It’s been exactly a year since Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, Asians and Asian Americans in Orange County have not only had to worry about the virus they’ve also faced what some are calling a “virus of bigotry,” one that has unleashed an increase of racism and violence against that community members. 

“The virus of hate is now inflicting itself on Asian Americans with terrible hate crimes occurring throughout the United States as well as in Orange County,” Tam Nguyen, co-founder of an all volunteer group called Nailing it for America and a Fountain Valley resident, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Nguyen’s group formed at the start of the pandemic to provide personal protective equipment to frontline workers and healthcare workers across the country.

Today, they are calling on community members to confront a different threat. 

At 4 p.m. today, the group will place hundreds of luminaries in Fountain Valley to form a message that reads “Stop Asian Hate” to bring attention to not only the increase of racism against the community but to honor over 50,000 Californians that have died from the virus.

Members from various groups in the county that represent diversity will be in attendance like the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Orange County as well as the Orange County, Asian Pacific Islander community Alliance. People who come have been asked to wear masks and social distance.

Nguyen said that the Asians in the County have faced a devastating toll with many in the community working as healthcare professionals and essential workers while simultaneously facing the uproar in hate crimes.

Nguyen said that recent news reports on the stark rise in hate crimes across Orange County have really shocked him and made him reflect on the need for action.

“It’s shocking and we need to put an end to that number. We need to let everybody know especially our vulnerable seniors that are victims of hate crimes that they can speak out, they can tell their family members, they can tell their friends and to report it to law enforcement,” Nguyen said.

Bele Nguyen from Tustin said she will be volunteering at the event to show solidarity and unity with her community as well as to ensure Asian Americans continue to have a voice.

“For me to see friends of mine that have been affected by racism and obviously as an Asian female too, it’s always in the forefront when you’re out and about what others are thinking or what others are going to do,” she said. “I think about my parents, and how I want to keep them safe and just to see what’s going on out right now is so heartbreaking.”

Alison Edwards, CEO of the Orange County Human Relations Council, said hate incidents in the county have increased tenfold.

“In 2019, we had four hate incidents targeting Asian Americans reported to us but in 2020 – so far in the data we’ve collected – we have 40 that have been reported to us,” Edwards said. “We’re still very much compiling data.”

She said the process could take months as the non-profit also gathers data from police departments, schools and other organizations.

Edwards encouraged people to report such crimes and incidents to the Orange County Human Relations Council.

To report a hate crime click on the link provided here.

Nguyen added that oftentimes older people in the Asian community are afraid to report such crimes.

“We want them to know that they are not alone,” he said “We will stand united against hatred and bigotry.”

Close to 53,000 Californians Dead from the Coronavirus

Nearly as many people in the state have died from the Coronavirus than the number of people in the U.S. military who died in the Vietnam War – a war that raged on for more than a decade.

The first luminary was placed at about 4 a.m. around 53,000 seconds before the a commemoration later today to represent the number of people who have died in California.

At the event, a prayer will be led by Buddhist monks.

There will be no speeches but people will listen to what organizers describe as “somber” music to reflect and acknowledge the lives lost in the pandemic – something elected officials have largely shied away from doing at public meetings.

The virus has now killed 3,966 people — more than seven times the flu does on a yearly average. 

Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively. 

According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.

Orange County has already surpassed its yearly average 20,000 deaths, with 23,883 people dead as of December, according to the latest available state data.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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