Searching for ‘Opportunities to Heal’ Amidst Anti-Asian Violence

Searching for ‘Opportunities to Heal’ Amidst Anti-Asian Violence (Alvina Wong, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network’s Campaign and Organizing Director, helped organize healing vigils in the Bay Area in February 2021. (Photo courtesy of Joyce Xi))

From the recent shootings at Asian businesses in Atlanta that killed six Asian women to the attacks against Asian elders, violence against Asian Americans have been spiking across the country.

According to a report from Stop AAPI Hate, the organization has received nearly 3,800 hate incidents since March 2020. and the numbers may be much higher as some incidents go unreported.

This has caused a rush of fear in our communities, but has given us the space to explore why such hate driven crimes are occuring, and allows us to notice the old and new resources available.

I talked to campaign and organizing director, Alvina Wong, who is a long-time member and advocate of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network in Oakland, California. We discussed how the media has covered the stories on anti-Asian violence, Asian and Black unity during this time, and what we can do individually to get more involved. 

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Tenzing Chosang: For people who may not be aware, can you explain what is happening in regards to the recent wave of Asian American attacks? 

Alvina Wong: For a long period of time, our communities have been survivors of and have been impacted by crime and violence — both from other communities and also even within our own community.

I think what we’re seeing are a lot of really horrendous, heartbreaking moments of violence happening to our elders, aunties, and also to our youth, who are getting robbed, getting carjacked. Some interactions are very explicitly anti-Asian, like getting verbally harassed. 

And then some are really just what we’ll call “crimes of opportunity” because our economy right now is so horrendous. Living under COVID for the past year, all of the systems that weren’t working for our communities of color and working class families is just exacerbated. People are getting displaced, can’t pay their rent. People are losing work hours and not being able to make enough money to even buy food.

TC: So how have you personally been processing all of this?

AW:  We know our grannies, aunties and uncles like their independence. They really like having their own time. And these are hard moments where it’s like, “how do we respect that,” you know? 

It just feels like we’re continuing to build this mistrust and fear instead of just being able to live our lives. I think for myself, [I’ve been] like calling people — checking in on them, seeing how they’re doing, and just finding different ways that we can be more supportive.

TC: I’ve seen a lot of emphasis of Black and Asian unity during all of this. What has that meant to you?

AW: I think there’s a lot of conversation around Black and Asian tension. There’s also a lot of stories and history being shared of Black and Asian unity. For me, it’s also reminding ourselves that it’s not just about Black and Asian tension. All of our communities of color have some point of tension and also points of unity.

At our healing event, we really made sure to reach out to and get the support from our Indigenous allies, our Latino partners and also our Black allies. Healing is where we need to go in order for us to really stop this kind of violence in the long run.

TC: There’s a lot on social media saying that AAPI hate crime stories don’t get heavily covered by the media. How do you feel about how the media has covered these stories and their take on it?

AW: I think there is definitely not enough coverage. I also think that there are unintentional consequences when we keep showing violence happening. It feels a little bit like the media is just re-traumatizing us over and over again. It just creates more fear, anger and hatred. Whereas I think what we need is opportunities to heal and have dialogue about what is really going on and why.  

There’s not enough attention on what to do for those who experience the harm and what they need and want. How are their lives now impacted? How are they getting the support and resources they need — both financially and emotionally — to be able to go back to their daily lives? 

TC: What do you think needs to be done now? What are the next steps or initiatives?

AW: We’ve been advocating a lot for resources and investments to culturally competent, trauma informed survivors-centered work. Some of those things look like survivor support funds, like actual physical dollars people can access. Some of it is just making sure that there are more counselors and mental health resources that can respond to these situations. 

Ultimately, we need our government and our systems to continue to invest in safe housing, quality jobs and job pathways. And also accessible health care and mental health. So those are things that we keep asking for and keep really centering. Because, you know, it’s not going to change by tomorrow.

TC: What are some specific ways that the youth or just everyday people can get more involved or help in any way?

AW: I think one of the most beautiful things out of all of this was just everyone’s like, “How can I help? How can I support, what can I do?” 

We’re telling folks to patron the businesses and buy your home goods from Chinatown or Little Saigon. Support these merchants and small business owners, who also are employing immigrant and refugee workers, and build relationships with them. In our community, we have some other long-term nonprofit and other organizations that have been helping survivors of crime and violence. Those organizations and those resources need to be invested in. We definitely always need volunteers to help, whether it’s graffiti removal, street cleaning pickup or even creating art and beautifying our neighborhoods.

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