By Jenna Song, Contributing Editor
As COVID spread widely in 2020 around the globe, hate crimes against Asians increased 149% while overall hate crimes dropped 6% in 16 of the largest cities in the United States. While Philadelphia wasn’t included in this data, the city struggled with its own racial tension.
Earlier this year, Randy Duque, acting executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations commented that Philadelphia is fortunate to not experience extreme Asian hate crimes compared to some other parts of the country such as New York or Oakland.
While that may be true, Philadelphia is experiencing more Asian hate crimes than we think. Wei Chen, Civic Engagement Coordinator of Asian Americans United also known as AAU, pointed out that we’re lacking reports on violence against Asian Americans.
Chen explained that a lot of the older generation immigrants feel shameful about getting attacked, which makes them hesitate to report it. Even if they decide to report the incident, it’s extremely difficult for some of them to navigate the reporting process due to their limited language ability.
“We need first responders who can speak their language. Sometimes, they say just call this number, but when you call the number, you have to talk to a robot that speaks English. They make you press numbers to talk to a real person. Who can navigate that?” said Chen.
AAU has been providing resources and guidance to people of Asian ancestry in Philadelphia since 1985. One of their long-term projects is the Chinatown Vote Project and they have also launched new projects since the pandemic started.
Voting for local candidates who support the Asian community is very important, but it can be difficult to engage the older generation of immigrants to vote due to language and cultural barriers. Some of them aren’t used to making political decisions because they’re from a country where citizens don’t participate in voting.
Chen explained that AAU provides help and support to immigrants on election day. They make sure to guide people correctly to the polling stations and provide language assistance.
“During the pandemic, we passed out materials such as masks and gloves. We wished to express our love to all people, not just the Asian community,” said Chen.
They also participated in a campaign that originally started in New York called The Yellow Whistle. They give out a yellow whistle to anybody who requests it for self-protection.
Anybody can request a whistle by messaging AAU’s Facebook page directly, texting their number at 215-925-1538, or through their WeChat.
Chen’s dedication and passion for community work goes way back. In December 2009, he organized a boycott of South Philadelphia Highschool along with his classmates and with the help of AAU to fight against the racial injustice they experienced. The school didn’t step in to alleviate the racial tension between Asian and African American students, which resulted in many Asian students being afraid of going to school.
“The boycott wasn’t against African Americans. We got a lot of support from the African American community and organizations because we understand it’s not about who beat whom, it’s about who let it happen,” said Chen.
Asian students demanded the school to acknowledge their negligence on constant bullying against them, as well as specific plans to create a safe learning environment.
“We were fighting for the safety of everyone in our school,” added Chen.
A year after the boycott, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission recognized the injustice and the U.S. Department of Justice ruled in favor of the Asian students.
What can we learn from this?
Community organizing can result in legislative changes that positively affect many people. It goes beyond helping ourselves, it can change our community for the better.
It’s difficult to digest so much injustice happening, but it’s also a great opportunity to call for unity. People from different backgrounds came together to attend rallies against hate towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) communities across the country after the killing of eight people, of which six were of Asian descent, in Atlanta this March. It was an important reminder for all communities that they’re fighting for a common goal.
How can you get involved?
Eliminating racism sounds like a huge task for someone to tackle, but it can be done with some research and willingness.
“If you’re a community organizer, but not in the Asian community, you can start thinking about organizing with the Asian community in order to educate people,” said Chen.
Electing government officials who will support policies that will help the community and not disadvantage people for their immigration status is crucial.
We spend a lot of time to get all the necessary people to vote during the election time, explained Chen.
Chen expressed the importance of local organizations pressing politicians to come up with legislation that will support the Asian immigrant community.
Woori Center is always sharing information through their social media about how to get involved with the Asian immigrant community in various ways.
They’re currently asking for people to make phone calls for their Citizenship4All campaign to PA congress members to advocate for expanding the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. As well as sending letters for their Driver’s License for All campaign to PA state legislators to guarantee one’s right to access driver’s license regardless of their immigration status.