‘Heartbreaking’: Panel discusses rise in anti-Asian violence during pandemic


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Pitt’s department of sociology, Global Hub and Asian Studies Center co-sponsored a Monday panel titled “Combatting Anti-Asian Violence Amidst COVID-19” to raise awareness about the increase in anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Allison Radziwon, Staff Writer

For Sam Huynh, the steady rise of anti-Asian violence and rhetoric spreading throughout the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is “heartbreaking.” She said since much of the violence is targeted toward the elderly, it’s been harder to process.

“In Asian cultures, people are really community oriented, and most of the crime that’s been happening has been occurring to the older generations,” Huynh, a junior communication science and disorders major, said. “When I see that, it’s like my own grandmother or grandfather, and it’s kinda just heartbreaking in that sense, too.”

Pitt’s department of sociology, Global Hub and Asian Studies Center co-sponsored a Monday panel via Zoom, titled “Combatting Anti-Asian Violence Amidst COVID-19,” to raise awareness about the increase in anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The panelists discussed ways to combat this violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities as well as how to stand in solidarity with victims of racism and xenophobia. Christina Ong, a Ph.D. sociology student, moderated the event.

Pitt has yet to deliver a statement on this rise of violence and hate targeted toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. But the Asian Student Alliance released a statement last April condemning the increase in targeted violence, saying it was standing in solidarity with the victims of hate crimes, and the Asian community must “stand united.” Other groups across Pittsburgh joined with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance to release a statement in early March denouncing the violence.

Ong said it’s been “hard to process this wave of violence” against AAPI communities. She said many of these victims are friends, family and other loved ones.

“I know that in our lives a lot of us are encouraged to swallow our grief and our anger and our sadness,” Ong said. “But today I encourage us all to sit with those emotions and to let those big emotions be present with us today.”

Huynh — a panelist and the event coordinator for AQUARIUS, a group dedicated to Pitt’s queer Asian community and its allies — also said it’s important for activists to avoid being “performative,” and proper activism takes “time, labor and emotion,” so it’s necessary to “set boundaries.” Huynh said it’s important to amplify students’ voices in order to raise awareness on causes such as anti-Asian violence.

“I think one way is making sure that student organizations feel supported, and that they’re given good spaces and platforms to move the messages they wanna advocate for,” Huynh said. “I think for Pitt specifically and Asian American and Asian organizations, do not marginalize … and also recognizing different identities and different groups require different resources, and you can’t just throw us all one thing.”

Tiffany Diane Tso — a panelist and a current leadership committee member of the Asian American Feminist Collective, which focuses on feminism within Asian and Pacific Islander communities — said it’s important to “educate yourself” on these important topics, but also to “amplify voices” and “show solidarity.” She said it’s important to recognize how many minority groups are impacted by systemic oppression in similar ways.

“I think that honestly, for me, it’s always just been about showing up and offering your services however you can. Be like, ‘this is the resource that I have, and this is how I can offer it to you and your needs,’” Tso said. “And so, for example, solidarity can be like opening up your wallet if you are a person with the means, and you don’t know how to plug in yet.”

Judy Suh, a panelist and member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, said it’s important to “address tensions and histories of tensions” to build anti-racist solidarity among different groups. She said there needs to be “more awareness” around racism that Asian, Pacific Islander and Latinx groups face.

“I think one of the things that is missing from a lot of social justice work that happens in Pittsburgh is that in Pittsburgh, so much of the language around social justice is built on a Black-white spectrum,” Suh said. “Even if a third of the room is API and Latinx, it’s like the language isn’t inclusive enough to sort of address what we might be able to contribute. If people were aware of the kind of axes of discrimination that really affect us, that would really help us all.”

Randy Duque, a panelist and the acting executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, said people need to acknowledge anti-Asian violence and that there is a “spectrum of ways” to address these concerns. He also said to report these acts of violence instead of just posting one’s stories on social media, so the proper authorities can investigate and take action.

“When violence and hate with Asians — particularly with COVID — started coming up, the overwhelming majority of what was being put out there was not really about reporting hate but sharing your stories, which is important,” Duque said. “But it didn’t really lead to much action, and it was kinda frustrating … Like, ‘here’s a problem,’ but there’s nothing else behind it. So we found from our standpoint that we’re trying to stop this, it wasn’t really helping us because we couldn’t really get that information.”

Suh also spoke about her experience with anti-Asian racism in the Pittsburgh area. Even with this increased violence, she said it’s “nothing new,” though it’s been “a lot more visible” in the past year.

“In Pittsburgh, I can say just speaking from my own personal experience, I’ve been mugged twice, been stalked twice, had my apartment broken into — the only one in my building,” Suh said. “I’m a frequent pedestrian, so I have racial slurs, phrases hurled at me … two to three times a year.”

Duque shared a story he’ll “never forget” — the time his mother faced racism shortly after immigrating to the United States.

“She said when she first came here … she was walking in the park and this white teenager passed by and he said to her, ‘Hi Chinese.’ And she said, ‘Hi Black person,’ so he stops and turns around and says, ‘I’m not Black,’ and she says, ‘I’m not Chinese,’” Duque said. “I wonder if stories like that sort of affect people — like that child’s perspective moving forward in his life.”

Duque also said he isn’t shocked to see this kind of violence and hate, but hopes that it soon fades.

“I do hope that sooner than later we can get past all this, to a point where we don’t have to have these types of forums,” Duque said. “And people know how to respond to this type of hate. But also, the hate isn’t taking place.”

A previous version of this story said Suh had been “stopped twice.” She had been “stalked twice.” The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.