Attacks against the most vulnerable in the Asian community have increased during the Lunar New Year

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courtesy of The Mercury News

2021’s Lunar New Year was celebrated in a starkly contrasting manner from the extravagant festivals from years past.

Isabelle Coburn, Online Editor

As preparation started for 2021’s Lunar New Year, I could see my mom becoming more and more on edge every time she came back from work in Oakland.

As a caretaker for a 93-year-old Chinese lady living near the city’s Chinatown, she was familiar with shopping in the area, and on the eve of the new year, she brought back more stories of store robberies than she did of roast duck.

Over the course of two weeks, Oakland’s Chinatown was hit with more than 20 robberies and assaults, all targeting Asian women and elderly people. There were a string of attacks nationwide that led up and continued throughout the Lunar New Year, many of which have been reported by NextShark, an online publication dedicated to covering Asian-American news.

The Lunar New Year is meant to be an extravagant, hopeful, and happy occasion for people to take time to spend with family and friends, a time to wish everyone a good start to the year in health, luck, and wealth. It’s meant to be a community-centered holiday, and the dire circumstances of the pandemic meant that all the traditions and festivities of the holiday had to be dialed back and adapted.

As responsible as we all were in our celebrations, from making video calls with family in substitution of jovial family visits to cancelling festivals and celebrations, this year’s start was a bittersweet one for most Asians. The increase in attacks directed at Asians, especially at the most vulnerable people in the community such as Asians with disabilities and elders, has only rubbed salt into the wound.

Protection Group Officers have been standing watch over Oakland’s Chinatown as a result of the increase in assaults and robberies in the area. (courtesy of East Bay Times)

For many Asians living outside of Asia, the joy of the holiday has also been muted by a fear that has come with the significant surge of xenophobic hate crimes and assaults.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 3,000 hate crimes towards Asian-Americans have been reported by Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization that receives reports of Asian-directed assaults. These attacks have only increased as people have been out and about to prepare for celebrating the Lunar New Year.

A 70 year-old grandmother was knocked onto the ground and robbed in San Jose on Feb. 3 in broad daylight. The death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee after being attacked in San Francisco in the last week of January had been a devastating blow as well. On Feb. 3, 61 year-old Noel Quintana was attacked and slashed in the face with a box cutter on the way to work in New York. He received no help from passers-by.

When did people stoop so low as to attack the elderly? One of the core values I grew up with in an Asian household was the value of respect, especially toward those who are older than I am.

Seeing the people that I’ve been raised to honor and respect in my community get hit, pushed, and killed is a triggering experience. I can speak for many Asians when I say that every time I see another one of these attacks happen, I can’t help but to think of my own grandparents, and how vulnerable they could truly be on the streets.

“What’s so enraging about these attacks on Asians is how, in my experience, my older relatives minimize their pain, opinions, and the space they occupy in order to unburden others,” tweeted Eugene Yang, a member of the Try Guys YouTube comedy series. “They mind their own business while trying to survive. Targeting them feels especially cruel.”

It’s not a matter of daring the assailants to pick someone their own size, but a matter of why something as sickening as this happens at all. Not just Chinese people, but all Asians have been taking the blame for the coronavirus since it started last year.

Sinophobia isn’t a new problem in America. It’s existed for as long as there have been Asian immigrants. But now that the media has been drawing more attention to these aggressions, the awareness that it’s happening shouldn’t inspire more hate toward them. It should gather more sympathy and understanding for these people instead.

As individuals, we can educate ourselves about Asian culture and values to avoid ignorance and misunderstanding. Other people can’t be held accountable for the actions that an assailant chooses to direct onto the elderly. But as long as there is intervention, we can protect those who aren’t able to defend themselves.

Many advocates who are raising awareness of xenophobia have been working in solidarity with BLM activists to continue to root out the problem of racial ignorance and aggression. Sinophobia isn’t an unsolvable problem, and as a community we can continue to fix it.