Victims of anti-Asian attacks reflect one year of pandemic

Almost a year after they were nearly stabbed to death inside Midland, Texas, Sam’s Club, Bawi Cung and their two children have visible scars.

However, it is the invisible ones that are the hardest to overcome. Cung can’t walk through any store without constantly looking in all directions. Her 6-year-old son, who can’t move an eyebrow now, is afraid to sleep alone.

On a Saturday night in March, when COVID-19 panic shopping took over the nation, Cung was looking for cheaper rice. The family was in the meat section of Sam’s Club when Cung suddenly felt a punch on the back of his neck. A man I did not know cut his face with a knife. The assailant left but soon returned to stab the children. He injured the 3-year-old boy in the back and cut the 6-year-old boy from the right eye to a couple of inches beyond the right ear.

The gruesome encounter brought home the dangerous climate Asian Americans have faced since the coronavirus entered the US, with racially motivated harassment and assaults occurring from coast to coast.

Now, just over a year and thousands of incidents later, some early victims find that moving forward has been difficult or, at best, bittersweet. A recent wave of attacks on Asian Americans, including the death of an 84-year-old San Francisco man, has fueled concerns that hostilities have only gotten worse.

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In Cung’s case, the man responsible for the attack believed that the Myanmar man and his children were Chinese and were spreading the virus, according to the FBI.

Cung said he’s not sure what would have happened if a Sam’s Club employee, Zach Owen, hadn’t stepped in.

“Maybe I could kill him. Maybe I could kill my whole family. I don’t know, ”Cung said. “God protected my family, God sent Zach to protect my family right there at the right time.”

Owen, who was stabbed in the leg and with a deep gash on the palm of his right hand, and an off-duty Border Patrol agent detained the suspect, 19-year-old José Gómez.

The verbal attacks have also left a lasting mark.

In April, a confrontation in a park in Richmond, California, left an irrevocable impact not only on Kelly Yang, 36, but also on her children. She was forced to talk about anti-Asian racism with her 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, a talk she didn’t think would happen for a few more years. An elderly white couple, upset by their unleashed dog, is named Yang, who is Chinese-American, “Oriental” and said the words that many Asian Americans fear: “Go back where you came from.”

Their children thought the couple intended for them to go home. Torn, Yang finally explained that they meant “let’s go back to Asia.”

“It means we are not welcome here.”

His son burst into tears.

Yang believes the couple were emboldened by then-President Donald Trump’s use of racially charged terms such as “Chinese virus.” He applauded President Joe Biden’s recent executive order condemning anti-Asian xenophobia as a good start. But Yang fears that many non-Asians have already ignored the issue as if it ended when the Trump presidency did.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Yang, who writes young adult novels and plans to incorporate her experience into her next book. “But I do know how to talk about it, recognize it, remember, that’s what we do with wars, we have to remember what happened.”

Douglas Kim, 42, chef and owner of Jeju Noodle Bar in New York City, is certain that racism fueled by COVID-19 was behind the April vandalism of his Michelin-starred Korean restaurant. Someone used a marker pen to scribble in the winter hall “Stop eating dogs,” referring to a stereotype about Asian cuisine. In the end, Kim decided not to report it.

“At the time it pissed me off, but I have more important things to worry about,” Kim said. “Keeping a business is more important.”

He shared an image of the graffiti on Instagram to draw attention to hate crimes. There was a surge of support, but he feels like much of it has faded.

However, Kim is hopeful that fewer people are stereotyping Asian Americans as non-U.S. Foreigners.

“I think it’s about education,” Kim said. “If you raise your children that way, they will learn that way. I think things are changing but it is not 100% yet. That’s why obviously someone wrote that on our door. “

More than 3,000 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian-American Pacific Islanders, and its associated advocacy groups, since mid-March 2020. What is frustrating is that the encounters don’t often come up with the definition of a hate crime. Still, police in several major cities saw a sharp increase in hate crimes targeting Asia between 2019 and 2020, according to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. . New York City went from three incidents to 27, Los Angeles from seven to 15, and Denver had three incidents in 2020, the first reported there in six years.

A series of crimes that victimized Asian Americans in the past two months has renewed the clamor for increased attention from politicians and the media. On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom passed legislation allocating $ 1.4 million to Stop AAPI Hate and the UCLA Center for Asian American Studies. The funds will go towards community resources and greater monitoring of hate incidents against Asians.

Local officials and citizens have also taken notice. Initiatives such as increased police presence, voluntary patrols, and special crime hotlines are coming to fruition. Big-name brands like Golden State Warriors and Bay Area-based Apple have pledged to donate to the cause.

Cynthia Choi of Stop AAPI Hate wants the news cycles to focus not only on the latest crimes, but also on the solutions that are being discussed. Surveillance and prosecution are not necessarily the answers, he said. The vitriol of COVID-19 has its roots in more than a century of anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant attitudes. She and other advocates believe that increased investment in education and community resources could help address those root causes. Anti-Asian xenophobia should be part of the ongoing conversations about racial reckoning, Choi added.

“Our work to address anti-Asian racism is inextricably linked to the fight against anti-black racism,” said Choi. “That will take us all, it will take public education efforts, it will take racial solidarity efforts that really bring our communities together.”

Before immigrating to the United States six years ago, Cung, the survivor of a hate crime in Texas, had never faced racism. Now, he finds it difficult to hear stories about violence against Asian Americans. Initially after the attack, Cung struggled with the way Gomez tried to kill him simply because of his appearance. Now, pray for his attacker.

As for what should happen to Gomez, who remains in prison on three counts of attempted capital murder, Cung said that is up to the courts.

“I can forgive him, but we cannot accept racism or that kind of terrorist attack,” said Cung, who received more than $ 20,000 in donations online.

One thing he’s looking forward to: life as a newly naturalized American citizen in a country where “people are respected.” Cung isn’t concerned that it doesn’t fit some people’s idea of ​​what America is like.

“Maybe they personally have racism,” Cung said. “I don’t care. I am proud to be Asian and Asian-American.”


Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at


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