Kane Wu, 19, a Taiwanese college student at the Bellevue College, says discrimination against Asians is a serious issue. He recalled one incident that escalated quickly.
“It was during my freshman year of college when I was walking on the street and on my way home, a guy approached me and chatted with me,” Wu recalled. “I thought he was just a nice guy who likes to chat with random people on the street like many other people I’ve met in America.”
However, as soon as the guy asked and learned where Wu was from, the conversation went from pleasant to uncomfortable.
Wu Told the guy that he was from Taiwan, but the guy kept referring to him as Chinese, which Wu doesn’t identify as.
“Although I’ve told him over and over again that I’m not even from China, he still kept insisting that they are one same thing,” said Wu.
Wu tried to ignore the man but he kept following Wu.
“He yelled at me saying that you stupid Asian, Chinese or not, all make cheap stuff,” Wu said.
But advocacy groups say while fewer are victims in bias crimes such as vandalism, assault and arson, that doesn’t mean discrimination also is decreasing.
“It’s nice to see that the number has dropped,” said Wu. “But I think it’s also important to not mistake that data with the number of discrimination Asian people like me receive since many of those are not considered a hate crime.”
Michael Itti, the Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, says according to incidents reported to his office, it’s the opposite.
“We’ve heard of an increase in hate incidents that are being experienced by people who are Asian and Pacific Islander.”
It’s only a hate crime if someone verbally insulted the victims and hurt them physically, said Bruce Miyake, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who is in charge of the Hate Crime Task Force.
“A lot of things that I heard about when I’ve been out in the community are really what we defined as hate speech or hate incident, and under our constitution, speech is protected.”
That’s what Wu was told when he told police about the man who followed him.
“When I told the police nearby about what had happened, and he asked me that if the guy had physically hurt me or not, and that he couldn’t do anything about it if the guy didn’t because he is entitled to his opinion,” said Wu. “To be honest, I was extremely disappointed, and I felt like no one wanted to help.”
Seattle organization Asian Counseling and Referral Services recently held a Community Hate Crimes forum to address bias crime.
Detective Elizabeth Wareing of the Seattle Police Department told the audience that sometimes there is just not enough evidence for police to investigate. Wareing also emphasized that every report, whether it qualifies as a crime or not, will go into the system to be recorded.
But Wu says the statistics are misleading and can’t record incidents of hate that come in the form of speech.
“A lot of the discrimination that exists in the world is in the form of words, and the record undermines that point,” said Wu.
No consequences for hate speech?
In February 2017, a law school student at the UCLA, Dyne Suh, got her Airbnb reservation canceled by the host right before she and her friends arrived the destination because of her ethnicity.
The host replied Suh in the message: “Go ahead. I wouldn’t rent to u [sic] if you were the last person on earth,” the host added. “One word says it all. Asian”
“It stings that after living in the U.S. for over 23 years, this is what happens,” Suh said in the video. “No matter how well I treat people, it doesn’t matter. If you’re Asian, you’re less than human and people can treat you like trash.”
According to The Los Angeles Times, the host was banned by Airbnb for canceling the reservation because of Suh’s race, but Suh had no other legal recourse.
Wu said it’s hard to see that many offenders don’t to suffer any serious consequences for their rudeness.
“It made me wonder on more than one occasion if coming to the United States is the right choice or not considering the harsh, and the prejudicial treatment I’d received,” Wu said.
Itti said that with the increasing complaints of hate incidents against Asian and Pacific Islander from the communities, organizations like Asian Counselor Referral Services are advocates for the communities to help those victims respond to those incidents.
Wu said such organizations make him “feel less helpless.”
“Knowing that there are organizations that are doing something to spread our voice,” said Wu. “It’s great to see somebody cares.”
Wareing, the Seattle detective, encouraged people to speak out when they feel they are the victims of discrimination.
“I know that in the United States, this can feel like a very unwelcoming place, but I want to to know how happy I am that you are here, and I’m here to serve and protect you,” she said. “So please, don’t hesitate to call me.”