Locals speak out against Asian hate

Joshua, a Carmel Valley 11-year-old, spoke at the Alliance of Chinese Americans San Diego's downtown vigil.
Joshua, a Carmel Valley 11-year-old, spoke at the Alliance of Chinese Americans San Diego’s downtown vigil.
(Xiu Yu)

On April 6, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to condemn anti-Asian Pacific Islander (API) hate and denounce xenophobia, affirming the county’s commitment to the wellbeing and safety of the API community. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, API communities throughout the country have experienced a significant increase in acts of discrimination, racial profiling, microaggressions, violence and hate crimes.

At the March 24 Del Mar Union School District board meeting, Trustee Gee Wah Mok opened up about the rise in hate crimes and the fear that many people in the community are feeling right now. Mok was among the large group who took a stand against Asian hate at a demonstration in Pacific Highlands Ranch on March 21.

“People have been threatened, spat-on, attacked, insulted and murdered for nothing more than looking Asian,” Mok said, referencing the March 16 mass shooting when a gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian American women. “I know that there are many in our community who are of Asian descent that are hurting right now. I’m hurting right now. These stories are intensely personal and we relate to them on a personal level.”

When Mok saw the video of an elderly Asian woman who was attacked in San Francisco on March 18, her eye swollen and red as she screamed in Toisanese that a man had hit her, he heard the voices of his mother and grandmother who are from the same area in China and speak the same distinct dialect. He had spent time in that same San Francisco community when he was in college. In the woman’s face he saw his own grandmother, now 102-years old, who was herself a victim a couple of years ago when a stranger kicked her on the street. She couldn’t walk for several days.

“There’s a large community of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in DMUSD, many families which I stood with at the demonstration. It’s critically important that we acknowledge them and their hurt,” Mok said. “For various reasons such as language and cultural barriers, the Asian American experience is one in which our stories are rarely told. We’re perpetually marginalized and we are invisible as a minority.

“I want those in the community to know I see you. I hear you and I’m with you.”

Mok has said on multiple occasions that schools need to educate students to be socially conscious and aware but he said these recent incidents only highlight that need even more.

At the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen shared some of the district’s recent diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. She said as educators they recognize the responsibility they play in helping children develop as individuals “who value inclusivity, kindness and seek to understand perspectives of individuals of different races, cultures and those with unique needs.”

No Place for Hate Committees have been set up at every school, DEI lessons and activities are being held at every school, and the district has partnered with the San Diego County Office of Education Equity team to establish Equity Committees at every school, create a long-range comprehensive DEI plan and in April will begin staff equity training sessions. The sessions amount to at least 30 hours of training.

“Growing up in San Diego I am painfully aware that Asians are seen as foreigners with strange customs, names and foods. But students need to be taught that we’re Americans. We don’t look like the norm, but what is the norm?” Mok said. “Our families pay the same taxes, I swore the same oath to defend the Constitution as we all did here. And we have a belief in American ideals.”

He said he would like to see the curriculum include Asian American history (the good, the bad and the ugly) as well as contributions that the API community have made in this country.

“Not only are students ready to learn about these issues which can be heavy, they’re ready to lead on them,” Mok said, giving as an example a young Carmel Valley resident named Joshua Zhou.

Joshua, 11, went to the Alliance of Chinese Americans San Diego vigil downtown with his parents on March 21, the family bringing flowers and electric candles to honor the lives lost in the Atlanta shooting. When they arrived at the park, they heard people sharing their experiences and much to his parents’ surprise, Joshua courageously took the microphone to speak to the crowd that had gathered.

“I’m just tired and annoyed by all the hatred, I’m just sick of it,” said Joshua, a fifth grader at Horizon Prep.

Joshua said he is interested in politics and regularly listens to the news, growing disturbed by the increase in hateful acts against Asian people during the pandemic. Although he hadn’t planned to speak that day, Joshua was moved to raise his voice, addressing the crowd from behind a table filled with candles, near a sign that read “We all belong here”.

“This ‘China virus’ thing has got to stop. The Asian hate crimes have increased…and more are happening every day. We have to unite. The next generation has to get more politicians into congress and state legislature,” Joshua said. “If we are not to be heard, we will be silent which will not be good. We are called the model minority…the true model minority is to speak up and be heard. Not to stay silent.”

On March 23, Carmel Valley resident Louie Nguyen was one of the local AAPI voices invited to speak at a virtual roundtable with Congressman Scott Peters. At the roundtable, Nguyen asked the congressman to consider providing funding for Asian Heritage Month, more education programs and stricter hate crime prosecution.

“I know what it feels like to live with prejudice and discrimination,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen shared that in Carmel Valley there have been instances of AAPI women hearing insults by people in cars passing by and in some cases food and drinks were thrown at them. He said elderly Asians walking in the evening have started carrying mace for protection.

Del Mar resident Sharon Franke, shared some of her experiences with this newspaper.

Franke, who is Chinese American, was walking with her toddler in Del Mar late last year when an older man in a Mercedes began driving slowly behind her. After following behind her for some time, the man did a u-turn, driving close enough to cough on her out of his window. Franke was too shocked to respond.

She said it is disheartening that her son, a third grader at Del Mar Heights School, has begun saying things like “I look funny” and “I look different from my friends.” Last year there was an incident at school when her son came home bowing and saying “China” in a mocking way. When Franke asked him where he had learned that, he said that his friends did it to him during recess.

The Frankes were very upset and shared their concerns with the school principal: “This is not ok.”

Growing up in California, Franke said she has experienced small incidents throughout her life, not very often but enough to sting: from being spat on in junior high school, being made fun of for the shape of her eyes and being told to “Go back to your own country” when she was in college. Last year there was another incident at a local store where a man was aggressive in a racially sensitive incident with her and her mother.

“I don’t know what the solution is I just know it is a problem,” Franke said. “It’s always been a huge issue but it’s gotten worse because of the pandemic.”

“I don’t want my kids to grow up like this,” she continued. “We shouldn’t be targeted because of the way we look and I think the school needs to do more.”

During public comment at the March 24 meeting, several parents thanked Mok for his candor in sharing his lived experience.
Del Mar Heights parent Marissa Matusiak said she was disappointed in the lack of response to Mok’s “powerful” words and the district’s perceived lack of support for marginalized communities. She said she had hoped the district would have put out a similar message that the San Diego County Office of Education did on March 17, stating that they stand united with the API community.

Along with other parents, Matusiak has been advocating for a stronger investment in DEI and an anti-racist curriculum, such as hiring a district DEI coordinator who can lead the work.

In her comments, Petersen said that that the district is committed to engaging in these important conversations and taking action to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion is a pillar of the district’s culture. Heights parent Pratima Gupta thanked the district for taking those initial first steps but as Mok said, they can always push to do more.

“We must as a district continue to work on diversity, equity and inclusion and educate our students so that our children, like Joshua, can help lead us to a more equitable and just future,” Mok said. “This America belongs to all of us. And all of our kids need to be given the tools to make it better for everyone.”