Cindy Tran sometimes doesn’t go out after dark because she’s afraid she’ll be followed or abused (Foto: ABC News: Bradley McLennan)

AUSTRALIA – “I was just getting out of the train station, and walking towards the restaurant, and a man followed me for a couple of blocks, and just yelled at me,” she said to ABC, Wednesday (7/5).

“You brought the virus here, that’s why the city is shutting down,” She add.

She was experiencing what thousands of Asian Americans have reported over the past year, an increase in racially charged slurs and attacks, apparently linked to misplaced blame for the coronavirus.

Examples of assaults include a Chinese woman in the New York neighbourhood of Flushing, Queens, being pushed to the ground, a Thai immigrant suffering the same fate in San Francisco and dying from his injuries, a woman who had her shirt set on fire in New York, a man whose face was slashed with a box cutter on the subway, and a woman kicked in the head in New York as three bystanders watched on.

People Power On The Streets

It was the attack in Flushing that got to Teresa Ting, an actor turned community activist.

“It hit close to home. Just seeing that happen, made me think that literally could have been my mother had it been the wrong place, wrong time,” She said.

Inspired by a group on the West Coast, Ms Ting decided to get active because sharing her tough on social media was just not enough.

The 30-year-old formed Main Street Patrol, a group of volunteers who patrol Flushing’s bustling streets hoping to provide assistance to anyone who is abused.

“If something escalates then we can call the police for that, to make sure things are not going unreported.”

The group is learning about bystander intervention techniques and some members have participated in martial arts classes. Ms Ting said using the kung fu moves would be a last resort, but the training had helped to build confidence.

“You do feel like you have the power to possibly control the situation and the outcome,” she said.

Pandemic Rekindles Fears

It’s not clear whether all the recent spate of attacks are racially motivated, but many come with racial slurs thrown in or references to the pandemic, and a series of reports have now documented their rise.

The not-for-profit group Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks racist attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, recorded almost 4,000 incidents over the first year of the pandemic.

The Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) has also crunched the numbers. According to their analysis, reports submitted to the NYPD showed there was an eight-fold increase, to 28, in the number of anti-Asian hate incidents in the city in 2020 compared to the previous year.

AABANY board member Chris Kwok said that was “just the tip of the iceberg” because many incidents go unreported. Cindy Tran didn’t report the man yelling at her at the start of the pandemic, and hasn’t reported any of the other people who have since harassed her.

“Sometimes I have stopped going out when it gets dark, because I am afraid of being followed,” she said.

Asian Americans will tell you racial abuse is nothing new, but it has got worse since COVID-19 arrived. Mr Kwok said the pandemic stirred up long-standing anti-Asian sentiments.

“The pandemic unleashed, I think, a growing fear of China going back to [Barack] Obama’s second team,” he said.

“Then if you take the thread back longer in the West, in America, there’s always been a fear of Chinese in America.”

He refers to a slew of laws aimed at curbing the rights of migrant Chinese workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

COVID-19 was the “match that lit the fire” in this wave of anti-Chinese sentiment, Mr Kwok said, but former president Donald Trump’s penchant for referring to the virus as the “China virus”, “Chinese virus” or “kung flu” fuelled the flames

“People who appeared to be Chinese, mostly East Asians, from there on, had a target on their back.”

It was “the ultimate authorisation to behave to the worst impulses that you had”, Mr Kwok said.

Asian Americans have often been stereotyped as a “model minority” — a hard-working, successful, compliant group, and many have felt pressure to conform to those expectations.

“I grew up hearing my parents tell me, ‘Don’t complain about anything. If someone makes fun of you, just be very quiet and do your work,'” Cindy Tran said.

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