Asian Americans celebrate Lunar New Year amid ongoing hate crimes

For two years now, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country have faced verbal, physical and sometimes deadly racist attacks fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the start of the Lunar New Year, many are looking forward to continuing family traditions and joining in community celebrations throughout the month of February. These include family dinners and giving children red envelopes filled with money. New York, Chicago and San Francisco are among the cities with parades scheduled for later this month in their respective Chinatowns.

The Year of the Tiger – a Chinese zodiac symbol that represents strength and courage – is also the perfect time to convince Asian elders who have lived in fear because of widespread anti-Asian sentiment to join in the festivities.

“We really want to share our culture and be able to celebrate this joyful event with everyone,” said William Gee, longtime organizer of the Chinese New Year parade and festival in San Francisco. “Just the sheer presence in numbers, it could actually deter whatever malicious or nefarious activity that might be planned.”

While most Lunar New Year festivities were shelved last year due to COVID-19, many outdoor events are returning with organizers encouraging masking for the public but mandating it for staff. The various parades will feature floats, marching bands, lion dances — and even “Star Wars” cosplayers in San Francisco.

“I hope anyone who is genuinely afraid to come out because of everything that has happened can find some comfort and some comfort, in terms of coming to an event where you are going to be surrounded by people like you.” , Gee said.

Several towns that hold parades and festivals recently held rallies marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on Vicha Ratanapakdee. The 84-year-old Thai-American was attacked while walking in his San Francisco neighborhood.

His death was one of the first reported in what has been a series of fatal incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The grim anniversary came just weeks after Michelle Alyssa Go died in New York’s Times Square. The 40-year-old died after a mentally unstable man pushed her in front of a subway.

Amanda Nguyen, an activist whose January 2021 Instagram video highlighting attacks on Asian elderly people drew widespread attention, said the continued hostility is all the more reason to openly celebrate Asian cultures. Having fun with family and friends is not dismissing tragedy, but rather “the most radical form of rebellion”.

“I know it’s a difficult time, but the Lunar New Year is a joyous celebration that is deeply rooted in the community,” Nguyen said. “I want people to know you can cry. You can collectively mourn, heal and also make space to be yourself, to have joy.

Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, which has tracked the incidents nationally based on victim statements, said nervous elders in Chinatowns are stuck in “de facto segregation”. For the past two years, they have been limited to certain streets or certain neighborhoods.

“So to honor our elders, we really need to help break down that feeling of isolation, making them feel included again, safe,” Jeung said. “You do this by … taking them out, escorting them, taking them shopping, inviting them to meals, and then working for broader safety in the community.”

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Police Department reported that anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021 jumped 567% from 2020. Preliminary data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism indicate that Los Angeles and New York also had anti-Asian records. Asian hate incidents. Georgia recorded the most deaths after the Atlanta-area spa shootings in March 2021 that killed six Asian women.

Initial figures from individual police departments indicate that anti-Asian hate crimes overall rose 339% in 2021, compared to a 124% increase in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Many people attribute this trend to former President Donald Trump talking about the coronavirus, which first emerged in China, in racial terms.

“The data is so horrifying that seeing it confirmed in other sources comes as no surprise to us and validates what we know,” Jeung said.

Nguyen believes incorporating more Asian American and Pacific Islander stories into K-12 education can help change the climate in the future. She organized petitions in various states.

“That’s when people learn everything. I think a lot of hate, xenophobia, this foreign professional stereotype, even ‘yellow fever’, the way AAPIs are characterized – it stems from ignorance,” Nguyen said, using the acronym for Americans. of Asian descent and Pacific Islanders. “Let’s celebrate the people who have broken down barriers.

Bing Tang, of Monterey Park, Calif., says he doesn’t dwell too much on anti-Asian hatred because nothing will come of it. Tang, who was shopping in Los Angeles’ Chinatown last week for tiger decorations for a family dinner of steamed chicken, fish and lobster, said thankfully neither he nor his relatives had been harassed or attacked.

“There are good people, bad people all over the country,” Tang said. “I go out normally and just have a positive attitude. What can we do? We can only control ourselves and be kind to others.

___ Associated Press photographer Damian Dovarganes in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of the Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at

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