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Peoria's Asian American Community Disturbed By Rise in Hate Crimes

(AP Photo/Candice Choi, File)
In this March 19, 2021, file photo, flowers, candles and signs are displayed at a makeshift memorial in Atlanta, following a shooting.

Hate crimes directed toward Asian Americans have spiked sharply over the past year. After last week's shootings in Atlanta, the issue is under a magnifying glass.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino found a 150 percent jump in hate crimes directed toward Asian Americans in 16 of America's largest cities last year.

A separate report from Stop AAPI Hate documented 3,795 separate incidents over the past year, ranging from verbal harassment or shunning to physical assaults and workplace discrimination, or other civil rights violations.

The trend is troubling for members of the student-run Asian American Association at Bradley University that works to educate and raise awareness of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community -- both on campus and in the Peoria community at large.

"It's hard for us as a part of that Asian-American community, as much as I don't want to believe that it might be racially-charged, for us to ignore that that might be a factor," said Alex Nyugen, a Bradley student on the AAA's executive board.

The first incidence of the virus was discovered in Wuhan, China. The current surge in crimes and discrimination targeted at people of Asian descent can be traced back to March 2020, when many people's lives were shaken by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders for the first time.

Rustin Gates, an associate professor of history at Bradley University specializing in Asian studies, said this isn't the first time people of Asian descent have taken the brunt of the blame from others for wider societal problems.

"They want a source, a culprit, for this terrible situation of the world. And at the urging, I think, of some of our leaders, who have presented this narrative, they lash out, scapegoat, with sad effects in all the cases," said Gates.

For Bradley students like Driffin Don, another AAA member, that narrative unfairly blames the Asian community.

"The rhetoric, just like saying the 'Wuhan virus,' it really targets the Asian community when you say that, when it's stated like that. When it's just targeted like, it's because of China. China, yeah, that was the source, right? But spreading was not their job, right? Spreading was all of us not doing our job. Quarantining, isolating. Like, that spread is our fault," he said.

Six women of Asian descent were among the eight people fatally shot in three Atlanta-area massage businesses last week. While that case is still under investigation, Nguyen said it still further unsettles America's Asian community.

"Whether or not it's rooted in racism, or rooted in some sort of racially-charged action, it's still instilling some sort of distress in the community. It may not have been their goal, but it's still adding to the problem," he said.

Dr. Yufeng Lu is the interim chair of Bradley's the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Speaking personally as an Asian-American, Lu said he's personally disturbed by recent sentiments toward people of Asian descent.

"I feel like it is disgusting that perpetuators are not being held accountable for their actions. And I have been in the United States for 20 years. I enjoy it most of the time. And in recent years, I don't feel comfortable," he said.

Xiaotien Chen, an electronic services librarian at Bradley, said it's important to understand the historical context of the racism rooted in America's past.

"There were institutional racial bias against Asian Americans," Chen said. "One example is the Chinese Exclusion Act from 1882 to the 1940s. Another is the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II."

Gates said there are more recent examples, such as violence stemming from economic resentment toward the Japanese automotive industry in the 1980s. Gates said understanding the past history of racism and discrimination is important if, as a country, we are to uphold the standards of equality for all laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

"It's an idealized goal, and we are working towards it, but this recent episode, and other ones in the past, shows we're still on the path towards that," he said.

For Bradley student and AAA board member Bianca Dayola, it all comes back to basic human decency.

"Wear your mask. Be safe. Stay kind. Just be respectful. You don't need to go putting blame on somebody else just because a disease or illness came from a certain place. Just be a kind, respectful human being, and we'll all get through this," she said.

Bradley University student and AAA executive board member Megan Lay said people also can be proactive with their support of the Asian American community.

"Just educating yourself on valid resources. So resources coming from the AAPI community. And supporting Asian-American ran businesses," Lay said. "Because they are negatively impacted by these events. Just amplifying those voices and spreading awareness."

Chen said it's also important to call out racism for what it is.

"Everybody should speak up and no one should be silent about this," he said.

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