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A shortage of non-English language services for Orange County’s hate crime reporting system could mean underreporting and data gaps over the true extent of racism’s effect on the region — more recently with anti-Asian hate, which has spiked across the U.S. to deadly outcomes.

Handling Hate

This story is the first in an ongoing series exploring concrete steps Orange County leaders can take to tackle racial justice and hate across the region, amid a recent spike in hate incidents across the county and U.S. during the Coronavirus pandemic.

That was the warning residents and local Asian American activists gave the county Board of Supervisors last Tuesday, when the board voted to continue funding the OC Human Relations Commission, which seeks to promote equality and research hate crimes countywide.

County officials have historically attacked the Human Relations Commission, subjecting it to underfunding, much political jockeying, and struggles for power over the body’s staff, as well as disagreement over its role and stances on social justice and equality. 

Residents requested supervisors inject even more money to the commission, beyond what they approved, at their Tuesday meeting. 

“I do urge the county to consider perhaps increasing the funding” to the Human Relations Commission “because there is a need for in-language resources” for non-English speakers, said Priscilla Huang of advocacy group Asian Americans in Action to supervisors.

Huang said the Human Relations Commission’s preliminary data for the year 2020 captured fewer hate crimes and incidents in the county compared to county-specific data from Stop AAPI Hate, a national organization similarly devoted to taking hate crime reports and logging them. 

One likely reason for that difference: “Stop AAPI Hate does provide in-language forms and services,” Huang said at the meeting. 

Supervisors didn’t move forward with those requests from the community Tuesday. Instead, they moved along and approved the original $126,000 funding amount it set out for in extending the county’s contract with OC Human Relations Council — the nonprofit that provides the commission’s services — to continue its work. 

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, in text messages after the meeting, said the requests for additional funding for multi-lingual reporting access are on her “checklist,” but declined requests to be interviewed over the phone. “Language barriers are a huge concern and we need to address it.”

Supervisors last Tuesday largely put their focus into anti-racism resolutions.

Huang and others who spoke at the meeting said people who don’t speak English won’t feel as comfortable reporting acts of racism against them if they can’t do so in their own language.

“I feel that, there’s too many incidents since Covid against Asians, and has been directed towards seniors. My mom walks a lot and it can be her,” says Thy Nguyen, 40, of Garden Grove. Nguyen made her mask and plans to sell them to raise money for AAPI organizations. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

OC Human Relations CEO Alison Edwards told Voice of OC her organization does provide English, Spanish and “simple Chinese” services on the site, but that the group is still currently working on Vietnamese — a language spoken by Orange County’s largest Asian American subgroup. 

Self defense skills are taught by two members of the Vietnamese Martial Arts Center, at an event outside Advance Beauty College in Garden Grove — in light of a spike in anti-Asian racism. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The Human Relations Commission gathers regional hate crime and hate incident data from its own website portal for people to file reports, as well as gathering data, to some extent, from law enforcement agencies and school districts across the county.

Asked about comments like Huang’s on the data disparities, Edwards said “we would welcome working with the county to increase the investment in that work, no question.” 

“We’re trying to expand our language capability and will be working with other community groups to do that more quickly,” Edwards said, adding that her team is a small one with a scope of work that includes hate crimes and incidents research, but also goes beyond that.

Supervisors at their meeting didn’t mention the county’s tendencies to reduce the organization’s funding allocations throughout the early aughts, or about past power struggles over the group’s staff and its official positions on human interest and social justice issues. 

Orange County Human Relations Commission data presented to Orange County Supervisors at their meeting on March 23.

Though Bartlett did acknowledge the organization’s limited resources: “Frankly, with the bandwidth of what they have right now, I don’t know how they’re covering all the bases. And so we’ll be looking at things to bring back at a future board meeting with regard to some additional support and resources.”

Under the contract with the OC Human Relations Council, county officials have the ability to edit and control the publishing of these reports. 

Meanwhile, Bartlett and Supervisor Andrew Do introduced a set of resolutions that both denounced racism. 

Some people praised Bartlett’s resolution for her input-gathering and outreach to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community when crafting it. 

Others questioned whether the contents of Do’s resolution appropriately captured the issue for what it was.

[Read: Two OC Supervisors Seek Direct Authority Over Pro-Diversity Group’s Staff]

It all came on the heels of a shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia that saw six Asian women out of eight victims killed — amid a spike in hate across the U.S. where Asian Americans have been scapegoated for the Coronavirus pandemic. 

That, in turn, brought a host of Asian American women to speak out at the supervisors’ meeting about the local issues they’ve faced. 

“This is my first time actually speaking out in a public setting,” said Tricia Nguyen of Southland Integrated Services, a community health center in central county. 

Nguyen recalled an incident “about a month ago” where a middle-aged white male walked into the center, “yelling and screaming” at staff about the lack of a white family depicted in the clinic’s logos. 

“He said, ‘If you guys don’t do anything about it to make the changes, you’re going to see the consequences.’ And about a few weeks later, we’ve been receiving a lot of tagging out there throughout the building with a lot of hate messages,” Nguyen said. 

About a week later, Nguyen added, an older white female walked over to their vaccine clinic in Garden Grove, “yelling and screaming at us,” and telling staff that they are the reason people need to be vaccinated in the first place. 

“Hate crimes are so wrong. I don’t like when people fight and say terrible stuff to each other,” says Karen Jimenez, 7, who is pictured to the left. Community members, religious leaders, and residents form a line and place their palms toward the people in attendance to an Asian American solidarity event in early March. The palm signifies “Stop the Asian hate.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Jennifer Wang, CEO of the Asian American Senior Citizens Service Center in Santa Ana, said “I’ve dealt with a lot of racism … But I also grew up with a family of strong women who taught us to speak up. So I was always able to address those issues.” 

Wang said it’s not the case for many elderly members of the community.

“We’ve had elderly people who are in their 90s get punched in the stomach. We’ve had people shout at others, our senior women, because they’re walking around with their masks as they should be,” Wang said. “And so I’m standing here … and I ask that action be taken.”

Specifically, Wang said, “intentional action that is investing in our community organizations, because we’re out there. We’re the people on the ground who are listening to these calls, who are listening to these cries.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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