By Caitlyn Guntle
BERKELEY— Asian students grow fearful as 2,808 anti-Asian hate crimes have occurred since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 43.8 percent of those being in California—specifically in the Bay Area.
The University of California, Berkeley has an Asian student population of 40 percent, with those who identify as Asian being the highest percentage demographic of students. For many Asian students, the victims of these anti-Asian attacks remind them of their own parents or grandparents, causing an increase in student concern over the safety of their family members living in or near the Bay Area.
Racist, xenophobic rhetoric spewed by authority figures and government representatives have encouraged these attacks. “China Virus,” “Kung Flu,” and other verbal harassment and language has created a culture that allows some people in society to act on such xenophobic actions and assaults. As the pandemic continues, so does the xenophobia. Students voice their frustration and fear with these attacks through social media posts, spreading and reposting infographics that outline the statistics on the assaults and ways to help.
Historically, society has not believed that it is possible to be racist to Asian Americans because they are often looked at as “model minorities.” However, this belief is just thinly veiled racism.
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in her sorority on campus, Charmae Wang is a sophomore at Cal who shared that “As someone who was born and raised in the East Bay [and] who has visited Oakland Chinatown every weekend since I was a little girl, I am heartbroken to see my community wracked by the violence committed against mainly our elders.”
After speaking about her feeling of shock and helplessness, Wang added that “It is a particular kind of hatred that incites those to target the most vulnerable of our community, and it has recently stemmed from the inflammatory and racist language used against the Asian community due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The San Francisco Bay Area alone accounts for almost 8.2 percent (35 cases) of all reported anti-Asian incidents against elders. Bay Area natives are feeling indubitably the most targeted.
In response to these recent events, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent out a campus-wide email that stated, “In recent days and weeks we have witnessed a series of violent, hateful and utterly unprovoked attacks in the Bay Area against Asians and Asian Americans. This violence in our region is not random or isolated. Anti-Asian bias and prejudice have a long and troubled history, and the pandemic has helped to fuel the xenophobia and hatred.”
In light of the Chancellor’s statement, Wang agreed that “These attacks are intentional, meant to hurt us and to make us fearful, and it is naive for anyone to think that they are anything less than a manifestation of a simmering problem that has already existed for years.”
In her email, Chancellor Christ expressed “…solidarity with and sympathy for all in our campus community and beyond who have been hurt, frightened and traumatized by these vile, racist incidents.” The end of the email provided counseling, reporting, and advising resources for students being affected at this time.
Member of the Cal Women’s Gymnastics team and freshman Elise Byun expressed concern for the vicious assaults and admitted that “The recent violence against Asian Americans has been eye opening and disheartening all at once. It hurts to see the suffering and hopelessness of many Asian American attacks, targeting all ages.”
“Coming from a very diverse high school and now at a very inclusive university, I never experienced outright hate and injustice towards people who looked like me. This new exposure pushes me to do my part and be there for classmates, family members, and friends to stop the hate and violence against Asian Americans,” Byun elaborated.
Sharing in the optimism, Wang also expressed hope for the future: “While it is overwhelming to see these continued and vicious attacks, I remain hopeful when I see support for stopping Asian hate, like the solidarity between the Asian and Black community or the establishment of the organization Compassion in Oakland, which lets volunteers accompany older Asian Americans walking around Chinatown.”
“It shows that there is no place for hatred or bigotry within all minority communities and that we remain united in order to fight racism. I encourage everyone to work together to raise awareness, speak out against oppression, and continue the fight against racism towards the Asian community,” Wang encouraged.
Byun said she finds support from her team, where she mentioned that the Cal Women’s Gymnastics Team just took part in their very own Black History Month Meet vs. ASU.
“As my coaches were reflecting on the meet the following practice, they also addressed the recent violence against Asian Americans, making it clear that they stood with me and my fellow teammates. Knowing that I have my whole team and coaching staff behind me during these times comforts me and gives hope that change is in our future,” Byun said.
Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 6, five physical assaults occurred against members of the Asian community in the Bay Area alone, with one elderly man dying from his injuries two days later.
With a large Asian student population here at UC Berkeley, it is more crucial now than ever to support the students and their families who are being affected by these racist, xenophobic attacks.
Caitlyn Guntle is a writer for The Vanguard at Berkeley’s Northern California news desk. She is a freshman student at UC Berkeley from Orange County.
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