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Understanding the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience: Prejudice and Violence (Part Two)

Part Two: Supporting the AAPI Community + Resources and Misconceptions

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian moderated the May 20, 2021 virtual discussion with panel guests: California State Attorney General Rob Bonta; Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Johnny Gogo; and, Helen Hsu, Psy.D., Lead Outreach Specialist, Staff Psychologist, Asian American specialist, and lecturer at Stanford University.

In the second half of the “Understanding” discussion on prejudice and violence, Simitian noted that “people are here not only to understand the nature of the problem, but also because they’d like to be helpful,” and asked panelists for recommendations on ways to support the AAPI community.

Bonta proposed a “call to action,” highlighting the efforts of Compassion in Oakland, a grassroots organization that catalyzed hundreds of volunteers to accompany seniors on their daily activities, and provide neighborhood patrols in the wake of anti-Asian violence. “I really am inspired by communities that have made themselves safer through volunteerism and ingenuity,” he said, adding, “Corporations can donate to community-based organizations that have been doing this work . . . Employers can support their API workers and employees.”

Bonta also encouraged individuals to be proactive in learning more about their AAPI neighbors and communities. “Learn about Asian American history, learn about not just the hate that’s occurred in the past but the incredible contributions that API leaders have made to building this nation and this state,” he said. “There’s a lot people can do, and I encourage everybody to identify something that works for them, because unity, ally-ships, solidarity, super important. This is an API problem and challenge, but it’s not just for the API community to solve. We need all communities.”

The “Understanding” series itself was an avenue of support, Gogo said: “Having these exact types of conversations so that friends and allies—other than the AAPI community—get to understand and hear these examples, hear some of the pain that our communities are going through.”

Gogo also commended “community education” through social justice resources like the Korematsu Institute, as well as simply reaching out to others. “We need to get out and meet our neighbors and see that they’re human beings just like us,” he said. “We have much more in common than we don’t.”

Simitian, summarizing several questions from listeners, circled back to the issue of hate incidents and crimes going unreported. “What are the things that keep people from reporting, and what if anything can we tell them that should encourage them that they can reach out to their local law enforcement? And is that the right place to go?”

“We have to be victim centered in how we address hate violence. The question we need to ask is, ‘What happened to the victim?’ What do they need to heal and what resources and in what ways should that healing be provided?” Bonta responded, emphasizing the importance also of “answering questions for the victim as they come forward, the natural worry about retribution and how they’ll be protected, what their role will be, will they have to testify in court?

“They need someone who will liaise with them, who will talk to them throughout the process and explain what they’re getting into and allow them to make an informed choice for what’s best for them,” he added. “Those questions are natural and appropriate concerns that law enforcement and the community have to be sensitive to.”

Simitian presented another listener question, about mental health services available for “people who are experiencing anxiety or fear as a result of these incidents, particularly for people who are not, perhaps, fluent in English?”

“We do utilize mental health services markedly less than other ethnic groups in this country,” said Hsu, citing language barriers, lack of insurance coverage or funding, and travel difficulties as some of the reasons. “We are seeing more requests now than ever as people have been living with what some have called feels like a double pandemic,” she added, and mentioned panel co-host Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), Asian Health Services in Oakland, and RAMS in San Francisco as some of the Bay Area’s community-based AAPI-focused behavioral health centers that have multi-lingual staff.

Hsu also brought up the dearth of Asian therapists as another reason for less AAPI participation in mental health services. “A lot of what I do is educate therapists, how do you do this work well, with cultural humility, culture affirming. There are a lot of white therapists who are trying to be helpful but have come to trainings saying I don’t know this history, I don’t know what this experience is,” she said. “You don’t have to have an Asian therapist, but you might want to ask a therapist, do you understand these issues? What do you know about it, are you willing to learn? If they are, we’ve got a lot of stuff out there to help people be therapeutic allies.”

Simitian, who spearheaded the County’s 2017 comprehensive health assessment of AAPI communities—which revealed the diverse health care needs of each community, as well as widespread disparities in access to care—said the County is moving forward on the findings.

