The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in recent years has been a cause for concern, with reports of violent acts occurring across the country. Advocacy groups alongside federal, state, and local governments have been actively working to address this alarming trend and provide support to victims. As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month draws to a close, Policy Outsider host Alex Morse speaks with Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation and a member of the Institute on Immigrant Integration Research and Policy‘s board of advisors, about the violent and harmful acts experienced by Asian Americans. Jo-Ann details the Asian American Federation’s response to the surge in hate crimes, and shares how individuals and communities can collaborate to confront violence toward not only Asian Americans, but all marginalized groups for a more safe and just society.
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director, Asian American Federation
Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors.
Alexander Morse 00:02
Welcome to Policy Outsider presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. I’m Alex Morse. The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in recent years has been a cause for concern with reports of violent acts occurring across the country. Advocacy groups alongside federal, state and local governments have been actively working to address this alarming trend and provide support to victims. As Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Heritage Month draws to a close, we speak with Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation and member of the Institute on Immigrant Integration Research and Policy’s Board of Advisors about the violent and harmful acts experienced by Asian Americans. Jo-Ann details the Asian American Federation’s response to the surge in hate crimes, and shares how individuals and communities can collaborate to confront violence towards not only Asian Americans, but all marginalized groups for a more safe and just society. Coming up next.
Alexander Morse 01:16
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, thank you so much for joining today.
Jo-Ann Yoo 01:21
Thanks for inviting me.
Alexander Morse 01:23
As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close we wanted to explore current events facing the Asian American community and the work that’s being done by the Asian American Federation. So to start, hate crimes towards Asian Americans have been rising reports of violent acts are occurring across the country. What are some of the violent or harmful acts many Asian Americans are experiencing? And what is the Asian American Federation doing in response to the rise in hate crimes?
Jo-Ann Yoo 01:52
Thanks for that question, Alex. We are closing out Asian Heritage Month. And sadly, that is the top of mind for a lot of our community, as well as our friends and allies. And this is the reality that we live in, that we have to talk about violence in our communities. I mean, we’ve all seen the horrific images from across the country. New York City, New York State, sadly has the highest number of anti-Asian attacks in the country,. Specifically in New York City, over 2000. And we know that that is just a small percentage of the actual incidents that are happening. You know, when we say anti-Asian hate attacks, it’s misdemeanors and crimes, right, you know, getting people getting punched on that needs to get reported to the police, but people also reporting to us about being spat on, being called names. Over 2000. NYPD has shown numbers 200%-300% increase. It’s just really a horrific time for our community. A lot of the crimes happen to women, a lot of them have happened to our elders. And you know, the first thing I think about is, I’m going to be blunt that our former president, every time he said China virus, and Kung flu, it harmed Asian Americans. And I often wonder this is you know, my private moments when I’m just beyond exhausted, I think about we were your neighbors yesterday, we said hello to each other yesterday. And then you know, within a few days, what has changed. We haven’t been to China,. You can be mad at a foreign country, but you can’t be mad at Americans. So why all of a sudden, are we paying the price? I think about that a lot. So what has been happening? Obviously, we’ve seen all the horrific videos of people getting punched, slashed, just things that are happening that are beyond our own imagination, beyond cruel. Our community is at a breaking point we continue to be I think people think like, oh, the media is not reporting it anymore. What does it what does that mean? Nothing has changed. It’s ongoing. We get reports people report to our website, we have people call us to say I know a victim. Can you help them? It’s all been really scary. It’s been very, it’s been very painful. People are scrambling people are reeling, I mean, mental health anxiety that has just skyrocketed. Our response when all of this started was, sadly, I don’t think anybody on my staff slept. I’m not kidding. When I say people were texting me and emailing me at three in the morning. None of us could sleep because we knew what was coming. So nobody slept. And we were scrambling to put together resources to outreach to people to be able to put together the reporting side having finding translators who can translate to make sure that people had an outlet to be able to talk about what was happening to them. They don’t want to talk to law enforcement, but maybe they want to report it to somebody. So that’s what we wanted to capture their stories. That was priority number one. And as we started to talk to other communities that had been the realize before had been marginalized you know I’d say, hate is like poisoning the