JA community responds to anti-Asian hate


J-TOWN PATROL — Japantown Prepared: Safe From Hate trained new volunteers to patrol San Jose’s Japantown April 25 photo by Alvin Chee

J-TOWN PATROL — Japantown Prepared: Safe From Hate trained new volunteers to patrol San Jose’s Japantown April 25 photo by Alvin Chee

Though the Japanese American community has so far been spared from the brunt of the rise of anti-Asian hate currently making headlines across the United States, many Nikkei are nevertheless concerned.

“There are a lot of people who are very worried about it. They’re scared,” retired San Jose Police Department Lt. Rich Saito, told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “I have seniors who do not want to go out by themselves, if at all,” the San Jose Japantown community member said.

Japanese American community members from various locations throughout Northern California echoed Saito’s sentiments, with many expressing their concern for seniors and women.

“I think it’s really tragic. It’s pretty disgusting, in terms of the significance that we have as Asian Americans in this country, or the lack of significance,” Dean Ito Taylor, executive director of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, told the Nichi Bei Weekly.

“I’m offended as somebody who works in the community, that we haven’t really progressed that far, where just an ignorant political leader can trigger this type of hate and violence.”

Ito Taylor spoke of the anti-Asian sentiments stoked by then-President Donald Trump at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. For Ito Taylor, who has worked on civil rights issues for decades, it was disheartening to see the rise of anti-Asian incidents, especially at major Asian American urban centers, including San Francisco and New York. He was, however, moved by the energized reaction from the Asian American community following recent high profile acts of violence, such as the mass-shooting of eight in Atlanta, and the attack of a woman of Filipino ancestry in New York.

“I think that it’s amazing that we have such immediate response, especially from our younger generation,” he said. “It is an awakening for a lot of generations of Asian Americans who immigrated to this country after the ‘60s.”

While California’s Japantowns have so far been spared of any major act of anti-Asian hate, its community members are working preemptively to deter such acts. Saito formed Japantown Prepared: Safe From Hate, modeled after San Francisco Chinatown’s United Peace Collaborative. Saito said some 300 people of a variety of ages and backgrounds from as far away as San Mateo, Calif. have expressed interest, and he’s trained and gotten about 60 people to begin patrolling the neighborhood nearly every day during the mornings and afternoons, especially when seniors are out running their errands, shopping for groceries or picking up lunch at Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service.

San Jose’s patrols, Saito said, have been popular, lending peace of mind to visitors and local merchants alike as they look out for suspicious activity and report hazards. Having people out on the street monitoring what is going on, Saito said, has discouraged some people from hanging around the neighborhood, including a woman who was screaming and another man who was exposing himself.

“They said they knew they were being watched so they left, which is absolutely perfect for us,” he said.

San Francisco’s Japantown has community ambassadors hired through the Japantown Community Benefit District, which serves the commercial core of the ethnic enclave. Jon Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Community Youth Council, said the ambassadors have served as eyes and ears for the community and helped seniors in the neighborhood feel safe by acting as escorts, but he also noted they had other duties as well.

“We’re very mindful of the fact that Japantown San Francisco has one of the highest concentrations of seniors anywhere in San Francisco, so we’re very concerned about this area being targeted at some point and so we have organized ourselves to identify what the needs are,” Osaki said. “One of the things that we are trying to secure additional resources for is to have some type of escort service available more widely in the community.”

Osaki said multiple community organizations are working in tandem to look for funding and proactively speaking with city leaders to develop programming for their community.

“We’re not going to wait around for something to happen,” Osaki said. Osaki, however, also said he is glad to see Asian Americans’ needs being prioritized for once.

“To be honest, I haven’t seen in my multiple decades as an executive director, this level of resources being designated for the Asian community,” he said. “It comes out of a really horrible situation, but I think many of us are at least glad that groups are starting to recognize that there are urgent needs in all of our Asian American communities that they’re not just related to public safety.”

Nationally, Bishop Marvin Harada of the Buddhist Churches of America, meanwhile reported his organization’s churches and temples have been spared from any overt act of hate, but he did note an increase in vandalism, including a fire set to the grounds of the Buddhist Church of Stockton on April 20.

“All of our churches and temples are trying to take more precaution and are trying to upgrade their security system, their cameras and things like that as a precautionary measure,” Harada told the Nichi Bei Weekly.

While churches are looking at their security options, Harada also said the concerns have not been as great since the pandemic has shut down in-person services.

“Once we resume, I suppose that will be something else that we want to make sure all of our members are safe,” Harada said. He said churches, depending on vaccinations and local infection rates, could move toward reopening in the fall.

Harada said Buddhism does not discriminate among sentient beings. “I think we can share that perspective, to help stem the current thinking of violence and hatred directed towards Asians, or any other ethnicities,” Harada said.

Other community leaders called for mutual support and understanding.

“I think that we have to collectively counter (messages of anti-Asian hate from some public officials) with messages of solidarity and unity,” Osaki said. JCYC, Osaki’s organization, took part in Campaign for Solidarity in San Francisco April 17. “It’s part of our values as an organization to work in ally-ship with other communities. Whether it’s violence towards Asian Americans or issues affecting the Black community or the Latinx community, we have strength when we work together. And so that’s something

I think, whether it’s through as individuals or as organizations, it’s really important for us to prioritize right now.”

Meanwhile, Saito called on people to have compassion, understanding and care.

“I asked them, ‘How do you think the victim feels,’ and it puts in their mind a sense of compassion and understanding. And then the follow up question for that, of course, is how do you think the suspect is feeling? Why is this happening? What can we do to try to reduce the anger of frustration?” he said.

Ito Taylor said he hoped community members, especially seniors and women, will take precautions against physical attacks, but he also asked the community to speak out.

“The community can no longer accept racism against Asians in any form, and we need to speak out,” Ito Taylor said. “If you hear something at work, at school — you see something on television and a movie, on social media — you need to speak out about it. We cannot accept the derogatory kind of depictions and language used against Asians. And unless we speak out about it, people are going to continue to be racist and derogatory.”

To report incidents of hate, visit https://stopaapihate.org/.

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