From Online to Offline: A community comes together in solidarity against the rise of Asian American
It goes without saying that hate crimes against Asian Americans have been on the rise in 2020. According to CBS News, 2,120 violent and non-violent hate crimes have been reported within the COVID-19 pandemic time period, and that increase doesn't show any signs of stopping. Unfortunately, the rise in hate crimes towards Asian Americans can be attributed to President Trump's remarks toward COVID-19 as he notoriously referred to it as the China virus or “the kung flu,” in spite of the backlash he received from both the science & Asian American communities, but the hate for Asians in America runs deep - as it can be seen going back centuries (to even the Asian Exclusion act of 1882). However, many of these stories of hate crimes tend to go untold, as western schools and media often overlook and ignore the trials and tribulations of Asian Americans in this country. And on top of this, as noted by NBC News, federal agencies are doing little about the rise in anti-Asian hate in America, and continue to do nothing. A great deal of anxiety has arisen for Asian Americans in 45 states across the nation (and counting), as the current patterns of hate crimes, microaggressions, and other negative responses against Asian individuals and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic have not shown any signs of stopping.
One such story that has flown under the radar was that of Ron Tran’s , a homeowner from Garden Grove, California. For the past five months, he and his wife have been repeatedly harassed by their next door neighbor, who is an unnamed white man. However, it was not just Ron and his family that were affected by this man, as his neighbors up and down the street have also been repeatedly harassed by the same perpetrator for several years, just on the basis of being Asian. This was confirmed after speaking with the former wife of the aggressor, the now remarried Jennifer Uyeda, who spoke to me briefly about how her ex-husband had been harassing their other next door neighbor for years before switching to Ron Tran and his family.
For the past several years these grievances had gone unnoticed, until tensions reached a boiling point. As seen in a post that had gone viral on Instagram, Ron Tran’s daughter Sheyla had uploaded a video to Instagram of the racist neighbor verbally harassing her mother on October 18th, 2020, which also caught his teenage daughter in the harassment. She was seen to be recording Sheyla’s mother while slut shaming, body shaming, and verbally harassing her, despite Mrs. Tran being in her own backyard. Then separately on October 10, 2020 there was another video recorded of the neighbor verbally attacking Mrs. Tran while Sheyla, her dad, & siblings were gone - but thankfully other neighbors had seen what was happening and were there to back up Mrs. Tran. When asked why he was harassing Mrs. Tran, the instigator made statements like, “Your people this, your people that,” and after he had gone Mrs. Tran had broke down into tears, sharing how he had also told her things like, “Asians are stupid, go back home - no one wants you here” or, “our people are above your people.” In another interview with the offender’s ex-wife, Jennifer Uyeda, she spoke about her concerns for her teenage daughter growing up with her father’s racist rhetoric and how that would shape her further as she grew up, as she had wanted to stay and live with her ex-husband after their divorce. Her ex-husband had grown up with that kind of rhetoric himself, and now was hurting others based off of that alone - so while she was disappointed in her daughter, she hoped she would learn from it and not be the same as her father. Additionally as she now had a son who was Japanese & White, she worried how it would affect him if his older sister held these racist beliefs against Asian Americans, when he too was Asian American. She had brought her son with her to the protest, citing that “I think it’s important to teach him what’s right from wrong,” and hoped her daughter would learn from all this as well.
The Asian American community in Garden Grove and much of Orange County was outraged by these happenings & so a peaceful protest was then organized by Amanda Young and Nancy Nguyen, also of Garden Grove. On October 24, 2020 people came in droves from near and far to show their support and solidarity to Ron Tran and his family. I spoke with a number of people that made their way here, from Asian American actor William Lex Ham (who flew in from NYC and live streamed the gathering on both his Instagram account @willlexham and
Asian American support organization account @theycantburnusall), and Vietnamese American DJ Mellione (@vh1melione) who provided a blend of traditional Vietnamese music and modern for everyone to listen to while there. There were also locals like Michelle Bao Khanh Nguyen, who personally came out to “show support to the community and denounce any and all kinds of racial discrimination.” It was best put in her words the sentiment that everyone present here shared, that “OC would not be OC without the POC, and their work and contributions matter and to be put down on the basis of one’s race is unacceptable.” The atmosphere was warm, with people coming together to support the Tran family in peace, while also social distancing as much as possible.
The local city police were present from the start, and the overwhelming presence of both marked and unmarked cop cars scared away a number of protestors as the day rolled on. Later on it was discovered that the cops were there by request of the offender, as he “felt unsafe,” in spite of it being a very safe, warm, and uplifting show of support for the victims he himself harassed. Police cautioned us against committing any acts against the aggressor, in
reference to the graffiti someone had left on his front driveway. Additionally, the police force told both Amanda Young & Nancy Nguyen - the organizers of this event - that they would now be liable for any damages that were to occur, and if any complaints came from any neighbors for the protestors presence they would have to shut it down. I felt that this showed just how little law enforcement cared for the Tran family, as they were more concerned for the offender and his property, however Nancy felt safe in having this go on as she had a team of legal aid present as well as an attorney.
As the protest began to draw to a close around 4pm, I spent a little bit of time speaking with one of the organizers: Nancy Nguyen (@omgnaancy), who had been a witness of the verbal
harassment that befell Mrs. Tran. When asked what spurred her into taking action over social media, she replied that, “seeing this couple being verbally harassed in their own backyard the way they were just crossed the line for me, and after Sheyla posted her clips I felt like now was a good time to post the ones I had from when the offender came at us as well. Prior to that I had never witnessed it, but after seeing it happen to others as well I just felt that this just wasn’t right - and they didn’t know what they could do to help their situation. They were living with it for so long, so I figured social media could help kick things forward a little - and it did! I’m glad it went viral, because now the offenders are scared because they know now they need to be held accountable for their actions.”
And indeed, it truly did kickstart things. Now after the outpouring of love and support from the community, the Tran family got the boost they needed, and are currently working on pursuing legal action against their verbally abusive neighbors. While times can be tough in 2020, it’s so heartwarming to know that so many strangers would come together in support and solidarity against racial attacks and discrimination - starting from an online community of outrage, to one standing together in-person, in unity, with love for Asian Americans everywhere.
PHOTO CREDITS: Jesse Isa
Campbell, Alexia Fernández, and Alex Ellerbeck. “Federal Agencies Are Doing Little about the Rise in Anti-Asian Hate.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 31 July 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/federal-agencies-are-doing-little-about-rise-anti-asian-hate-n1184766.
Chow, Andrew R. “PBS' Asian Americans Documents Centuries of Racial Violence.” Time, Time, 20 May 2020, time.com/5834427/violence-against-asian-americans-history/.
Donaghue, Erin. “2,120 Hate Incidents against Asian Americans Reported during the Coronavirus Pandemic.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 2 July 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/anti-asian-american-hate-incidents-up-racism/.
Tran, Sheyla. “Sheyla's Footage of Harassment.” Instagram, 19 Oct. 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CGi8wbNDGEh/.