In the last year, 3,800 cases of anti-Asian violence were documented across the country—97 of them in Pennsylvania. Experts believe the numbers are much higher but that many incidents go unreported because of language barriers or fear of repercussions. Asian Americans United (AAU), an Equitable Public Space Fund and Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing grantee, is working to address the rise in anti-Asian violence and expand access to critical services by organizing vigils and online town halls in collaboration with other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups to reach across languages and neighborhoods.
“There is a long history of anti-Asian violence in this country. COVID is another reason for this violence,” says Wei Chen, AAU’s Civic Engagement Coordinator. “AAU has always been an ally to fight for racial equity and justice for all people of color, not just Asian Americans. We tie our struggle to Black Lives Matter because this fight against racial hate cannot be done without allies. We are seeing huge support at his moment from the Black community.”
“We tie our struggle to Black Lives Matter because this fight against racial hate cannot be done without allies.”Wei Chen
AAU was founded in 1982 to build community power among people of Asian ancestry in order to challenge oppression and advocate for the needs of immigrants, refugees, and non-English speakers. Their Youth Leadership Development programs engage both Chinese immigrant youth and Asian American youth in community organizing for social justice.
Early in the pandemic, AAU hosted online town halls with community leaders to discuss the growing violence. They brought together staff from Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health to share resources. “It’s very important to talk about mental health resources that are available for people as they are dealing with fear and stress about anti-Asian violence and the pandemic,” Chen says. “It is still hard to access these services because of language issues and because our community is not used to going to therapy or talking about mental health, but we have to start talking about it.”
Immediately following the March mass shooting that killed 8 people in Atlanta-area spas, 6 of whom were Asian, AAU organized a citywide vigil. “Our community feels tired and angry because this violence is not being recognized as a hate crime,” Chen says. “We wanted to honor the victims who lost their lives and to wake people up about what’s going on in our country.”
In April, AAU began a series of online teach-ins about the history of the Asian-American experience in Philadelphia. “It’s an opportunity for political education and to understand our struggle in this land. It’s been very inspiring for young people,” Chen says.
AAU is producing a safety booklet to help the AAPI community respond to hate crimes, including how to protect themselves, report incidents, and access victim services and mental health support. AAU is working with other AAPI organizations, including VietLead and the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, to translate the guide into a number of languages. The guide will be available in Summer 2021.