How would you feel if you were a hard-working American citizen but at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, you found someone had left this note on your family car windshield:
“You guys are Chinese viruses. Get out of our country. Stay away from our children. Stay away from our pets.”
The note, in an affluent Newport Beach neighborhood, gained attention at Chapman University when creative writing Professor Tom Zoellner blasted the culprits on Facebook. It raises a question for debate: Just what kind of Orange County do Chapman students have to live in?
The coronavirus pandemic has left Americans across the country afraid for their health, but for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the virus has created another issue – an outbreak of physical and verbal attacks. Zoellner believes many such attackers are influenced by Donald Trump blaming the Chinese for all our troubles.
“The stress of uncertain times brings out the worst of it in some people,” Zoellner wrote in his Facebook post. “It is all the more dismaying that these hateful messages are enabled by our highest federal leadership.”
Chapman sociology Professor Pete Simi, who has written extensively about extremist groups and domestic terrorists, agrees. But he says it goes even beyond White House rhetoric. He calls such hate notes appalling, but not surprising, especially in Orange County.
“Hate and extremism are flowering during the pandemic,” Simi said. “Covid-19 has really exposed the underlying racism against Asians in this country.”
But he adds that it’s not easy to figure out which type of bigots might have sent that note:
“It could have been Trump supporters, military extremists, or white supremacists. Every group right now is upset.”
In the last five years, Orange County has moved from Republican to Democrat in the lead for registered voters. Even so, in 2016, Donald Trump received almost double the percentage of votes in Orange County than he got in neighboring Los Angeles County. The county was also once the main stronghold of the reactionary John Birch Society, which still has a local following. In recent years, the county’s District Attorney’s office has seen a rise in crimes by skin-heads, young followers of the Nazi political party.
Amidst the protests and public outcries, hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to rise. In Orange County alone, 34 hate crimes have been reported between March 19 and April 15, according to the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center. Those numbers for that time frame are 14,000 nationwide.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said on CNN his agency is worried about the high potential for “individuals and groups targeting minority populations in the United States who they believe are responsible for the spread of the virus.”
The Asian American family in Newport Beach has asked to remain anonymous, for their own safety. But Chapman University graduate student Darcy Alsop, a neighbor, spoke on their behalf:
“When she [mother of the attacked family] told me what happened, I could sense the fear in her voice. She was even more scared for her daughters. She didn’t want them to leave the house at all. Imagine feeling unsafe in your own neighborhood!”
The family now lives in constant fear, wondering if the culprits will take their hatred against Asian-Americans a step further.
They’re not alone. Ginger Chen, a Chapman senior who had been active at its Cross-Cultural Center, has had racial slurs hurled at her and says she is now in her own, self-imposed exile:
“I’ve been feeling a lot of fear just stepping outside,” she said.
Following the Newport Beach hate crime incident, the family has now installed a security system to protect themselves, in case the culprit (or culprits) returns in the future.
Although the family reported the incident to the Newport Beach Police Department, they did it reluctantly. They believed reporting the crime would put their family in danger. But Alsop encouraged the family to come forward to authorities.
The fear is that it might be someone in their own neighborhood. No one has been arrested yet, but the case investigation remains ongoing. Still, the anger continues.
“The family is as American as I am,” said Alsop. “The only thing is, I’m white and they’re Asian. But we were both born here, so what’s the difference?”
Despite the growing fears, Asian Americans like Kara Tsuruda continue to remain positive during these hateful and unprecedented times.
A junior business administration major, she finds such xenophobic notes to be alarming and heartbreaking, but she is not letting hate crimes break her spirit.
“I know that when I go out in Orange County, especially during these times, people look at me differently. But what can I do about it? I’m not going to stop living my life because that’s what racists want me to do,” said Tsuruda.
May happens to be Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, traditionally a time for celebration. Eriko Maeda, intercultural communication professor at Chapman, believes these times still must be celebrated to help end the hate crimes occurring in Orange County communities. Despite the closed campus and students scattered to their homes because of Covid-19.
“Although I wish we could all gather to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we can use these times to teach our neighbors that violence is never the answer, I believe that can bring us together,” said Maeda.
On his Facebook post, Professor Zoellner wrote about the Newport Beach incident in part:
“This is real. Take kindness seriously.”