During a recent solidarity rally against anti-Asian racism at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, a homemade sign asks a question that speaks to the heart of the increasing attacks targeting Asians across North America.
“Is my grandma next?” the sign read.
Shocking video surveillance captured during a number of incidents shows Asian elders being assaulted and shoved to the ground — all unprovoked and many in broad daylight.
In the Bay Area case of Vicha Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old Thai man did not survive when a stranger ran at him and knocked him down during his morning walk.
In Vancouver, an unidentified 92-year-old Asian man with dementia was thrown out of a convenience store and hit his head on the ground while the suspect yelled racist remarks.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a significant rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in many of North America’s major cities.
Research presented shows people’s frustration and anger at COVID-19 is often being misdirected at the Asian community. In 2020, for instance, former U.S. President Donald Trump referred to the virus the “kung flu” and “China virus.”
In Canada, Vancouver has the highest number of anti-Asian incidents per capita in all of North America. The coastal city saw the largest increase in hate crimes against Asians since the onset of COVID-19 with a rise of 717 per cent between 2019 and 2020. The data for 2021 is going in the same direction across Canada.
Researchers with the University of Toronto found reports of discrimination against Asian Canadians have more than tripled so far in 2021.
Meanwhile, research done by the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) recorded more than 1,000 cases of racist attacks against Asian Canadians between March 2020 and March of this year. It also found that Canadians under the age of 18 and those over the age of 55 are the most likely to report being physically assaulted, coughed on, and spat at.
“This is happening in our community and a change has to happen,” said Calgary resident Jessica Lau.
She recalled how she was skateboarding in summer when a stranger passing by on a bike spat on her before hurling a racial slur.
Statistics showed many targets of anti-Asian hate are front-line, essential workers and those reporting their incident in Cantonese or Mandarin were twice as likely to have experienced a physical assault over those who reported in English.
“This type of anti-Asian racism is targeted. It’s targeted to who the racists think are vulnerable and who won’t fight back,” said Justin Kong, executive director of the CCNC Toronto chapter.
The pandemic has exacerbated anti-Asian sentiment, but racism towards the community has a deep-seated history.
A little over a century ago, Canada implemented the Chinese Head Tax. Then came the Chinese Exclusion/Immigration Act, along with the dispossession of the Japanese who were rounded up and sent to internment camps. And while immigration policies have changed, discrimination still remains with the long-held view by some that Asians are the “other” and a perpetual foreigner.
When it comes to hate crimes, experts have said those incidents are notoriously underreported. Language and cultural barriers have been cited as an issue. Also, those who have been targeted may have come from a country where there is deep mistrust of the government or they may belong to marginalized communities that don’t trust the police.
The series of mass shootings at spas in and around Atlanta in March left eight dead with six of the victims being Asian women.
The deaths marked a tipping point as law enforcement and many media outlets struggled to call the targeted attack of Asian-owned and operated businesses a hate crime with many in the Asian community saying they found themselves having to explain why in fact it was. Since the shootings, those voices have crescendoed.
Rallies and marches have taken place across North America calling for hate against Asians to stop. For those Global News spoke with, they said remaining silent is no longer an option as they seek to amplify the voice of those who are unable to speak up for themselves.
The Global News special ‘Hidden Hate: Anti-Asian Racism’ airs on Global TV and the Global TV App at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.