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Panelists: Attacks against Asians spurring political awakening

Attacks against people of Asian descent aren’t new in the history of the United States, but the political landscape in the wake of a spike in anti-Asian incidents is different, US Rep. Ted Lieu told attendees at a recent East-West Center online seminar. With the numbers of anti-Asian attacks projected to grow, panelists speaking at the “EWC Live: Asian Americans Unsilenced” seminar called for more activism and collaborations with other ethnic groups.

Quick take:

Attacks against Asian Americans have been on the rise during the pandemic and may increase further as the country reopens.

With close attention to the issue in the Biden administration and Congress, US Rep. Ted Lieu said the community is now in a different political era.

Some advocacy groups have pressed for more Asian / Pacific Islands representation in President Biden’s cabinet.

Incidents are also up in countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, leading some to call for involvement by international institutions like the UN and World Bank.

Political Awakening

The issue of anti-Asian hate is getting attention “from the very highest level of our government,” Lieu said, adding: “I think we’re in a different political environment. I think you’re seeing the political awakening of the Asian American community.”

Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, said she expects more school-related cases in the days ahead, with schools increasingly returning to in-person learning. Kulkarni said research in Canada, Australia and New Zealand show similar increases in anti-Asian incidents, and some of the solutions may have to involve international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations, she said.

Improving Media and Entertainment Representation

Actor Rizwan Manji, who starred in the Canadian situation comedy “Schitt’s Creek” and NBCʻs “Outsourced,” recalled after 9/11 only being offered roles as a terrorist. Manji said that today the industry is producing more works that include Asians but not frequently enough. “We need to have something that brings us to that next level,” he said.

Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke, president and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies said it is important in the current environment for the AAPI community to be represented and participate in policy decision-making, including greater representation at the cabinet level. Representation in and by the media needs improving as well, said NBC Asian America reporter Kimmy Yam. She called for more nuanced, sensitive coverage of Asian communities by knowledgeable reporters.

Improving Media and Entertainment Representation

Actor Rizwan Manji told seminar attendees that the “foreigner syndrome” carries over to the entertainment business, which he said contributes to perceptions about Muslims and Asian Americans. He recalled after 9/11 only being offered roles as a terrorist. Manji, who starred in the Canadian situation comedy “Schitt’s Creek” and NBCʻs “Outsourced,” said the industry is producing more works that include Asians but not frequently enough. “We need to have something that brings us to that next level,” he said.

For a long time, he observed, South Asians were not included in larger Asian collaborations. He said he feels that is changing and that there was a “joining of the hands” in the last political season.

Part of the coalition-building of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies brings together Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) interns and fellows with their counterparts in groups like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke, APAICS president and CEO. Mielke said it is important in the current environment for the AAPI community to be represented and participate in policy decision-making.

Her group was vocal in pressing Biden to include Asian and Pacific Islands members in his cabinet, especially considering the work it did in the last political cycle. “It was something we chose to use as a way to notify the (Biden) administration that in terms of representation, they should build a bigger table,” she said.

Representation in and by the media needs improving as well, said Kimmy Yam, NBC Asian America reporter. She called for more nuanced, sensitive coverage of Asian communities by knowledgeable reporters. “For journalists to come in and cover these marginalized communities, it shouldn’t be looked at as just this added bonus,” she said. Rather, it should be folded into daily coverage.

The public is often introduced to Asian communities through tragedy and that is not their full stories, Yam said. “There’s so much depth to us,” she said. “So I would challenge people to put in the time, get to know the community, and then report,” Yam said. “It matters that we all get this right.”

In a latest,

Two older Asian American women waiting at a San Francisco bus stop on Tuesday afternoon were approached by a man with a knife and stabbed — the latest in a string of violent attacks on Asian Americans across the US.

Police later arrested a suspect, a 55-year-old San Francisco resident. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the incident has not been ruled a hate crime but cautioned that the investigation is ongoing.

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