water, right? It spreads to another community and it keeps spreading and spreading and spreading. My staff worked very closely with our allies that people don’t realize, you know, the LGBTQ the trans community. They said, we know what this looks like, we still deal with this. This is what you should think about this is how you should frame some of this stuff, right. So they are our biggest allies, we will not be able to launch any of our programs without their assistance. And I want to give a shout out to Governor Hochul, because the biggest investment that was made in Hope Against Hate was Governor Hochul. She was literally I’m not even kidding when I say she was in the office for five days, right. And she said, this is absolute nightmare. I want to support the Asian American community, she threw in real money, that money we funded 33 groups across the state. And our approach is really about centering the victim. To connect victims with lawyers. I can give them mental health assistance. I can make sure that we do safety trainings. I can make sure that we fund safety programs where people are walking around the neighborhoods patrolling the neighborhoods. I can make sure that victims and their families are supported. You know, a lot of corporations stepped up. So for instance, Lyft and Uber, they would say we want to give you some ride credits. Great. And then we will put it out there, if you need to get somewhere and you feel unsafe, please let us know. We can give you some ride credit. And so for us right now we need to figure out while there are ongoing policy discussions, what do we need to do to keep people safe? People need to go to work, people need to put food on the table, people need to go to school. So what are we asking for? What are we doing? That is our prime concern. I am always happy to talk to anybody who will hear our story because I feel like the most powerful weapon that, the tool that I have in combating anti-Asian hate and combating racism is information and education.
Alexander Morse 07:10
Well, we’re grateful to have you here. This is an important story, it is important to inform the community of what’s happening to different minority groups. You mentioned a lot there. And I want to kind of touch on a few of those things. So you mentioned that Governor Hochul put funding towards helping combat anti Asian violence. Governor Hochul and the state legislature in this most recent budget committed $30 million to combat anti-Asian hate crimes. You talked a little bit about what that kind of looks like in terms of providing victim services or mental health services. Can you expand on what that outreach looks like? And how you can connect with people who are victims of hate crimes?
Jo-Ann Yoo 07:50
Sadly, we don’t have to do too much work. What happens with the money is that we send out a request for proposal, right? We ask our member our nonprofit members across the state, how do you see yourself inserting into these elements that we think are important. For instance, domestic, groups that deal with gender based violence, domestic violence, they say, we know how a hotline works, we can do that. There are groups who work with kids who say we can do some youth education, there are groups who say we have a volunteer corps that can patrol the streets. So why don’t we sign up for that. We can host safety training so that people understand how to physically keep themselves safe. And I don’t want to you know, order, prioritize who’s doing the most important work, but a critical work is mental health services. We have to have mental health services from victims, their families, but also for the community. So our mental health, Asian led Asian serving mental health services and mental health providers. Sadly, we are putting them through their paces, you know, before the COVID, they had to three week wait to talk to somebody now it’s months. And we know that there is desperation. We need to talk about anxiety, my staff need to talk about anxiety, I need to talk about anxiety. So we have different components of Hope Against, Hate, we give money out to 33 different groups based on what each group is committed to do. And so it really is this collaborative effort. The violence or the Asian American community is not going to be solved by Asians alone. This really is a collaborative community effort. Our safety depends on everybody else to help us. Just like every other community, we see the black and brown community we see the LGBTQ community, we see the Jewish community, we see the Muslim community. Now we see the asylum workers. Everybody safety belongs on each of us. Looking at those New Yorkers, as part of our community and doing what is right if you see violence if you see some old lady struggling to keep her handbag, and if you’re walking down the street with your friends, there are things that you can do and so what teaching people those techniques as well,
Alexander Morse 10:04
I think that’s very helpful information to know and will certainly guide listeners to your website at for resources on how to protect themselves and how to protect their community. Earlier you mentioned rhetoric playing a huge role in framing perspective on how people feel towards Asian Americans, specifically cited President Trump saying things like Kung luu, or the Wuhan flu, in addition to President Trump, how has mass media, more broadly, impacted attitudes towards Asian Americans. For example, there was the COVID 19 pandemic, and China’s reported reluctance to sharing information about the spread and origin of the disease. China has also been a global and economic player, rising in their competitive advantage. And then there’s also North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the risks they pose not only to their neighboring countries, but also the world.
