Kiwi Wongpeng was stopped at a traffic light in suburban Cleveland when a man pulled up beside her and motioned for her to roll down the window.
“Get out of my country — that’s an order!” he shouted from his pickup. After a pause, he added: “I’ll kill you.”
It wasn’t her first brush with racism. But she had never heard something so direct and violent until last April, as cities around the country were shutting down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The man, she believed, must have mistaken her for Chinese and blamed her for the virus that originated in Wuhan, China.
“I’ve felt scared for not just myself, but my community and Asians all over this country,” said Wongpeng, 34, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand 20 years ago and runs a Thai restaurant.
Her sense of hate on the rise is borne out by data. In a survey of police departments in 16 major U.S. cities, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, a research office at Cal State San Bernardino, found a total of 122 anti-Asian hate crimes last year — a 149% increase from the 49 in 2019.
The totals climbed in 15 of the 16 cities, with New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and San Jose experiencing the most significant increases and their highest tallies in at least five years.
Chinese and Korean restaurants vandalized with anti-Asian epithets and stereotypes — “stop eating dogs,” said the graffiti on a New York noodle shop. Elderly Asian Americans were shoved on the street in broad daylight. And a Burmese refugee and his children were attacked by a man with a knife.
The rise in anti-Asian crimes occurred as total hate crimes against all minority groups dropped 7% — from 1,845 to 1,717.
Brian Levin, director of the Cal State center, described the growth in hatred as one of “historic significance for our nation and the Asian American community.”