this incident is just one example of “an increase in Asian American xenophobia that has real consequences for our communities.”
According to a report conducted in early 2023 by the Asian American Foundation, 52% of members of the AAPI community report feeling unsafe in the U.S. due to their race/ethnicity, and 78% feel they do not fully belong or feel accepted in the U.S.
Despite the continued prevalence of hate incidents, the #StopAsianHate movement significantly altered the representation of AAPI causes in the nonprofit sector. In 2018, a report from Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy found that, for every $100 donated by foundations to philanthropic causes, only 20 cents were given to AAPI communities and initiatives. However, things began to shift as the movement gained traction. Since the Asian American Foundation was founded in 2021, it has received over $1.1 billion in committed donations from over 130 corporations, foundations, and individual donors.
This growth of AAPI recognition in the nonprofit sector is coupled with increased recognition and visibility of AAPI communities in culture and media. As the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the U.S., stories of Asian Americans are now in the spotlight with Everything Everywhere All at Once sweeping the Oscars, a rise in AAPI members holding political office, and five states (Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Florida) requiring AAPI history education in public schools.
These impressive and inspiring achievements show progress in media and culture yet also illuminate areas for improvement. In Hollywood films over the past decade, AAPI actors/actresses accounted for less than 6% of speaking roles and less than 4% of lead roles, according to a study by USC Annenberg. In politics, AAPI elected officials constitute 0.9% of elected leaders in the U.S., despite accounting for 6.1% of the population. Textbooks extensively overlook the achievements of AAPI individuals, and mentions of AAPI history are often only linked to Japanese internment camps. Time Magazine notes that history books often depict AAPI individuals as foreigners or national security threats, which educators and historians believe fuels discrimination and racism towards the AAPI community. In Florida particularly, the mandating of AAPI history was met with heavy backlash as this bill was signed days after Governor DeSantis banned public universities from spending money on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Gregg Orton, Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, does not view the history law as a “win,” stating that this disparate treatment of racial groups makes him believe that “they are actively trying to use the Asian American Pacific Islander community as a wedge.”
Advocacy efforts and increased visibility are insufficient in stopping AAPI hate and fostering a sense of belonging. We must do more; as May comes to an end, it is imperative that we promote and uplift AAPI history and individuals and most importantly our local, state, and national leaders need to commit to advancing racial equality all months of the year.