“We are now pushing for community health workers to try and make sure that folks in the Asian American Pacific Islander communities are aware of what some of the services might be and how to access them, in ways that are culturally competent,” Simitian said, adding that AACI, the “Understanding” series co-sponsor, is leading community implementation.

Through Simitian, another listener questioned the lack of response from law enforcement due to low prioritization or lack of resources. “Isn’t it time to change the paradigm and require law enforcement to respond more seriously to acts of hate?”

“Yes, this is the time to step up in response to the forces of hate that are attacking the API community, and to use the resources that we all know are limited, as they always are, to prioritize this,” Bonta agreed, reiterating his office’s emphasis on providing guidance on identifying and investigating hate incidents. “Maybe some of these aren’t being followed up on because [investigators] don’t know how. They don’t know what to look for, they don’t know what to focus on. We want to provide that support to allow the response at the local law enforcement level to be stronger.”

Hsu praised additional resources being put towards responding to hate crimes, as well as vital help that community organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center can offer victims. “I think all of us who have ever worked with minority, marginalized communities, and especially immigrant communities, understand the distrust that comes from just not knowing how to navigate the system,” she said. “It’s difficult to manage and figure out this legal system or this reporting, but there are places to assist.”

Simitian referenced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which aims to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels by boosting public outreach and ensuring reporting resources are available online in multiple languages. Signed into law by President Biden the day of the panel discussion, the law also directs the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19 and authorizes grants to state and local governments to conduct crime-reduction programs to prevent and respond to hate crimes.

“That’s a big deal, isn’t it?” Simitian asked.

“It acknowledges the issue at the highest level,” Gogo agreed. “It’s so important to have that level of leadership saying, ‘This is an issue, and we’re going to address it, we’re not going to stand for it.’”

Resources and Misconceptions

Simitian asked each of the panelists to recommend a resource to help “folks who are interested in developing a better understanding of the Asian American Pacific Islander experience.”

Carlos Bulosan’s book America is in the Heart was Bonta’s pick, highlighting the Filipino American experience in California, “including the Filipino American role in helping lead and start the farm labor movement,” Bonta said. “It’s both stories of inspiration and uplift and stories of violence and hate. I think it’s important to know both sides of the history.”

Hsu suggested Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, a contemporary memoir in the form of essays about different acts of discrimination. “It’s a fairly easy but powerful read,” Hsu said. “A great book club book.”

Gogo posted links to information about the FBI San Francisco Division’s strategy to combat hate crimes and to the State Attorney General’s Racial Justice Bureau. A high-school football player turned lifelong fan, Gogo also applauded Bradley Pearson’s “The Eagles of Heart Mountain.” “It’s about football, it’s about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, it’s about resilience and redemption,” he said. “It’s a fantastic read.”

Simitian’s closing question, mirroring the May 13, 2021 “Understanding” discussion, again touched on cultural misperceptions. “Each of you have very rich professional experience as well as your own personal experience,” he noted. “What’s the biggest misconception about issues of violence and prejudice and anti-Asian hate that you’ve encountered?”

Bonta had two: “One is that Asians are often seen as looking alike and not distinguished for who we are and our individual selves. I’ve been mistaken for other API leaders many times, and it’s a source of anger and frustration,” he said. Second, “that API’s are seen as worker bees but not executive leaders, that we can do the grunt work, we can roll up our sleeves, we can put our head down, we can do the calculations, we can grind, but we’re not the captains of industry and leaders of businesses, and the leaders of states and cities. That’s wrong.”

Gogo highlighted the misperception that “the media is blowing these crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander community out of proportion. Far from it. The fact is that they are vastly underreported,” he said. “We need again to encourage folks to report these incidents.”

From Hsu: “The model minority myth that hides the fact that we are the most bimodal community—the highest incomes, [and the] absolute lowest; the highest educational attainment, but also the lowest,” she said, adding that the model minority myth itself has problematic origins: “It was started by sociologists really to pit us against black and brown communities, as if we’re the ‘good’ minority and they’re somehow not,” she said. “There’s a divisiveness that I don’t think necessarily represents the full picture that is really harmful.”

This post is adapted from the virtual panel discussion, “Understanding the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience: Prejudice and Violence,” held on May 20, 2021. The full video is available here at, where you can also find more information about the three-part series.