Kyle Navarro, a Filipino American school nurse, was unlocking his bike on a San Francisco sidewalk after delivering prescription glasses to a student when he noticed an older white man staring at him.
He initially brushed off the glare, until the man walked past him, looked back and yelled a derogatory term used against people of East and Southeast Asian descent.
“He called me a ‘g**k,’ spat in my direction, and kept walking. All I said back was a loud ‘No thank you.’ Thankfully none of the spit landed on me,” Navarro wrote in an email to the Asian Journal following the incident.
Though a “wave of emotions ranging from anger, sadness and fear” overcame him, Navarro didn’t act upon his first instinct to engage with the man as he feared it would put him in more danger. An older Filipina woman behind him shortly afterward asked if he was okay, he said.
“I assume she saw it happen and asked me ‘Okay ka lang?’ I heard her speaking and it just brought a calm over me,” he added. “I turned around, gave a smile and a head nod, and let her know how grateful I was for being safe.”
To the racist older white man who spat at me & called me a “g**k” as I was delivering prescriptions to a family: No thank you
To the Lola who asked after how I was: I let you know, but you have no idea how much I needed that
Processing: Angry, saddened, & honoring my feelings.
— Kyle Navarro, MS-HP, BSN, RN, PHN (@TheRNKyle) March 24, 2020
Navarro took to Twitter later that day to share his experience to “process through and validate what I was feeling and have an open dialogue on the topic,” he said.
Filipina American Paola Mardo, host and creator of the podcast Long Distance, tweeted on March 15 that as she was leaving Eagle Rock Plaza in Los Angeles, she heard a woman of color yell something that must have been intended for her since no one else was around.
“A woman said ‘OMG China brought this virus here.’ I knew she wanted me to hear it. I walked in front of her to confirm. She stepped back and said ‘OMG pls don’t give me the virus,’” she wrote, adding that she wore a face mask that day because her partner’s 80-year-old father is staying with them.
Mardo released a podcast episode this week recounting her story while delving into the increase of similar incidences as well as the anti-Asian patterns during major events in history from the Filipino manongs working in central California to Japanese Americans during World War II.
Since the outbreak reached the United States, AAPIs have faced xenophobia and discrimination, including physical attacks, microaggressions and business downturn.
One instance early in February involved a 16-year-old student in Los Angeles County who was bullied and assaulted for being Asian.
Asian American restaurant owners have shared that their sales have declined. False information has also been disseminated claiming cases of coronavirus in certain areas. One example included a flyer that said a case was reported in Carson and listed several Asian-owned restaurants and shops to avoid.
Though not physical attacks, the rhetoric and framing of the virus spread have also contributed to the misguided fears. In other examples, mainstream news outlets have irresponsibly used generic photos of Chinatown or of Asians wearing masks, without any providing any context, to accompany articles in their coverage on the virus.
Further adding fuel to the fire, President Donald Trump recently labeled the coronavirus, the “Chinese Virus” despite the World Health Organization in 2015 issuing guidance that the names of infectious diseases shouldn’t include geographic locations to minimize negative effects on nations and people. Asian American CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang also tweeted that a White House official referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung-Flu.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom, in contrast, is one of the high-profile leaders who has denounced the hate crimes and promised that the state would take action against them.
“We have seen a huge increase in people that are assaulting people on the basis of how they were born and the way they look,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said during a recent press conference. “I just want folks to know we are better than that. We are watching that. We are going to begin to enforce that more aggressively.”
National organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which has an existing tracker hate crimes at StandAgainstHatred.org, said that it has also noticed an uptick of reports in recent weeks.
The STOP AAPI HATE reporting center — a website co-founded by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and San Francisco Asian American Studies Department — on Thursday, March 26 said it received 673 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country in the six days since the website launched.
“The data from our reporting center — both the numbers and the self-reported narratives — clearly reveal that Asian Americans are being racially profiled as threatening, disease-carriers. Not only are Chinese Americans blamed and mistreated, but Asian Americans of other ethnic backgrounds are also being targeted,” Russell Jeung, chair and professor of Asian American studies at SFSU, said in a statement.
Of the reports the website has received, most of them are incidences of verbal harassment and the “reasons for discrimination” include race, ethnicity and wearing a face mask. Individuals from California make up a bulk of those who reported and 4% are Filipino.
The website, which has incident report forms in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese, is slated to make it available in Tagalog in the coming weeks.
LA County officials have also urged those who have experienced acts of hate to report them to the county’s hotline, 211.
Also in the Bay Area, a Filipino man shopping at Serramonte Center Target in Daly City was approached by a man who told him to “go away” after he coughed in public. A video of the confrontation was uploaded online, in which the Filipino man can be heard asking, “For what? For coughing? For coughing while Asian?”
Writer and educator Rachelle Cruz said that earlier this March, her parents were wearing masks on the BART train home to Hayward when a passenger told them to go back to their country.
“The person called my Filipino mother a ‘Chinese coronavirus bitch’ and said that both of my parents are ‘bearers of the virus,” Cruz told the Huffington Post, adding that it was the third incident her mother had “experienced or witnessed on the train” in recent weeks.
A Fil-Am lawyer, who asked not to be identified, told the Asian Journal that he took a trip to Costco in Marina Del Rey ahead of the LA County safer at home order when he had his own racist experience.
He was passing three preteen boys in an aisle and one of them uttered, “Hey you’re Asian, you must have coronavirus,” while another said, “If you don’t, I’ll cough on you.”
“I just turned and looked at them and was pretty disgusted. I didn’t want to escalate it because there were a lot of people around,” he told the Asian Journal. “For kids to just blurt something like that to a stranger is indicative of [bad] parenting, that they think it’s okay to harass someone, but I guess maybe that’s just the way they were raised.”
Several PSAs and social media campaigns — from #RacismIsaVirus to #WashTheHate — have been circulated to dispel misinformation and counter the anti-Asian sentiments, and also to encourage other groups to stand in solidarity and speak up when they witness them.
The Fil-Am lawyer added, “I don’t think Asians should take incidents like this standing by. These people and their actions should be called out on.”