Local elected officials across Orange County have been more than happy to convene news conferences, issue resolutions, and publish statements denouncing a rise in anti-Asian racism across the region and U.S.
Some, however, question whether those officials plan to back it all up with actual legislation aimed at solving the issue.
For example, Thai Viet Phan, Santa Ana’s first elected Vietnamese American Councilwoman, has since her campaign days publicly mulled over ways to properly enfranchise the city’s non-English speaking Vietnamese American population by getting more city services offered in their language.
Vietnamese is spoken by a large population of the west-end Santa Ana district she represents and Orange County’s largest Asian American subgroup, concentrated mostly around central county’s Little Saigon.
One way to tackle that, Phan said, would be investing money into staff who speak Vietnamese to help residents who qualify for “things like rental assistance,” or those who want to open a business and need help in Vietnamese understanding the city’s permitting process.
Phan said she’s looking for ways to fund some of those ideas, particularly through the nearly $143 million in new federal Coronavirus relief money expected to come her city’s way.
“When residents go to City Hall and ask for help, sometimes we have staff who speak Vietnamese there, sometimes we don’t,” Phan said. “We just don’t have someone who can do that, full time, in the city. That’s where I think we can really invest money to do outreach to residents.”
Specifically, Phan said, the city needs a community liaison along those lines.
“There’s no reason, with us serving so many Vietnamese American residents in Santa Ana, we can’t have a community liaison,” Phan said. “Because being able to communicate with our residents is something that’s important for them to actually feel a part of this community.”
Some cities, like Garden Grove and Irvine, have set up multi-language reporting methods for hate crimes, in the wake of a spike in incidents locally and across the U.S.
Tam Nguyen, co-founder of Nailing it for America, an all-volunteer advocacy group, said “Words are not enough.”
“There needs to be action that’s taking place,” Nguyen said, adding that local law enforcement needs to be trained to track, document and vigorously prosecute hate crimes.
He’s also calling for in-language services, saying “just translating information is not good enough.”
Stop Asian Hate Rallies Continue
Vigils and rallies are increasingly becoming a routine over the past month.
“I don’t want to repeat this every week attending the rallies, but I may have to until it stops,” said state Assemblyman Steven Choi (R-Irvine) during a press conference at Irvine City Hall last week.
Today protesters will gather at the Irvine City Hall from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., ending with a march around the civic center.
Following the march, a separately organized vigil will happen at city hall to honor the eight people killed in the Atlanta shooting last week – six of whom were Asian women.
“I think we’ve seen with COVID-19 in general for the past year, rising levels of anti Asian violence and discrimination and hatred,” said one of the organizers, Anh-Ton Nguyen. “The events that happened in Atlanta two weeks ago — it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Nguyen, a 16-year-old Newport Beach resident, emphasized the importance of education.
“Anti-Asian racism is not really getting taught about in schools,” he said. “Anti-Asian racism isn’t quite visible and it’s because it is a bit more nuanced. It’s a bit more complicated then other stories but I think it’s still an equally important one.”
“A simple statement condemning anti-Asian racism is not enough. I think it’s only the baseline to condemn racism. We should be taking action against it.”
Earlier this week in Seal Beach, people rallied in support of an Asian American widow at the Leisure World retirement community, who received a letter telling her to “pack your bags and go back to your country where you belong.”
Her husband recently died.
Nail salons across California have reported receiving racist letters this year, including one located in Stanton.
A photo shared with Voice of OC by advocacy group Nailing it for America showed one such letter, addressed to “all Asians,” describing community members as “disgusting, ugly and smelly” and demanding “they go back to their shithole countries.”
“There’s a lot of people that are afraid. They don’t want to share that they received a letter and it’s causing fear and so we’re in a place where it’s kind that people are offering their words of support but what’s really important is to turn those words into action,” Tam Nguyen said.
Orange County Cities Pass Resolutions
Cypress and Westminster officials have moved forward with largely symbolic statements, known as resolutions, denouncing racism.
Westminster council members passed one earlier this month, while Cypress council members directed staff to draft a similar one.
Yet Buena Park council members weren’t as eager, and were divided over the language around historic anti-Asian racism.
The city is 32% Asian American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a large share of whom are Korean Americans.
During Tuesday’s meeting, council members Art Brown and Beth Swift both opposed the resolution’s touching on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, claiming it wasn’t relevant today.
Brown said it was unnecessary: “I wasn’t involved. None of us was involved. We are all pro-race now. We support other races, but to keep rehashing it just brings out the same hatred that we had before and tried to live down.”
Swift told Voice of OC the non-action resolution is now going to a committee, something she says should’ve happened in the first place. She said the resolution in its current state was too “negative sounding.”
Mayor Connor Traut said the council regularly passes similar resolutions that include historical references and that there is no reasonable justification for this delay.
“We’ve had other ones related to Black Lives Matter condemning racism and we include history, so I don’t understand why, in this instance, it’s being treated differently,” Traut said in a Thursday phone interview.
Councilwoman Sunny Youngsun Park, a Korean American, said at Tuesday’s meeting that all council members supported the resolution’s spirit but saw things differently.
Despite being indifferent about whether the historical references are necessary, she said the non-action resolution is a big step acknowledging that racism exists.
“I have seen people refuse to believe that there is racism in Buena Park,” Park said. “Coming up with a real solution for this real problem is what we need to do.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.
Anthony Robledo is a reporting intern for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AnthonyARobledo