By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Two Bay Area non-profits launched the “Stand Up for AAPI Youth During COVID” initiative Wednesday in a bid to empower all students, parents and school officials to reject hateful language by promoting acceptance, respect and inclusion of all classmates.
The program is a partnership between Beyond Differences and Community Youth Center of SF (CYC).
The initiative is a curriculum and campaign that teaches students about cultural differences and acceptance. The groups developed it as a response to the growing numbers of AAPI hate incidents because of COVID-19 Pandemic. According to the “Stop AAPI Hate” survey developed by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), almost 45% of survey respondents who reported their experience of COVID-19 related racism were between the ages of 10 – 20 (school age). This is the reason that this initiative was launched to educate the US school communities about the nature of racism, privilege and hateful language.
The “Stand Up For AAPI Youth During COVID” program includes
national calls to action to inspire all students to get to know and stand up for their classmates. It is available free of charge to all schools. Its program is developed by experts in different areas of racism, equity, mental health etc.
The virtual launch started with a pre-recorded message from Democrat Vice President candidate Kamala Harris who expressed her support and the importance of this initiative in the current political environment.
“In this moment there is so many powerful forces trying to sell hate and division and engage in sinophobic rhetoric. We know the strength of humility. We know the strength of lifting up our young leaders in doing everything we can to support them and their families, so let’s keep doing it. This is about the vision of America that we know we are”.
The speaker list for the launch was star studded with a number of US state Assembly Members and State Members as well as the Mayor for San Francisco, the state’s Superintendent, Fresh Off The Boat’s Hudson Yang and representatives from Beyond Differences and Community Youth Center of SF(CYC).
What was most heart wrenching and what resonated with many who attended the virtual launch were some the stories shared by a few of the country’s AAPI leaders in state legislature – California Assembly member David Chiu and Member of the New York State Assembly Yuh-Line Niou. It was their experiences and words shared which were most personal and really touched on the significance of the “Stand Up For AAPI Youth During COVID” initiative as a way to rectify the wrong teachings of the past.
“I will tell you if I can count on my hands on how many times I have been called a “ch*nk” growing up I actually would have enough to fuel my next re-election campaign and the fact of the matter is my high-school classmates called me a lot of horrible things,” Chiu said. “This is a work in progress. America is a work in progress.”
“On a personal note, I was bullied at school. when I was in the classroom, I still remember there was one girl who hated my existence,” said Niou This made me grow up thinking that i was very ugly – that I had strange hair, small eyes, big mouth and that I was a lot of bad things. One day she pulled me to the cloak closet in first grade and then had all of the classmates take turns sitting on me and then she threw my lunchbox in the boys bathroom. On another occasion she set the trash can on fire and tried to set me on fire and then set off school alarm and I was so scared that I peed on myself in the bathroom – these are things that happen to children and it is taught to them. We can teach differently and we can teach each other.”
Niou who represents the district in New York City which includes the iconic Chinatown, saw this initiative as personal and expressed how she wished it existed when she was in school. Niou also discussed the reality that AAPIs in New York City are not adequately represented in state politics and that despite the model minority myth, Asian Americans in New York City have the highest rate of poverty than any other ethnic group in the city.
“I am the only Asian American woman in state legislature in New York and only one of four Asian Americans in state legislature despite more than 13% of the state population is Asian American.”
“Asian Americans in New York under report all the time. And so a lot of the targeting racial crimes are happening to Asian Americans are unreported and undocumented. so its necessary to have these clear and difficult conversations with our communities. Due to the model minority myth it is seen that Asian Americans are overall successful but in reality one in four Asian Americans are living in poverty. we have the highest rate of poverty as compared to all other ethnic groups in the city.”
Chiu who represents San Francisco, alluded to the fact that it is the next generation of AAPI’s who will lead and be tasked to fix the problems which at this moment can’t be fixed just yet. But, Chiu also criticized US President Trump for spreading racist rhetoric and touched on his own childhood experiences of racism.
“Let me just say when the pandemic just started before a single case was documented in the US, I was in touch with Asian American elected colleagues across the country – we were all trading stories about the fact that before a single virus case was reported in our country – our Chinatown’s, our Japantowns, our Asian neighborhoods and Asian communities were being decimated by racism because people didn’t want to go into those communities based on fear that was completely unfounded.”
“We have a President and his so called allies who relish in adding fuel to the fire by talking about kung flu or the Chinese virus, despect the fact that they know the direct cause of the virus has no relationship with racism and being racist. And we also know that racism against all our communities especially our Asian communities is nothing new.”
Other US state members who spoke at the launch include Washington State Assembly Sharon Tomiko Santos and California State Assembly Member Phil Ting.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed discussed the importance of solidarity, sharing cultures and how hateful/racist language hurts people and in this case young kids.
“What is so important to come to the table is to have conversations about differences in cultures and not treat people the way we all don’t want to be treated. And it starts when you are a kid, and it takes a lot of reflections to share these experiences that many of you have had and I know that many of them have been hurtful. I have had these hurtful words targeted at me as a woman and as an African American woman said to me and it doesn’t feel good. We have to report racial discrimination.”
“The fact is, it is important for us to come together, but also I just really want to take the moment to appreciate the young people who are leading the way, the people who are apart of this forum leading the way to combating hatred and spreading the message of love and inclusion. And it does start when you are children.”
The virtual launch of Stand Up for AAPI Youth During Covid ended with youth leaders from the Community Youth Center of SF(CYC) posting up signage talking about why they as students are standing up for their fellow AAPI classmates to combat against racism and hate. The initiative is definitely worthwhile and hopefully will change the environment in schools to be racism and hate free. To find more information on the “Stand Up For AAPI Youth During COVID”, please visit the “Beyond Differences” website (linked here).
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.