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Local groups respond to aggression against the Asian community

"The Asian face makes people think this is from (an) Asian country. If you have face similar like that, you will be the target."

As panic escalates around the coronavirus, so do cases of aggression against the Asian community. 

In recent weeks inward blame has become outward harassment across the world. Asian American studies professor Russel Jeung started tracking attacks on a new site called STOP APPI HATE. In the first eight days, the website received more than 650 reports of discrimination, largely in the Asian American community.

Sue Chen, President of the Chinese Association of West Michigan (CAWM), said these acts of racism are wrongfully targeting individuals of Asian decent, even as medical experts have found no evidence to support the virus being spread by a specific race.

"Much of this aggression is centered to the coronavirus, we all know this virus started in China...The Asian face makes people think this is from Asian country. If you have face similar like that, you will be the target," Chen said.

However, Chen said she feels supported by the state, specifically Attorney General Dana Nessel who has been actively speaking with Asian American groups and has spoken out against racism surrounding the virus.

"Infectious viruses have no nationality. I’m disturbed by nationwide reports of violence against the Asian-American community. I can assure you we won’t tolerate that in Michigan during this outbreak or anytime," Nessel said in a statement via Facebook.

Katie Bozek, a leader in the West Michigan Asian American community, said the issues lie in acts of both physical and micro aggression, saying that the Asian community has become a "scapegoat" for those wrestling with the reality of the pandemic.

"This is not an isolated incident This is not an isolated time. This is another time in history where an ethnic group or any other group is being targeted in blame...We put people of Japanese descent into jails or the 1882 Exclusion Act. This is not the first time this has happened. This is another instance in a long history of blaming other groups," Bozek explained.

Bozek is a board member of the West Michigan Asian American Association (WMAAA) and acts as executive director of the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network.

She adds that the rhetoric behind how many describe the coronavirus is also to blame for unfair racial tensions.

"The 'Chinese virus' or the 'Kung Flu' or the 'Wuhan.' The World Health Organization will not name viruses and diseases after regions because of the racist implications and because of what we're seeing now," she said, saying the racist effects take the focus away from treating the disease. 

Speaking of her own experience in the pandemic, she said the attitude towards the Asian community has affected areas of her everyday life.

"I have an extra layer of fear when I got out right now. Should I go to the grocery store, or do I have my husband, who is White, go to the grocery store? Having to work through that, but also this level of I don’t want to feed into this," she explained.

While Chen said she and her organization are also fearful of the aggression, the Chinese Association of West Michigan is trying to combat that fear with good will and support, by raising donations to deliver personal protective equipment to medical workers on the front lines.

"We’re worried about is something going to happen to us, but if you don’t do anything, you just worry, there’s nothing you can change that. That’s why we  want to take a positive action," Chen explained.

CAWM teamed up with The Michigan Chinese American Coalition to raise around $14,000 and donate more than 2,000 masks to medical facilities and families in need.

For information on how to donate, visit CAWM's website.

RELATED: Coronavirus live updates, March 29: 21 new deaths reported; cases reach 5,486

The WMAAA is providing these tips on how others can stand and fight beside the Asian community.

  • Be informed so you can correct public misconceptions.
  • Speak up when you witness racist and xenophobic behaviors. 
  • Correct ethnic exclusion terminologies.
  • If the perpetrator continues racist behaviors say, "Your behavior is unacceptable. You need to leave."
  • If speaking up isn't your thing, when possible, stand near the victim to show support and ask if he/she is ok.
  • If the exchange gets heated, escalates or appears to violent, call the police.
  • Protect your neighbors and friends. It's on all of us to be good neighbors at this time.
  • If you read comments on social media that are racist, xenophobic or biased, respond in similar ways of speaking up, correcting and showing support and solidarity.

RELATED: Whitmer order provides protections for jail and juvenile detention populations

"An ally will stand with you. An accomplice will fight with you...Will you be an accomplice in dismantling this organizing structure that’s held up systemic racism in this country for so many years," Bozek asks, calling on the community for support.

Anyone who experiences harassment is asked to report it to the authorities. 

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