POSTSCRIPT / May 23, 2021 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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New US law targets anti-Asian violence

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that President Joe Biden signed Thursday seeks to reassure members of the Asian American community, including more than four million Filipinos in the United States, of stepped-up government action on race-related hate crimes.

Filed in response to an alarming rise in violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic, the law orders a deeper study of hate crimes and the improvement in the prevention and solution of violence driven by racial bias.

The law directs the Justice Department to designate an official to expedite a review of COVID-19 hate crimes, assist local law enforcement agencies in their online reporting, expand public education campaigns, and issue guidance on curbing racially discriminatory language in discussing the pandemic.

Some studies have noted an upsurge in such crimes against Asians after then-President Trump kept saying that the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 33,855,000 Americans, originated and spread from China.

Many Filipinos in the US believe that some incidents of verbal and physical violence against their compatriots, who are known for their adaptability, were just an offshoot of their having been lumped (“nadamay lang”) under a generalized Covid-triggered prejudice against Asians.

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THE HOUSE of Representatives approved the anti-Asian hate bill Tuesday with a 364-62 vote after the Senate passed it, 94-1, in a rare display of bipartisanship. The signing at the White House highlighted Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

The ceremony saw President Biden with Democratic and Republican legislators many of them without face masks and not bothering with social distancing because of now-relaxed pandemic protocols.

Of the new law, Biden remarked: “For centuries, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, diverse and vibrant communities have helped build this nation, only to be often stepped over, forgotten, or ignored. My message to all of those who are hurting is, we see you.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and person of Asian descent to hold the office, opened the ceremony by thanking lawmakers present, including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who introduced the bill. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was also acknowledged by Biden.

More than 6,600 hate incidents against the AAPI community have been reported since the pandemic began, according to a report of Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition addressing anti-Asian racism.

Another report of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, on hate crimes against Asian Americans in major US cities said it found a 164-percent increase in reported crimes in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020 before the pandemic surged.

• Cato to hate victims: We’re here to help

DISCUSSING racial bias and violence in America, Consul General Elmer G. Cato told a forum Thursday at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga that he has been coordinating with the Filipino community in Greater New York on the appropriate steps to take on hate crimes.

Newly posted in New York from Libya where he was chief of mission, Cato was invited to the weekly forum via Zoom of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) organized in cooperation with the Clark Development Corp.

Cato said that in 2019, there was only one recorded hate crime incident in New York involving a Filipino, but 29 incidents were recorded in the 12 months of 2020. As of May 2 this year, 80 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported to the consulate.

In the first quarter of 2021, there were already 39 incidents with two high-profile cases that were reported by major US television channels:

* One involved Noel Quintana, 61, whose face was slashed in February by a man with a box cutter while in the subway on his way to work in Manhattan.

* Another had Vilma Kari, 65, attacked last month on the sidewalk, also in Manhattan. The brutal incident was captured on CCTV, prompting the consulate to heighten its call to Filipinos to be more cautious.

The suspect, who was out on parole for killing his mother, was seen on CCTV attacking Kari without any provocation. Like the suspect in the Quintana case, Kari’s attacker is now on trial.

Cato said it was possible that the victims were attacked not because they were Filipinos but may have been just mistaken for Chinese who are identified with the pandemic.

Filipinos used to be ranked fourth among victims in hate crimes against Asians – with the Chinese first, Koreans second, and Vietnamese third. Now Filipinos are No.3, he said.

In the 2019 census, Filipinos have grown in number (4,211,440), trailing Chinese (5,172,492), and followed by Vietnamese (2,182,735), Koreans (1,908,053), and Japanese (1,484,186).

We have not seen any study showing that the growth in the number of Filipinos in the US may explain the higher incidence of their being victims of race-related violence.

Cato said the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC, and the consulates in other US cities have taken steps to stem the rising hate crimes against Filipinos. The other consulates are in Agana (Guam), Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Some hate crimes in New York have gone unreported, he said, such as one he learned only from his doctor where a 70-year-old Pinay landed in a hospital ICU after being mauled. The incident was not reported to the consulate. He also cited the verbal abuse of a Filipina nurse in Queens.

He lamented that undocumented Filipinos (such as “TNT’s” or “tago ng tago”) often refuse to report hate crimes and violations of their rights for fear of catching the attention of US Immigration officers.

Cato reminded them that the consulate is mandated to look after them and not report them. He has been reaching out to FilAm community organizations in his area to help resolve problems of Filipinos who have to live away from the home country.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 23, 2021)

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