Jo-Ann Yoo 10:56
Every time Trump said that and his cronies allowed him to say that I’m watching the news, you know, what’s going to happen? Hang on everybody, because we’re going to start to see spikes, right? And it’s those times that I wish I was wrong. And I wasn’t because we did see the spikes. You know, this is your fault, that narrative still holds true, right? It’s still, you know, this is your fault. And I’m thinking, how can it be our fault if we were also in New York experiencing the exact same thing? Asian Americans, we’re not immune to COVID, we had to wear masks, we had to go get vaccines, our you know, our committee members died, we had to go to work. Everything that everybody around the world experience we experienced to as Americans. For a lot of Asian Americans, it remains a perplexing question. How can you be angry at us when we been here the whole time we are Americans. And it’s this constant othering of Asian Americans, we are the other right? We are the constant foreigners? We’ve been here for generations. They’ve been here for four or five generations how they’re American as they get right. And so we also need to think about how do we define what is America and I think if new immigrants come to our country, in the maker holding home here, that’s an American, they become citizens. That’s an American, if you planted your flag here, you live here, work here, send your kids to school, you’re an American. And why I like that question, Alex, is the fact that there are foreign policy conversations that we’re having, right. There’s not so productive conversations with China. There’s always seems to be tension with North Korea. But that’s a foreign policy question that has nothing to do with me and I will tell you, as a Korean American, right, I am an immigrant I came here as a little girl. Every time something happens with North Korea. You know, I I’m I’m watching with curiosity, because I’m thinking Oh, my God, if North Korea tries to start something, what does it mean for us Americans, right? Like, so the foreign policies and disagreements should not be attributed to us. We are a country of immigrants. We are a state of immigrants. We are so proud of our immigrant heritage. But we’ve made our home here. This is our home. So what is happening in China, we don’t have anything to do with that what has happened in Korea, we don’t have anything to do with that.
Alexander Morse 13:19
This is interesting. I’m learning a lot as we go through it. And it’s…
Alexander Morse 13:22
It’s been a long struggle for a lot of communities, and especially in this current climate of heightened tensions and heightened racism, or at least the racism that’s been more public. If we’re going to focus a little bit more on the perpetrators of these hate crimes and racist acts. Do hate crime convictions require any type of rehabilitation training, remediation, or paid damages?
