After a string of recent attacks in Oakland, California, neighbors are standing strong together against anti-Asian bias by walking with their most vulnerable neighbors.
Through social media, Jess Owyoung co-founded and organized the volunteer group Compassion in Oakland, where people can sign up to chaperone elderly individuals of Asian descent, especially in targeted areas like Chinatown. It was launched as the country sees an increase in the number of attacks against Asians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
“Anyone can request for a chaperone, doesn't have to be an elderly individual. They don't have to be Asian,” said Owyoung.
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Owyoung said when the program first launched on Feb. 7, 2021, they had about 900 volunteers. However, since the shooting in Atlanta earlier this week that killed eight people, including six Asian women, she said they’ve had 300 more people sign up.
“I'm actually [a] fourth generation Chinese American. So my grandparents were actually born in the U.S. That's why it's so hard for me to see elderly Asians being harmed,” Owyoung said. “It doesn't matter if your family came here 10 generations ago or one generation ago… We're all fighting for the same dream.”
The nonprofit and advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, reported Tuesday, the organization received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian discrimination between March 2020 and February 2021, which includes reports of verbal harassment and physical assault.
As a result, programs like Compassion in Oakland have begun to pop up across the country. In Brooklyn, Peter Kerre founded SafeWalks NYC in January in reaction to a rash of bias attacks in his neighborhood.
“My whole vision behind Safewalks was to try and inspire everyone to step up … and look out for fellow New Yorkers,” said Kerre, who said he was motivated after the recent attacks on the Asian American community. “I immediately knew how it must be or how it must feel for many of them. The underlying foundation of everything we do is empathy and compassion.”
Among large cities, New York City had the largest annual increase in reported hate crimes against Asians, according to an analysis of New York Police Department data by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Huge Ma, founder of Turbovax, a website that helps people access open appointments to COVID-19 vaccines, said he hasn't been immune to anti-Asian bias.
“Growing up, even in Queens, I was not immune to anti-Asian bias. I grew up with people making offhand remarks about my slanted eyes, my yellow skin, my ‘Ching-Chong name,’” said Ma. “There was a stabbing in Chinatown. I knew that on another day, that could've easily been me.”
Ma decided to take a stand in honor of the recent victims of these hate crimes by suspending Turbovax on Feb. 27, 2021 and holding a fundraiser in honor of nonprofits working to fight anti-Asian American bias.
“I wanted to illustrate ... that if we, as a country, don't listen to the concerns of Asian Americans then we risk losing the contributions of Asian Americans as well,” said Ma, who also shared resources for people confronting anti-Asian discrimination on Twitter.
Ma said he raised $150,000 for anti-Asian American hate nonprofits and that he was “really grateful.” He added that he hopes his success with fundraising sets a precedent for future initiatives, which he believes make a difference.
He said, “I just hope that my experience can show others that as long as you take the initiative and stand up for what you believe in, I think that you can make real change regardless of however big or small you think that may be.”