A Long Beach woman who was captured in two viral anti-Asian videos this past summer will get her time in jail for attacking a Filipina American at a South Bay mall nearly a year ago.
Lena Hernandez, a 54-year-old retired social worker, on Tuesday, October 6 pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery for attacking Kayceelyn Salminao inside of a restroom at Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, California in October 2019.
Hernandez will serve a 47-day sentence in Los Angeles county jail, three years of probation, and 52 weeks of anger management, according to Torrance City Attorney Patrick Sullivan. She must also stay at least 100 yards away from Salminao and the mall where the incident occurred.
Salminao read her victim’s statement in court recounting the incident and shared how for months, she could not visit the mall or other public places in the community in fear of encountering her attacker again.
“I wish what Lena Hernandez would have done in court was to just apologize — a simple gesture to say that she’s aware that what she did was wrong. I understand that she took the plea deal at no contest, but that doesn’t mean she’s actually apologetic of her actions towards myself and the Asian American community,” Salminao told the Asian Journal.
She had hoped that Hernandez would have received the maximum six-month sentence, but she said she still received an ounce of justice on Tuesday.
“It may be a disappointing sentence that we received against Hernandez but at the end of the day, she’s convicted, so it’s still a win,” Salminao added.
The attack at the Torrance mall occurred on October 11, 2019 when Salminao tried to intervene after she heard Hernandez berating a custodian inside the restroom.
Hernandez then shoved Salminao to the ground as the latter washed her hands, grabbed her by the hair, pushed her head down and punched the back of her head “multiple times.”
Salminao recounted, “I remember when she was walking down the hallway and she was like, ‘You guys are all going to get it, you guys are all going to (expletive) get it.”
She filed a report and pressed charges but nothing transpired afterward. She spoke up on Twitter about her experience in June — eight months later — when she recognized her attacker in two videos that went viral over the summer showing Hernandez spewing anti-Asian sentiments.
In the first video from June 10, Hernandez is heard verbally harassing and hurling expletives at another Fil-Am woman, later identified as Sherry Bulseco, for exercising on the steps at Wilson Park in Torrance.
“Get the f*** out of this world…Get the f*** out of this state. Go back to whatever f***ing Asian country you belong in,” Hernandez shouts at Bulseco in the video. “This is not your place. This is not your home. We do not want you here.”
That same day at the park’s parking lot, Hernandez was captured in another video yelling at a Japanese American man and his son.
“The videos re-triggered some wounds I was trying to recover from,” Salminao said. “For that to happen again, it’s ridiculous that she was able to still roam around free for months and then be able to attack more Asians in my community.”
On Tuesday, Salminao was joined outside the Torrance courthouse by Hernandez’s two other victims and a band of supporters, who called on the city to do more to protect the Asian American community, which makes up 36% of its residents.
“This sends the wrong message. The first message is that if you’re assaulted, physically or verbally, the police in the city of Torrance is not going to take your case seriously and the only reason Kayceelyn’s case came to light is because of these viral videos,” Sandy Roxas, a Filipina American attorney who represented Salminao and the other victims, told the Asian Journal.
Roxas is among those calling for an oversight committee in Torrance to ensure cases are being investigated and forwarded to the city attorney’s office.
“You almost need something to be viral to get attention, to get your justice. And when you do get that criminal filing, what it ends up being is that the justice system says 45 days is enough time,” she added.
Even though the viral videos showed Hernandez going on racist rants against the two separate victims, the Torrance City Attorney’s Office in July did not take further action due to “insufficient evidence to support filing any criminal charges against Ms. Hernandez.” The incidents came as hate crimes and xenophobia against the Asian American community have been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roxas and Salminao also urge fellow Asian Americans to speak up and document if they go through a similar experience.
“Although we’re highly disappointed with the turn of events in this case, in a greater sense, it brings the Asian American community closer and it allows people to see that you can have the courage and you can stand up,” Roxas said. “The jail time is not that much but it’s better than zero days. Had Kayceelyn or Sherry not come forward, then we know, Lena Hernandez would still be roaming around the streets with no conviction. What we need to do as a community is continue to be vigilant, report on these crimes when they occur and push forward with prosecution.”
Hernandez is due back in court on November 10 to begin her jail sentence.