In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the UCI Humanities Center held its first live-stream event titled “History in the Making during a Time of Pandemic” on May 8. The event was the first in a series of live-streams titled, “Asian American and Pacific Islanders in 2020.” The event highlighted the unique challenges facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during COVID-19.
Executive Director of Orange County Asian American and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) Mary Anne Foo moderated the expert panel of speakers. The panel consisted of Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) Manju Kulkarni, Dr. Raynald Samoa, and M.S.W. Executive Director of Korean of Community Services Ellen Ahn.
Chu, the first speaker, began by highlighting how the coronavirus is disportionately affecting the AAPI community.
“In terms of health, disaggregated data in several states and counties are beginning to show that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are being infected and dying at disproportionately high rates from the coronavirus their relative population size,” she said.
Chu then went on to discuss the anti-Asian American racism and discrimination that has resulted from the pandemic.
“It started in January with dirty looks, insults and misinformation that Asian-American restaurants and businesses were more likely to have the disease and should be avoided, but in the last two months it’s escalated to spitting, yelling and physical attacks against Asian-Americans all across the nation,” she said.
As the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Chu assured the AAPI community that she and her fellow colleagues are advocating for AAPI workers, families and small business.
“The provisions that we’ve been fighting for are to include greater disegrated COVID19 data on race and ethnicity, so that we can see what is going on with populations such as Pacific Islanders,” Chu said. “We are pushing for greater language access to ensure that federal COVID19 resources are accessible to limited english proficient Americans. We want to have an inclusion of means in which to address the anti-Asian racism we are seeing as a result of this virus. And we’re pushing for greater access for undocumented immigrants who have had no relief in the past COVID-19 bills, and yet we know that in order to overcome this pandemic, we need to have everybody have access to testing and treatment.”
They are also writing letters directly to President Trump, who is sparking anti-Asian sentiments by using inflammatory language, to urge him to refrain from xenophobic rhetoric. To conclude, she assured the AAPI that they have allies in Congress working on their behalf.
“Our unity is our strength. Together, we can and must stand united in being a strong voice for AAPI and keeping our families healthy and safe,” Chu said.
Kulkarni discussed the “Stop AAPI Hate” tool that A3PCON launched on March 19. The website, which is available in 11 Asian languages, is a collaborative project by A3PCON, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies (SFSU). According to Kulkarni, the tool has received over 1700 incident reports from 45 states in six weeks.
Stop AAPI Hate has a four pronged approach to address the problem: reporting center, resources, intervention/assistance and advocacy.
“We also want to provide resources to the community. We have a few that are up right now, what to do if you’ve experienced the hate or if you’re a witness to this,” Kulkarni said. “I also want to say quickly that an IPSOS poll from last week found that 30% of all Americans have witnessed someone blaming COVID-19 on Asian Americans. Even more worrisome is that 60% of Asian-Americans have witnessed something similar. We also want to provide assistance to individuals. We’re looking at offering legal clinics and mental health referrals and services. Finally, advocacy at the local state and national level.”
According to Kulkarni, private information, including personal identity and emails, remain confidential and are not shared without explicit permission and encouraged individuals to share the website.
Dr. Samoa shifted the discussion to the disparity affecting Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiian communities.
“The rates of COVID-19 in Pacific populations in the U.S. are devastating,” Dr. Samoa said. “I’m not one to use alarmist types of adjectives. The rates are particularly bad in Los Angeles County where the rates in Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders is 840 cases per 100,000. Just to give you some context, the next highest group is our Latino brothers and sisters at 114 per 100,000 — a seven fold difference.”
According to Dr. Samoa, the death rate of Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders is 12 times higher than white counterparts, a struggle shared beyond state lines that is affecting Washington D.C., Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Arkansas.
“The historic lack of access to healthcare and economic resources, and the high percentage of essential workers that comprise Pacific Islanders communities, have left our people vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19,” Dr Samoa said.
According to Dr Samoa, data on Pacific Islander communities is not readily available and Pacific Islanders have received little publicity.
“What is the most distressing about the numbers that we’re seeing is its response — is its silence. We understand that there are ways to beat COVID-19, we understand that increasing our testing frequency, our contact tracing and our abilities to safely shelter positive individuals, as well as social isolation — that’s how we beat COVID-19. Those things are not happening in our communities,” Dr. Samoa said.
The final speaker, Ahn shared her experience as an essential employee on the frontline and addressed the immediate needs of the AAPI community.
“We emerge from the fog of February and March, really thinking about other needs now,” she said. “In April we’ve been focusing on basic needs. April was also the month we thought about how do we expand community wide testing to AAPI communities? All of this, in the last three months, all of this was in the midst of a really dire financial reality. The irony is health care is suffering a huge financial crisis because we have lost some of the non essential visits while also having to gear up to face COVID-19. As a nonprofit social service organization, it’s the same thing.”
According to Ahn, the problems will continue until a vaccine is found or better contact-tracing is introduced.
“We are not out of the woods yet. This is going to be a long battle here locally. There will be many needs on many fronts that will have to be faced, but throughout it all, I have been inspired by our common humanity and especially our common identity as Asian Pacific Islanders,” Ahn said.
The next live-stream titled “Pacific Islanders in the Age of Coronavirus” will be on May 20 from 6 to 7 p.m. It can be viewed here.
The event was co-sponsored by OCAPICA, OC AAPI Meet & Eat Coalition, South Asian Network, UCI Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Health Initiative, and the 2020 U.S. Census.
Esme Park is a Contributing Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org