For Asian Americans Wary of Attacks, Reopening Is Not an Option
Millions of Americans may be leaping into a summer of newly unmasked normalcy. But inside Mandy Lin’s apartment in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, the lockdown drags on.
Her 9-year-old son is struggling through the last lessons of fourth grade on a laptop while many of his classmates are back in school. His grandmother stays inside all day. For exercise, Ms. Lin’s family paces their building’s parking lot or ventures to a nearby park.
But it is not Covid-19 keeping the family from rejoining a bustling world of restaurants, schools and public spaces.
“It’s not safe to be outside,” Ms. Lin, 43, said. “There has just been unending violence and harassment.”
A surge in anti-Asian attacks during the pandemic is now holding back many Asian American families from joining the rest of the country in getting back to normal.
As schools phase out remote learning, companies summon employees back to work and masks fly off people’s faces, Asian Americans say that America’s race to reopen is creating a new wave of worries — not about getting sick, but whether they will be attacked if they venture back onto a bus or accosted if they return to a favorite cafe or bookstore.
In more than a dozen interviews across the country, Asian Americans detailed fears about their safety and a litany of precautions that have endured even as the country has reopened. Some people are still avoiding subways and public transportation. Others are staying away from restaurants. Some dread the return of business travel or the end of remote work.
Their fears come as attacks continue. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of community and academic organizations, tracked more than 6,600 attacks and other incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from March 2020 to March 2021. A survey this spring found that one in three Asian Americans worried about becoming victims of hate crimes. And while nearly three-fifths of white fourth-graders are now back in class, just 18 percent of their Asian American peers have returned to in-person learning, according to federal surveys.
Asian Americans said they hoped the threats would ebb as more people got vaccinated and the pandemic faded. But person after person echoed the same worry: There is no vaccine against bigotry.
“It’s embedded itself so deeply,” said Lily Zhu, 30, a tech worker in Pflugerville, Texas. “When we got our Covid shots, it was marking the end of this weird year where everyone was frozen in time. But there’s still this paranoia.”
A Rise in Anti-Asian Attacks
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
- Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
- Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.
- In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings were hate crimes, and that she would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, who has been charged with murder.
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