Jo-Ann Yoo 13:22
Alex, if I can go back to the Trump question, right. Yeah, of course. I want to really thank the Asian elected officials, because I think they fought so hard to push back on that rhetoric, right? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna, now I feel like I got to name names now, right? Because I’m angry. I am very angry. And I’m gonna be I’m gonna be honest, nobody can tell me I’m wrong. Nobody can tell me shit these days. You know, Mitch McConnell? Why the hell didn’t you issue a statement? Your wife is a Chinese American immigrant. And she’s a cabinet official. You should have said to Trump, what you’re saying is unacceptable. You’re putting my family in danger. You’re putting Asian Americans in danger. His silence harmed our community. And you know, I know that’s true. It is appalling to me, that leaders didn’t say anything. When you are a leader, your job is to speak the truth. And he damn well knew watching the victims of the Atlanta spa shooting, all of these Asian Americans getting slaughtered on the street, didn’t say one word, right? After his wife left the cabinet and she made a comment, I thought you know what, it’s too late. Because there are already people dead. There are already Asian American community members whose lives have changed forever. Sometimes, you know, this is the thing that we always tell children, you know, like, speak up, even if your voice shakes. Why weren’t you speaking up? You know, Alex, I have to tell you I got a lot of hate mail. I got a lot of hate email. I got people calling me saying horrible things, right. I don’t care. You know, because I know what the truth was because I know, I sat with victims. I had to hear the struggle. And I had to hear the questions of why did he think they picked me? Why me? Right? Because of racism, because people who should have said something didn’t say anything. And yet it was a handful of elected officials like Congresswoman Meng, who spoke up and said, this is not acceptable. Oh, my God, you know, when your communities in crisis, you know who the allies are? I will tell you in New York City, the black leadership, the black nonprofit leaders, those were my allies, because the black and Latino leadership because I know whenever something happened, my phone rang off the hook, they would text me and say, Are you okay? What can we do to support you. When you’re having a crisis, you know, who your allies are, and sometimes the allies are not from our own community.
Jo-Ann Yoo 16:21
You know, I’m not an expert. So I don’t know. It’s something that we didn’t keep up with, because we are definitely more victim centered. And we really wanted to figure out what do we do for the victims. And oftentimes, our job was to connect the victims to an attorney who can help the victims pursue their justice. And the question that I’ve often asked the victims was, what does justice look like for you? What can we do to make sure you get the justice that you think is fair? You know, many of the perpetrators, severe mental illness, or homeless? How do you punish them when the system in many ways left them behind in every way left them behind? How do you how do you screen for justice? Because they’re vulnerable, too right. So these are the things that our community needs to think about? I think we are, I think what the pandemic did was to expose a whole lot of cracks in our society that never got healed. And we all were, we were always willing to put a band aid over it. Right. And I, for me, I feel like is this the time for us to crack open and see what’s underneath and let’s build something new. One thing about Asian, anti-Asian violence that I need to put out there. I think everybody thinks this is the first time we’ve been through this right? And I tell everybody, the history of the Asians In America, the from the time that we’ve set foot in the soil, hasn’t been about violence has about marginalization. It has abundant erasure. Think about the Exclusion Act, they created a law to not let Chinese Americans become citizens. Yet. They were the cheap laborers to build the railroads. Or the Page Act that prevented women from coming over here because they were deemed prostitutes. Let’s look at rounding up Japanese Americans and putting them in concentration camps after the war. We think about what happened to the Muslim Arab community after 9/11. We also need to think about Vincent Chin, I think that is the perfect example of how our community is overlooked, marginalized, and how people don’t have an idea racist don’t have an idea. What the heck’s going on, you know, Vincent Chin is a Chinese American, his parents adopted him from China. He’s as American as they come. He worked in Detroit. At a time when Japanese cars were coming. They were more fuel efficient cars. And so two white men who got laid off decided they were going to beat up Vincent Chin, on the eve of his wedding because they thought he was Japanese. And this is the stupidity, right? Why would you beat up an American when you’re mad at a foreign corporation? You can’t even tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese. It’s just this chronic stupidity that we deal with. Nothing’s new for us,. How we’re coping, who our allies are, and how we’re sorting this out is going to feel different. We want our histories taught in schools. We want to work with other communities that have been marginalized. You know, I also is it’s the one year anniversary of the Buffalo Topps grocery supermarket shooting. It gutted me because I thought, oh my god, we have just complete as as a society. We have gone over the edge. But I have heard that the killer’s manifesto included his admiration for the Asian American community. And you know, that piss me off more than anything. And I thought How dare you use our community to justify this horrific thing you did to innocent people to go into the supermarkets and slaughter people? That is not okay. No Asian American is okay with that. We are outraged. The fact that we are seen as the model minority, you know, and we’re used as a wedge to deny other communities of color the resources that they need. It’s just endless, endless. But I think we are now starting to stand up, our young people are starting to stand up, our seniors are starting to say that we’re sick and tired of this, why? Why are you? You know, you know, why are we scapegoated for the pandemic, we didn’t start it, we weren’t, had to go through the exact same thing. Everything that everybody’s feeling as Americans, we felt that too. And that is the one ask I have of listeners, that we are Americans, we are here, you need to see us as your neighbor, we need you to see us as your friend and family, you need to see us be an ally and a champion. For all of us.
