Pilot program, HOPE, explores how to heal from anti-Asian hate

It’s a pressing concern: How does an individual, a family, and an entire community heal from the impact of a hate crime?

It’s a question that multiple Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations have been tackling not just since the pandemic, but even more since the pandemic, a question that AAPI Equity Alliance’s HOPE Program hopes to answer. Ethnic Media Services hosted an online program for journalists on May 31, the last day of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month.

HOPE stands for “Healing Our People through Engagement” and it operates “through culturally centered community-based groups made up of representatives of the Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese populations.”

The briefing invited the moderators of these sessions, all AAPIs themselves, not necessarily formally trained in counseling or psychology, but united in compassion and empathy, to speak on the experience of the first run of group sessions in this state funded program. 

“They have experience from hate,” said Ethnic Media Services (EMS) co-director Julian Do. “The whole program is adopted from Black liberation, psychologists, a radical healing framework, which helps people of color deal with generations of racial trauma and develop a shared understanding and collective response to ongoing racism.” The hope for HOPE is that it will eventually be rolled out across the country.

Michelle Wong, the managing director of programs at the AAPI Equity Alliance, started off with HOPE’s raison d’être. 

“At the height of the pandemic…the Asian American community endured episodes of brutality on a scale not seen for generations in this country. They were scapegoated by politicians for transmission of COVID-19, targeted for violent physical attacks, made to feel unsafe, unwelcome in their own communities, and bullied and ridiculed by neighbors and strangers alike.” A co-founder of Stop AAPI, Wong and her colleagues knew the devastating toll this was taking on their communities. The wounds were physical, emotional, and mental.

They decided to use the Radical Healing framework previously developed. According to the writers of “The Psychology of Radical Healing Collective,” “radical healing involves being or becoming whole in the face of identity-based ‘wounds,’ which are the injuries sustained because of our membership in an oppressed racial or ethnic group.” As panelists said more than once, healing is hard by oneself. Therefore, HOPE “moves beyond individual level approaches to coping with racial trauma and instead uses the strength of communities to harness their collective experience of both pain and joy,” said Wong. 

Amongst a population that customarily keeps to itself, as AAPIs have often been described, talking to others about one’s pain is hard. HOPE is not a replacement for therapy—a very stigmatized activity within the AAPI population—yet it is a place to start to heal. It’s something one doesn’t understand until it happens—that opening up and realizing others have similar feelings can be life altering. 

“This innovative pilot is grounded in a healing and hope framework that encourages ethnic pride and community empowerment, and reinforces that racism doesn’t just occur on an individual level—it happens to communities,” said Wong.

The pilot program took place in the five largest Asian American communities in Los Angeles County: Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Cambodian communities. It has been funded by the California Department of Social Services and partnership organizations including the Little Tokyo Service Center, SSG-Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Centers, KoreaTown Youth + Community Center, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, and Pacific Asian Counseling Services. Feedback so far has been positive.

Read more at Northwest Asian Weekly