Middle school students in Berkeley protest anti Asian harassment
Mina Fedor, 12, (center) leads a march against anti-Asian hate in Aquatic Park in West Berkeley March 29. Photo: Pete Rosos Credit: Pete Rosos

About half of Berkeley Asians and Asian Americans who responded to a new community survey have experienced racial harassment, according to preliminary data. 

Of those who reported anti-Asian harassment, 10% said they’d been physically attacked during the pandemic and 44% said they’d been mocked or called derogatory names. The rate of physical abuse doubled, with twice as many people saying they’d been attacked during the pandemic as reported being attacked beforehand. There was no change in how many people reported derogatory comments.  

Most of the incidents described in the survey went unreported: 80% of respondents of Asian descent said they did not report the racial harassment they experienced. Half of Asian respondents said they did not feel there is support for Asians or Asian Americans from the community, university or city officials.

About 300 people have responded to the survey, about a third of whom were of Asian descent. The survey was publicized through city newsletters and social media.

The survey is being conducted by Margaretta Lin along with staff at her racial justice nonprofit Just Cities and help from UC Berkeley students. Lin, a lecturer at UC Berkeley, pulled together a coalition in March that she calls Angry Asian Women to stand in solidarity with Asian Americans and to work on behalf of “everyone who is fed up with injustice toward Asian Americans.” A long-time organizer for racial justice, Lin has helped grow numerous Bay Area organizations such as Youth Together, Youth Uprising, and Dellums Institute for Social Justice.

“I am an angry Asian American woman,” said Lin, whose children attended Berkeley schools for nine years. “People see Berkeley as this iconic representation of everything progressive and racial harmony, and that’s just not the case.”

The survey — sponsored by the city of Berkeley, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and others — gave space for people to share their personal experiences with anti-Asian harassment. 

One respondent said they were stopped on the street by a white man while walking their dog. The man got out of his car and told the person that they could not have a dog because Asians eat dogs. The man promised to call law enforcement to arrest them.

Another respondent was attacked while jogging and hurt so brutally that they had to go to the emergency room.

The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the past year has been traumatizing for Lin, who moved to the United States with her family in 1969 at a time when there were few Asian Americans in the country due to the legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Her childhood was riddled with racial harassment, bullying and physical violence. The events of the last few months took Lin “back to my childhood experiences growing up in this country,” she said. “I felt very alone and scared and worried for my mother and my family members.” 

The idea for the survey was spawned after a UC Berkeley student shared her experience of being attacked while biking in the Berkeley Hills. The incident inspired Lin to work with the student to design a survey to learn more about Asian American experiences with racial harassment in the city. “I know that you need data in order to compel change and action,” she said.

Lin shared the preliminary results at a community forum on Tuesday in solidarity with Asian Americans. More responses are still coming in, especially from UC Berkeley students, who have been underrepresented. 

There were 12 hate crimes reported in Berkeley in 2020 against people of various races. There have been eight hate crime reports in 2021. Last week, the DA’s office filed this year’s first hate crime charge in Berkeley after a woman threw water bottles at an Asian American woman and cursed her and her ethnicity.

The number of reported hate incidents against Asian Americans spiked during the pandemic, according to a recent national report from Stop Asian Hate. California made up 40% of all hate incidents reported to the organization, with about 2,600 reports from March 2020 to March 2021. 

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said at the forum Tuesday that the city is working on improving its response to hate crimes by raising awareness about how people can report them and providing more support to victims and their families. “We need to improve how our city responds to hate crimes overall,” he said. 

City Auditor Jenny Wong, who has started speaking up in recent months about her experiences with anti-Asian discrimination, also participated in the forum, along with Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and one the founding members of Stop AAPI Hate. 

Advisory board forms at Berkeley Unified

Abby Lamoreaux, a junior at Berkeley High who co-organized a protest April 2 in solidarity with Asian Americans, also talked during the forum about her experiences with racial discrimination at school, where she endured “Ching Chong” jokes and remarks about Asian names.

“Education is one of the main keys we will need to open the door to racial understanding in America. But it can also be the destruction of it if we do not begin these conversations now,” Lamoreaux said at the forum.

Lamoreaux will be one of three students to sit on a newly formed board of Asian Americans advising Berkeley Unified School District. Lamoreaux wants to see the district to do more to educate students about Asian American culture and history. She also wants to see more Asian American teachers in Berkeley Unified.

A group of Berkeley Unified parents, staff, and teachers that mobilized after the killings in Atlanta also hosted a panel discussion May 6 about anti-Asian racism. 

Julie Kono-Manning, the parent of a student at King Middle School whose mother taught first grade at Berkeley Unified for years, spoke at the forum about anti-Asian harassment. Kono-Manning recounted a recent conversation that her mother had with her grandchildren about what to do if she is attacked on the street. 

“It hurts very deeply that my mother doesn’t feel a sense of safety in the community that she lives in and has dedicated her life to in public service,” Kono-Manning said. 

Jessica Hipona, a student at Willard Middle School, also shared her experience being bullied at school, where she was called “Chinese girl” for months after wearing a traditional outfit in celebration of the Lunar New Year. Hipona said the bullying was a product of ignorance about Asian American culture.

“Unfortunately, these are common experiences today for Asian American students in Berkeley and Oakland, and Bay Area schools. We just don’t talk about it,” Lin said.

 Forums like these, Lin said, are an attempt to change that. 

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...