Alexander Morse 18:11
Much of this conversation has been a sober reminder of where we’ve been and the long road left to go. But I think you ended there a little bit on a more positive note thinking about allyship, being a leader, and looking at community partners to help end violence against marginalized groups, to help combat racism, to provide services for victims of hate crimes, but to also look at opportunities to help root out some where racism might begin from how to confront that before it happens. I want to just say thank you again and ask you one last question to round out our conversation is, do you have any policy recommendations? I know, it’s kind of a broad question, but like, what would you want to see implemented at the state or maybe federal level of government that would help you achieve your goal through the Asian American Federation and other groups?
Jo-Ann Yoo 21:41
Sure, I think there’s a number of proposals that we constantly give to the federal officials, we have a pretty strong representation. We know New York congressional delegation has always done right by the Asian American community. So we’re very thankful and grateful. More than anything else, we asked for visibility. So I know that there are efforts to create an Asian American museum. I know that that’s in the works. You know, right now, what we need is funding. We need support. This is ongoing, and this is not going to end anytime soon. We need support to be able to have conversations. We also need funding not just for the Asian community, but communities of color other marginalized communities, because we need to start to have cross community dialogue. We all seem to be living, because we’re all trapped in this hell of racism, and violence. And we are all struggling do the exact same thing. How do we keep ourselves safe? And I think the homework for all of us is, how do we advance without one community getting something that other marginalized communities don’t have? How do we start to share how do we say if you’re going to give me something I would like the other marginalized communities to have it too. And I think we need to start to build us coalition’s and those coalition’s are being built right now, they wide, I know that there are efforts to mandate Asian American curriculum, but we also need to mandate the Latino community curriculum, African American curriculum. You know, we think about often the struggles of the black community as civil rights struggles that really benefited our community. We need to understand all of that stuff. We need to teach all of this stuff to our children, we need to teach our communities, we need to start, the conversation you are having. We need to normalize and replicate this in hundreds and 1000s of ways, not just among you and me. But through regular people. I think what I’ve realized through anti-Asian hate is all the leaders know top down approach can’t happen. We all understand it. We all intellectualize it, because we have longstanding allyship and relationships with all these nonprofits. What I realize is, we need to put more effort into bottom up conversations, how are we facilitating conversations between neighbors, between people who live in the same block, your next door neighbor? How are we building real grassroots understanding and support? I think that is the work that is left to be done. And I think that is the work that needs to happen so that that way we can fully understand that we are all up against something really ugly that has plagued this country for hundreds of years. But maybe as we all say, I hope it’s not just conjecture. I think as we all say, like we have to reset as we come out of the pandemic. I think this is the radical reset that we need to have.
Alexander Morse 24:34
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation. Thank you so much.
Jo-Ann Yoo 24:38
Thank you, Alex.
Alexander Morse 24:44
Thanks again to Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation for joining the podcast to discuss the increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and how the Asian American Federation is working around the clock to provide resources, support and outreach to victims. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit their hope against hate campaign on their website, aafederation.org. If you liked this episode, please rate subscribe and share. It will help others find the podcast and help us deliver the latest in public policy research. All of our episodes are available for free wherever you stream your podcasts. Transcripts are available on our website. Special thanks to Rockefeller Institute staff Joel Tirado, Heather Trela, Guillermo Martinez, and Laura Schultz for their contributions to this episode. Thanks for listening. I’m Alex Morse. Until next time.
Alexander Morse 25:53
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