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Asian American university students fear for elders after spate of racist attacks, urge others to speak out: 'It's up to us as a community'

Elyssa Cherney, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Parenting News

Data documents the anecdotal rise in anti-Asian violence.

From 2019 to 2020, police reports of anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 145% in the country’s 16 largest cities while the total number of reported hate crimes fell by 6%, according to data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino.

The first spike in anti-Asian hate crimes occurred in March and April “amidst a rise in COVID cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic,” according to the center. Former President Donald Trump’s frequent references to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” or the “Kung Flu” also stoked racial tensions, critics have said.

Two anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in Chicago during 2018 and 2019, according to city data. Numbers for 2020 and 2021 weren’t immediately available, but the Cal State center collected information showing two were reported last year.

Stop AAPI Hate, a consortium that formed in March 2020, gathers a broader category of “hate incidents” that are self-reported through its website. The group has received 3,795 reports of verbal harassment, physical avoidance, physical assault, civil rights violations and online harassment directed at Asian Americans.

Reports from people 60 and older made up only 6.2% of those incidents.

Shalani Shankar, a professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University, said older Asians who immigrated to the U.S. might be less likely to come forward with negative experiences.


“Thinking about anti-Asian violence as exceptionalism is something that older immigrants have to do as a way to survive,” Shankar said. “They risk so much by coming to this country. And for those for whom things go well, economically and socially, in general, I think that they feel a lot of gratitude toward this country.”

Chen, the first-year medical student, said some Asian American families are reticent to speak up about racism they’ve encountered. Her parents, for example, might discuss among themselves what they’ve experienced but won’t go out and march in a protest.

Chen said she hopes her generation will help facilitate these conversations with elders and make the topic less taboo. During her lifetime, she’s witnessed older Asians get beat up on the bus in San Francisco, which is why her parents stopped using public transportation and got a car.

Holding a sign that read “Silent no longer,” Chen joined hundreds at a rally in Chinatown Saturday to demonstrate against Asian hate. She said the Asian American community needs to be more vocal about its struggles.

“Of course I would want everyone to care,” she said before the rally. “But at the same time, it’s up to us as a community to be able to voice our concerns.”

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