'This Craziness Is Real': In The San Gabriel Valley, Anti-Asian Violence Creates Fears Of Targeting

Recent incidents against Asian Americans has created concerns about racial targeting in the San Gabriel Valley. (Amy V. Miller/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amy Lew and her husband moved to Temple City 30 years ago to raise three kids on a cul-de-sac at the foot of the San Gabriels.

In that time, her suburb became among 10 in the San Gabriel Valley to turn majority-Asian as the region drew both immigrants and second-generation Asian Americans such as Lew, looking to be near top schools and some of the best Asian food in the country.

So even as Lew heard about a rise in anti-Asian sentiment as the pandemic wore on, she shrugged it off, telling her husband last week as they shopped for groceries, "Nothing's going to happen to us. We have too many Asians here. This is Asian Central."

That was how she felt — until Sunday. That morning, Lew said, a man in his 20s or 30s followed her 63-year-old husband on a street near their home, muttering "Go back to where you came from" and "You don't belong here."

Her husband crossed the street with their pet dog, trying to find safe harbor with another dog walker, then turned toward a neighbor's house to call 911. After giving L.A. County Sheriff's deputies the rundown, her husband ventured home only to see his harasser standing across the street, this time swinging what looked like him to be an axe and pushing for a fight, Lew said.

He got home unharmed, but Lew was horrified and tapped out a Facebook post that drew hundreds of comments from friends who knew her to be an active volunteer for Asian American organizations. "This craziness is real," she wrote. "Please be careful out there everyone."

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department said it's investigating what happened as a hate incident and has not yet identified the alleged perpetrator.

After the incident, the Temple City council issued a statement on Twitter condemning anti-Asian violence.

The Temple City incident comes after a string of alarming headlines in recent months. A Rosemead man lost his fingertip in a bus stop attack last month, and an Alhambra daycare was vandalized with feces that were smeared to read "mother, we love your money."

In downtown Pasadena, an elderly Asian couple was attacked in late December. The wife died later from her injuries.

In Rowland Heights, volunteers with the group Asians with Attitudes met last Saturday to take a stand with local business owners after a violent robbery.

Law enforcement is not treating race as a factor in cases where racial language was not used. But the relatively quick succession of these incidents, coupled with recent, highly-publicized cases of attacks on older Asians in the Bay Area and New York, have given rise to fears that Asians are being targeted.

"Unfortunately, I do not think we [in the San Gabriel Valley] can be excluded from this hate too," said Chin Ho Liao, a long-time member of the San Gabriel City Council.

Liao has lived in the San Gabriel Valley for 35 years as it grew and became home to more than a third of L.A. County's Asian population. And he said he has never felt less safe than now.

Desperate to do something, he helped organize a dozen volunteers to act as a neighborhood watch in San Gabriel's business corridors, keeping an eye out not just for merchants but for shoppers.

"We drive by in our car and do our shops, restaurants or our supermarkets and just watch out, make sure nothing is unusual," Liao said.

Liao said he worries that Asian victims too often stay silent instead of making reports. Shelley Shen, a businesswoman in West Covina, agrees that happens more often than she likes.

She said she and other minority residents in her townhouse complex are being terrorized by local teen residents from one family who use racial slurs and insults. Her Asian neighbors, she said, are as troubled as her, but don't try to get involved. Shen said that she's gotten little traction with police or the city, and is getting help from L.A. County officials to find resolution. She has also filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment & Housing.

"I'm ready to fight anytime, whenever someone wants to say something, I say it right back," Shen said. "I don't suck it up."

For Lew in Temple City, it was important to share what had happened to her husband to give a heads-up to others who, like her, may have had a "very false sense of security."

"You never think it would happen to you or me," Lew said. "And it is happening so close to home."

Lew won't let her daughter out at night to walk the dog anymore and is getting pepper spray for the entire family.