Chants of “Stop Asian hate” echoed through the streets of San Luis Obispo as community members marched in support of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in April.
Forms of activism including social media posts, educational programs, fundraisers, marches and rallies ignited in Cal Poly and the greater San Luis Obispo area since the recent escalation of hate crimes directed towards the Asian American population, with attacks centered in larger cities and that target the elderly.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that documents and addresses anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate crimes amid the pandemic, received 6,603 reports of hate incidents from March 19, 2020 to March 31, 2021, according to their latest report. These accounts include: physical assaults, coughing/spitting, verbal harassment, shunning or avoidance, refusal of service, vandalism and online harassment.
As May is Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) heritage month, the team has plans to discuss identity and the impacts of COVID-19. The programming includes a talk about undocumented Asian Americans with ASI and the Dream Center and a workshop with a Pacific Islander activist.
Business administration senior Kaela Lee said she felt a range of frustration, disappointment, anger and sadness, especially with the brutality directed towards the elderly.
Events in March magnified the issue of anti-Asian hate to Lee, extending past the elderly, she said.
On March 16, 2021, eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian women, when a man opened fire in three massage businesses in the Atlanta area.
Following the shootings, Lee hosted and organized a peaceful rally and march with Pastor Mia Shin and San Luis Obispo’s Black Lives Matter chapter in early April.
Lee saw this protest as a “moment of unity” within and beyond the Asian American community.
“It’s a chance for people to educate each other and show their solidarity and allyship for the community,” Lee said.
She said the acknowledgment of her Asian American identity and the event’s support was moving.
“So often the AAPI community is so ignored and we’re just swept to the side,” Lee said. “We were actually in the spotlight and not just highlighted by AAPI community members, but members of the community of all backgrounds.”
Lee said she hopes her efforts illustrate that Asian Americans will not fall under societal stereotypes of being quiet and avoiding conflict.
“This just goes to show that we’re not going to be silent,” Lee said. “We’re not just going to be walked all over.”
Allyship within a Predominately White Institution
The environment of Cal Poly as a predominately white institution profoundly affects student activism, public health junior Ashley Song said.
Song said she personally experienced being called racial slurs and has heard language such as “bat soup” and “thanks for COVID,” since the beginning of the pandemic.
Song said she thinks more people would show their support or even feeling peer pressure to be vocal at a school with a higher Asian population. Since some Cal Poly students may not be friends with Asian American students or follow many Asian people on social media, they do not feel obligated to post or show their support.
Song said she is glad that Cal Poly released a statement on the matter, but asks the question, “Now what?” and wants to see more from faculty.
“If anyone has influence over people who are not showing support, it is the school’s leadership, like the president or dean,” Song said.
Joie Wong, business administration sophomore and social chair for Cal Poly’s Korean American Student Association (KASA), said she thinks the white population may not feel qualified enough to talk about racism, so there is a personal obstacle they need to overcome to be an ally.
“Being a predominantly white institution makes it easy to blend into the crowd and leads to the bystander effect,” Wong said. “But in reality, it just tokenizes the minority groups to have to speak up about these topics.”
To combat this bystander effect, Wong said it is important to have allyship with other communities, affirming that the Asian American and Pacific Islander population is heard, protected, safe and belongs.
“It would be great to hear from your peers, ‘You belong here’,” Wong said. “You should not feel like you’re a stranger in your own country.”
Cal Poly’s Korean American Student Association (KASA) recently held a fundraiser over Venmo in which they raised $811 to donate to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a national nonprofit that advocates for the advancement of civil and human rights for Asian Americans and a fair and equitable society for all.
Wong is an advocate for the power of knowledge, and to her, activism lies in educating herself and others as best she can on the prevalence of hate crimes.
Being a visual learner, she finds graphics helpful in contextualizing the news. This information condensed into a post provides a starting point for further research, she said. She said she likes to post graphics on social media to help educate others.
Stereotypes of Asian Americans
Wong said the model minority myth can contribute to hate.
According to the stereotype of the model minority, Asian Americans are seen as more successful, problem-free and having assimilated better than other minority groups. The myth ignores the diversity of the Asian American experience.
“A lot of time we get thrown to the side and we get ignored because everyone assumes, ‘You guys are doing fine’,” Wong said. “If you look at the numbers and you break it down, there are so many discrepancies.”
Although there were programs in place for Cal Poly’s Asian community prior to recent incidents, the MCC recently added student processing spaces and other features, according to social justice and multicultural program coordinator for the Multicultural Center (MCC), Lilianne Tang .
Tang said she hopes these events highlight important aspects of activism.
“[Visibility alone will not] liberate us from the oppression we are experiencing,” Tang said.
Instead of criticizing others for not talking about this issue, Tang said she wants to see a focus on the protection of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and more long-term solutions.
“We’re committed to the long term in making sure that students know what it means to be racialized as an Asian American,” Tang said.
Last month, Cuesta College and Cal Poly collaborated in hosting Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of Chinese For Affirmative Action, to discuss scapegoating, the data of the attacks and the need for initiatives.
During May, as APIDA Heritage Month, the MCC is hosting the program Rising Tides: Awakening to Our Collection Liberation involving dialogues, events and giveaways, celebrating and elevating the APIDA community.