Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month - Guest Blog by Assemblymember Phil Ting
May 18, 2022
Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Guest Blog by Assemblymember Phil Ting
Despite growing up in California, I did not learn anything about Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history. So to have a month dedicated to highlighting and increasing awareness about my community’s past means a lot to me.
This particular Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is especially significant. We mark the celebration this year as we see grants roll out from the historic $166.5 million API Equity Budget, the largest investment California has ever made in the AAPI community. The bulk of it aims to help stop the violence and attacks targeting people of Asian descent and support these victims. As Assembly Budget Chair, I’m proud to be in a position to advocate for our community, and in partnership with the API Legislative Caucus, we secured this funding in last year’s state budget.
It’s needed because according to the Stop AAPI Hate website, nearly 11,000 unprovoked incidents were reported nationwide from March 2020 to the end of 2021. Some even happened in my district, San Francisco, a city known for inclusion and diversity. Perpetrators were wrongly blaming COVID-19 on one race. I couldn’t stomach it. Nearly every day, I saw news video of innocent Asian Americans being violently slammed to the ground. Or worse, the attacks led to their deaths. I also cringed at pictures of bruised and swollen faces resulting from beatings. Even more sickening, a rash of assaults have involved elderly victims. They easily could have been my grandfather or an aunt. All of it is terrifying and unacceptable.
The bulk of the API Equity Budget is geared toward victim services and resources, as well as violence prevention programs. I recently stood in front of the Jackie Chan Senior Center in San Francisco to proudly announce that $14.2 million in the first round of Stop AAPI Hate grants have been distributed to 80 deserving organizations throughout California. The money is already having an impact. In my district, for instance, Self Help for the Elderly is deploying more escorts for seniors who need to run errands, shop or go to doctor’s appointments. Another local nonprofit, Community Youth Center, is ensuring services are available in languages that meet the needs of their clients. More grants are slated to be announced over the coming months.
On top of the API Equity Budget, I pushed for state funding to help amplify our voices and preserve our history. For San Francisco’s Chinatown, I successfully championed $26.5 million for anew media and arts center called Edge on the Square. It’s an opportunity to provide a fresh narrative of equity and inclusion, fostering greater understanding through the works of artists, performers, activists and educators. A few miles away in Japan town, I was also able to direct $5 million for a much needed renovation at a critical small business corridor. Revitalization is key to drawing visitors to this neighborhood, so they can see the history and decades-long connection Japanese Americans have had in the city.
For far too long, AAPIs have been longing to be seen and heard. They are constantly being perceived as foreigners. This state investment sends the message they matter and solutions addressing hate are here. We believe community-based safety initiatives are some of the most effective way to reduce crime and hate incidents. I hope is this investment is just the beginning and that the state will see the need for more to be done.
This funding package complements my decades-long efforts to fight for my community, which began when I became a student at U.C. Berkeley and learned about what we’ve been through collectively. The classes I took in Asian American studies pointed out so many injustices toward AAPIs, that it steered me toward a life of activism. While at Cal, I joined the campaign to change the school’s new admissions policy that lead to a decline in Asian undergraduate enrollment. Our efforts resulted in legislative hearings, an apology from the Chancellor, and fairer review process of college applications.
Years later I would become Executive Director of the Asian Law Caucus (now a part of Asian Americans Advancing Justice), continuing to help our communities have a voice on issues such as housing, immigration and civil rights. The biggest case I worked on was that of Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwanese American scientist falsely accused of selling U.S. nuclear secrets to China. The federal government didn’t have enough evidence to proceed and could only charge Lee with one count of mishandling restricted data. However, he was treated horribly and unjustly placed in solitary confinement for 278 days.
The surge in hate incidents against AAPIs today, again, are based on fear and stereotyping. But as much as I’m disheartened by this dark chapter in Asian American history, I’m encouraged by the emerging reactions by ordinary citizens. Communities have come together to take a stand against hate. Groups have even formed to support the victims and help other residents feel safe. I thank all of you who have joined the Stop Asian Hate rallies, intervened when someone is victimized, escorted fearful seniors or carried out other acts of kindness. We must work together to conquer COVID-19 and promote greater acceptance and understanding, not point fingers.
My hope is that people use Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month to learn about the history and contributions AAPIs have made. Perhaps they’ll lookup the transcontinental railroad built by Chinese immigrants or visit the Asian Art Museum. Maybe watch a film by Oscar-winning South Korean director, Bong Joon Ho or read about our first Asian American Vice President, Kamala Harris.
This is also an opportunity for AAPIs to feel proud about who we are and the tremendous sacrifices our ancestors made to make their versions of the American Dream a reality. My goal as a state legislator is to pave the way for more ways we can thrive, so that every May we have more accomplishments to celebrate.
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