Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Asian Americans for Community Involvement tackled the topic “Understanding the Asian American & Pacific Islander Experience: Prejudice and Violence” Thursday (May 20) as part of a three-part webinar series.

            Panelists included Helen H. Hsu, lead outreach clinician, liaison to the Asian American Activities Center and lecturer at Stanford University; California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the first person of Filipino descent and the second Asian American to occupy the position; and Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Johnny Gogo, assigned to handle domestic and family violence cases.

            The webinar focused on two questions: What are the causes of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) prejudice and violence? What can people do about it?

            According to Gogo, where hate crimes are concerned, the gray area is verbal harassment.

            “People are hypervigilant, they feel they can’t go out without being targeted,” Bonta said of the rise in hate crimes. “The mental and physical impact is real on the API community.”

            In Santa Clara County, the API population accounts for 40% of the total population.

            To fully understand why the API community is currently under attack, one must look to history.

            “Prejudice started in 1619 when the first slaves came over,” Gogo said.

            “How did we get here?” Bonta added. “We have been here.”

            The panelists agreed that violence increases when public leaders use words that are demeaning to other cultures.

            “When we ask, ‘Why now?’ – it is because of the lingering effects of the former White House. Asians have been blamed for a lot,” Bonta said. “We are in a state of emergency in the API community.”

            Reporting hate crimes – and law enforcement prioritizing such crimes – is critical. The FBI has developed a four-part strategy to combat hate crimes: increasing federal investigation; boosting communications among law enforcement branches; conducting community outreach; and waging a public awareness campaign.

            “We have to report,” Hsu said. “API participation has not been good. The API community needs to take more of an active role.”

            Hsu also encouraged bystanders to assist by calling for help and documenting the crimes.

            Gogo praised Joe Simitian for organizing the panel discussion and getting the word out.

            “Please continue these conversations,” Gogo urged.

            “Resources are out there to the community,” Bonta said. “Everyone can do something.”

            How can people take a more active role? Bonta suggested volunteering at support organizations, being the eyes and ears on the street and companies supporting their API employees.

            The May 20 webinar occurred on the same day President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which the panel noted is an important piece of legislation.

            The third and final part of the Simitian series, “Notions of Identity: How Does the AAPI Community See and Describe Itself?” is scheduled 6:30 p.m. Thursday. To register online, visit tinyurl.com/understandingaapi.