Discrimination and acts of hate against Asians and Pacific Islanders were issues long before the start of the pandemic. Yet when COVID-19 made its way to the U.S., there were suddenly more incidents coming to light.
Manjusha Kulkarni, the cofounder and executive director of Stop AAPI Hate, remembered one of the first reported cases during a panel discussion. In February 2020, just as the mysterious new virus was becoming known, a white boy approached an Asian boy in his class at a middle school in Los Angeles. He said: “You’re a COVID carrier. Go back to China.”
The Asian boy said, “I’m not Chinese” — and was punched in the face and head 20 times. The case was never pursued because the two boys knew each other. Because of that, it was considered not an act of racial discrimination but a personal conflict between classmates, according to Kulkarni.
Activists Diane Fujino, Melissa Borja, and Artnelson Concordia gathered with Kulkarni at UC Santa Barbara on April 26 for a panel discussion of Asian American activism, moderated by Naomi Joseph, a sociology PhD candidate. Afterward, Kulkarni gave a keynote speech to challenge anti-Asian violence and bias. The events were livestreamed by the Capps Center.
“For us, anti-Asian hate has always largely been about institutional discrimination and racism,” Kulkarni said during the panel. “When I think of it that way, anti-Asian hate is as American as apple pie.”