Hollywood and Los Angeles neighborhoods mirror a violent national pattern as pandemic hits the one-year mark.
By Serina Haynes
Asian communities that surround East Hollywood and the LACC neighborhoods of Thai Town, Koreatown, Chinatown and Little Tokyo remain on edge after a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the pandemic began.
A streak of unprovoked violence against the elderly and vulnerable in Asian communities cast a shadow over the traditionally festive celebrations of the Lunar New Year last month. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease first identified in Wuhan, China, hate crimes against Asian Americans across the United States have increased.
Historically, they have been underreported, with little coverage in mainstream media.
Attacks are taking place across the United States, and they are happening in Los Angeles as well.
In Rosemead, a man identified as Matthew Leung was viciously beaten with his own cane while he waited for a bus in February. It resulted in the partial loss of a finger.
Recently, Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles experienced vandalism in the front of their temple; bronze lanterns pushed over and broken, wooden lanterns burned down, and the glass doors shattered.
Fed up with hate crimes agains Asian Americans, the community is rallying in Little Tokyo on March 13, at the Japanese American National Museum to create a grounding, healing space in the wake of anti-Asian violence.
Sean Miura, an organizer of the event, says, “The event is meant to be a healing space and also an opportunity to learn from people who work deeply within our communities. We want to broaden the conversation to highlight how these attacks are tied to problems like political failure, housing access, health services, over-policing, and more”.
The LAPD would not make an official statement about the rise in crime or any other attacks.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans in Los Angeles County have risen by 115% and 200% in Orange county since the pandemic began.
Connie Chung Joe is CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a Los Angeles group that advocates against violence that targets Asians and Pacific Islanders.
“Unfortunately, we’re a year into this pandemic, and we are starting to see again a rise in anti-Asian hate and some very violent attacks that have occurred in our community in the last month or two,” Chung Joe said in a recent article in the L.A. Times.
Police say the crimes are a national problem. Former President Donald Trump fueled xenophobia against Asians when he attributed the COVID-19 to Asians, calling it the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu,” a play-on-words referencing the Chinese martial art, Kung Fu.
These derogatory monikers not only played on a racist stereotype, but also stigmatized communities during a pandemic that already affected a disproportionate number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) within the United States.
Other disturbing acts of violence against Asian Americans include the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an elderly Thai man. He was violently pushed to the ground during his morning walk in San Francisco on Jan. 28. Ratanapakdee died days later from his injuries, causing public outrage from the unprovoked attack. San Francisco police have charged a man in Ratanapakdee’s murder.
According to CBS News, since COVID-19 hit the United States, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen by 1900%. As of February 2021, more than 2,800 incidents of discrimination had been reported since the pandemic began.
“I think the most devastating thing is the fact that there are people in America who have the audacity to target minorities, even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Emily Flores, a Thai student who attends LACC. “Some part of me believes, though, that some of these assaults are committed by people who use the COVID-19 misconception to justify explicit discrimination and racism.”
In Chinatown, the Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays of the year. It is a time for fresh starts and spending time with family. More than 1.5 billion people celebrate around the world according to USA Today.
In years past, L.A. Chinatown was a destination in February. Street vendors and local stores would sell ornate, red and gold decorations that depict the zodiac animal of the year. Lines form to get into the local dim sum eateries.
Residents dress in their festive best, and revelers pose for photos against the vibrant backdrop of Chinatown’s painted buildings and strung lanterns. The Thien Hau Temple kicks off the new year with incense burning, lion dancing, and the crackling of 500,000 firecrackers.
The pandemic gave the Lunar New year a different look. This year, Chinatown remained silent. Thien Hau Temple’s doors were closed, though the local markets were still selling Lunar New Year decorations. No firecrackers this year, and what few popping sounds there were left wisps of confetti paper blowing in the wind like dust and tumbleweeds in Wild West ghost towns.
The Chinatown Bike Patrol flanked the handful of shoppers running errands in the neighborhood, on high alert.
“It’s not just the pandemic, we all feel like targets this year,” said lifelong resident Bill Poon. “So, we don’t feel safe celebrating Lunar New Year even if social distancing measures are in place. Violence obviously crosses social distancing boundaries.”
Gifting red envelopes that contain cash is a Lunar New Year tradition. It symbolizes good wishes and luck for the new year ahead – and was motivation for someone who assaulted and robbed a 64-year-old grandmother in San Jose at the beginning of February. The attack prompted city leaders to publicly recommend not walking around with red envelopes as it could be seen as a target for easy money by criminals.