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Opportunities to learn and change as crimes against AAPI community increase

Korean American Fear Photo Essay
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 14:47:32-04

With an uptick in crimes against our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our country is at a pivotal moment of figuring out how to resolve the situation and move forward while also trying to rectify historical injustices.

"I think there is reckoning right now," explains Jenny Poon, a member of the Arizona Asian American Chamber of Commerce. "It's an awakening. What I'm seeing is the transparency in what we have felt for a really long time...I think there is a lot to unravel. And we are having to deal with some of that trauma, realizing what's okay and what's not okay and realizing our own history."

Philanthropy Asian American Foundation
FILE- In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Jessica Wong, front left, Jenny Chiang, center, and Sheila Vo, from the state's Asian American Commission, stand together during a protest on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston. With a virtual event scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, 2021, Asian American business leaders in the United States are coming together to challenge discrimination against Asian Americans through a historical philanthropic donation. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

In recent months, we've seen attacks escalate in our AAPI communities across the country. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes spiked nearly 150% in 2020, even as hate crimes overall went down.

And there were examples here in the Valley. An Asian-American man had a beer bottle thrown at him and his two kids while they were watching a game at Phoenix Suns Arena. Phoenix Police tell ABC15 detectives with their Bias Crimes Division are still looking into this case, but so far, there have been no arrests. The Suns responded to the incident on Twitter, stating they are cooperating with police and do not tolerate discrimination or hate of any kind.

"It's an additional layer of fear for Asian Americans," explains Jenny. "We can't just walk on the street without fear of being jumped...I purchased pepper spray and there are additional things I've had to think about."

Both Jenny and Ryan Winkle, another member of the Chamber of Commerce, believe that increasing awareness and expanding curriculums in schools to include more Asian American history is a good first step towards opening minds, saying it helps to humanize people when you can learn about them.

RELATED: Japanese communities sent to camps during WWII, including two in Arizona

Chizu Omori, who now lives in San Francisco, spent several years in the Poston War Relocation Center in western Arizona, from 1942 to 1945. Chizu sees many connections between what she went through and what AAPI communities are going through today.

RELATED: Chizu Omori describes how life was inside WWII 'camp' in Arizona

"We really could be an example to the world of people getting along. For the most part, we do get along pretty well, but we need to own up to our history and realize that we have a long, long deeply engrained history of inequality."