AAPI Heritage Month

New Bill Aims to Curb Rise in Anti-Asian Crimes

The new law comes as local communities celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

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This has been a pivotal week for Asian Americans.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed into law new legislation to fight the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Biden said the legislation was an example of how common values could unite the country and that his administration would continue to work to crack down on hate crimes.

"My message to all of those who are hurting is we see you. The Congress said we see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias," Biden said.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act initially passed Congress with overwhelming and bipartisan support.

The legislation funds improvements in tracking and reporting hate crimes, helps victims overcome language barriers to report crimes and creates a justice department position solely focused on anti-Asian hate.

Hate crimes, violence and incidents of discrimination against Asians have surged across America during the pandemic. It came to a boiling point in March with the killings of six women of Asian descent at a spa in Atlanta.

New data on anti-Asian hate incidents is also revealing some startling increases in reports this year, according to NBC News.

The reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate released a national report last week, examining incidents that took place over roughly a year during the coronavirus pandemic. It revealed that the number of incidents reported surged from 3,795 to 6,603 in March of this year alone.

Russell Jeung, the group’s co-founder and professor and chair of the Asian American studies department at San Francisco State University, told NBC News that among several factors including increased awareness around the issue, the country’s continued opening up as restrictions lifted could have had an impact on the Asian American population.

“What we've always said is that racism could have been dampened because the quarantine has sort of protected us. But now, we've had a year's worth of anger focused on Asians, the year's worth of economic distress, the year’s worth of political rhetoric, vilifying Chinese and Asians,” he said. “And so now that we're beginning to interact and all that anger and fear and racism is getting directed at us more.”

The new law comes as communities celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. According to the Texas Demographics Center, 1.5 million Asians are living in Texas. It's the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state and among the fastest in the country.

This month, North Texans have shown support for the local Asian community in several ways.

Earlier this week, the Asian Pacific American Public Affairs (APAPA) North Texas hosted a "Unity Against Hate" rally in downtown Dallas.

On May 18, the national anti-bullying group Act To Change hosted a National AAPI Day Against Bullying + Hate. Several celebrities hosted the virtual program, which you can view by clicking here. The day marked the birthday of Vincent Chin, whose Detroit-area murder in a hate crime in 1982 sparked a national uprising.

Plano AsiaFest also celebrated Asian culture during its annual festival, which was held virtually this month for the first time.

“We felt like it was really important because it provided a reminder that Asian Americans are your neighbors and coworkers in North Texas,” said Rachel Tran, a board member for Plano AsiaFest and a Vietnamese-American. “To be an Asian American, I’m very proud. I love my culture. And I’m blending it with the American culture. Nothing could be better."

New programming was incorporated into this year’s event to address issues the AAPI community has been facing in the past year.

Organizers brought in licensed therapists to talk about mental health. Tran said cultural norms have stigmatized mental health issues.

“We tend to downplay the importance of mental health. We tend to keep it inside. So that has a big effect on our mental well-being,” she said.

Local FBI and Plano police representatives also hosted presentations to talk about hate crimes and safety tips.

Tran said that is something she and others are still grappling with.

“In the past, I’ve never given it a second thought when I take walks in the neighborhood. Now, I carry mace with me," she said. "Things like that never occurred to me to be aware of. Now with the Asian hate crimes, it changes your life completely."

In honor of AAPI Heritage month, Plano AsiaFest is continuing to host a special month-long art exhibition in the lobby of Courtyard Theater in Plano. It will be up until May 30.

Click below to watch the virtual fest online.

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