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‘We’re Not Really Safe Anywhere’: Survey Reveals Asian Residents In The San Gabriel Valley Are Shaken By Racism

Hundreds of people gather in front of San Gabriel Mission for a vigil. People are holding candles and you can see signs that read "United We Stand" and "Fight Against Hatred."
A vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting spree outside the San Gabriel Mission.
(Josie Huang/LAist)
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The San Gabriel Valley has one of the highest concentrations of Asian residents in the country. But for some, a sense of safety in numbers was eroded by a flare-up of racist incidents during the pandemic, a new survey indicates.

About one-third of 284 respondents said either they or their family had experienced an anti-Asian hate incident since COVID-19 broke out, with the majority of the attacks being verbal. More than half expressed anxiety about leaving their home, with one respondent still unnerved by a verbal assault at a market.

“I use a cane and feel that I’m an easy target,” the person said.

Another respondent said: “To experience racism in an area that's predominantly API shows that we're not really safe anywhere, even at home.”

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The survey from the Asian Youth Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles follows a report showing that hate crimes against Asians in L.A. County hit their highest rate in two decades.

“To experience racism in an area that's predominantly API shows that we're not really safe anywhere, even at home.”

Organization leaders said the survey was sparked by the sense that hate crimes were being underreported and the unease created by a slew of incidents targeting Asians in some of the region’s 10 Asian-majority cities.

  • In Rosemead, a man lost his fingertip in a bus stop attack.
  • An Alhambra daycare was smeared with feces spelling out "mother, we love your money." 
  • In Temple City, a man was trailed by a stranger making racist comments and threatening him with a large object that looked like an axe.

Most incidents reported to survey takers or websites such as Stop AAPI Hate during the pandemic have not amounted to crimes.
But even contentious verbal encounters have recast places that once felt like safe spaces, including stores and restaurants.

In a viral video from last year, a maskless man reacted aggressively when ordered to leave the Korean supermarket H Mart in Arcadia, a city that is more than 60% Asian.

While the survey of SGV residents showed that verbal attacks were far more common than physical ones (63% compared with 6%), the mental toll of being the target of slurs weighed on respondents.

During a news conference announcing the survey results Wednesday, South Pasadena resident Hanna Chang described an incident last year in which she was charging her electric car at a station across from the police department.

Another driver, impatient with how long Chang was taking, swore at her and hurled a racial slur. Chang was startled by the encounter, but her fears shifted to her children. While they are biracial and she has been told they don’t look Asian, she wondered, "would they be in some harm's way … by being with me?"

“That gave me pause to think, How can I protect my children?” Chang said. “Rather than feeling helpless, it's maybe a good teachable moment for our families or friends to have these conversations.”

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Asked to pick from a list of methods to prevent discrimination, more than half of the respondents favored neighborhood patrols, as well as stronger ties between the police and community. That prompted Connie Chung Joe, chief executive officer of AAAJ-LA, to caution against a move toward “over-policing.”

“We don't believe that a lot more law enforcement and criminalization is the answer to making our community safer,” Joe said during the news conference. “We know that that has a disproportionate effect on certain communities of color, particularly the Black community, [which] has been sometimes overly-victimized by law enforcement and criminal justice.”

Non-policing approaches include anti-bullying programming at schools, said Robin Toma, who heads the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. Toma said the county is also developing resource centers at high schools where students “can come and share any challenges that they're facing around hate.”

Community advocates encouraged those who experience anti-Asian incidents to report them for documentation and so the victims can access services. A call to the county’s 211 hotline will connect an individual to resources such as counseling and legal assistance.

The past year has seen an unprecedented amount of resources funneled toward combating hate incidents against Asians, such as the state’s $166.5 million API Equity Budget and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act signed by President Biden last May.

The survey was conducted online and over the phone between July and Sept. 2021. More than half of the respondents were immigrants. In addition to English, language services were offered in Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.