Opinion: Will I Be the Next Anti-Asian Hate Crime Victim?

Opinion: Will I Be the Next Anti-Asian Hate Crime Victim?
April Somboun with her children. Courtesy of April Somboun.

By April Somboun, candidate for City Council in District 33.

It’s appalling. For the last few weeks, hate crimes against Asians fill the front page.

Sadly, this isn’t new. Last year, despite the total number of hate crimes dropping, those crimes targeting Asians spiked 150%  in New York City alone. And these crimes disproportionately target women — in the last 12 months, there have been close to 3,800 were against Asian women, according to Stop AAPI Hate.

On Tuesday night, six Asian women in Georgia — mothers, daughters, sisters, community members — were murdered. These women could have been my mother, my aunt, my cousins. These women could have been my daughter or me.

I am an American and proud Brooklynite. I am also a Lao immigrant, born to a single, teenage mother in a refugee camp. We fled to the U.S. to protect ourselves from an oppressive regime and looked to America for the freedom and the opportunity to live, dream, work, and have a place we could call “home.”

Now, we’re coming face-to-face with a powerful anti-Asian sentiment paired with attacks here, in New York City and other urban centers from coast to coast. At least 10 suspected anti-Asian hate crimes have been committed in New York City between January 1 and March 14 this year, according to statistics from the New York Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force.

Asians are afraid to walk home at night. They’re scared to ride the subway. They’re nervous about going to school, work, or even the park because they know this level of hate and violence has no borders or boundaries. They know, wherever they go, they aren’t 100% safe from people who seek to do them harm.

Many are also afraid to ask for help. Nearly 43% of Asian-Americans live in “linguistically-isolated” households — homes where no one over age five is proficient in English. For them, reporting hate crimes and asking for support may not be an option because of communication barriers or, simply, fear.

This must end. We need and deserve more resources focused on protecting the Asian community in New York City — a community that makes up nearly 12% of our population. Asians are being senselessly targeted by hate groups and rage-filled individuals who want to do us harm — and we are, rightfully, scared and vulnerable.

I am running for City Council in Brooklyn’s District 33, and this fight is at the top of my agenda. As a member of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, I will make it my top priority to advocate for an Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) task force that will bring issues facing the Asian-American community to light — and help protect our community from future hate crimes.

But that’s just a piece of it. City Council can only do so much to curb the hate, violence, and insecurity. We as individuals must stand up for our Asian friends, neighbors, and community members.

That starts by voting for more diversity on City Council and other critical elected posts. We are a diverse city, and we need more elected officials who represent traditionally underserved communities, including the Asian population. Representation matters, and by voting for people who understand the issues facing real New Yorkers first hand, we can achieve meaningful change and lasting impact in everything from education to housing to making our communities safe for everyone.

We also need to view hate crimes as just that — crimes. Hate crimes against Asians aren’t problems for the Asian-American community to deal with. These are crimes that impact our communities, and we as community members must stand up, demand action, and take deliberate steps to stop the violence.

Again, none of this is new. We have a long history of violence towards the Asian community, which has been fanned and promoted by our last president. His decidedly racist immigration policies kept families like mine from fleeing dangerous regimes while stoking the flames of hate towards Asians and all people of color. These latest hate crimes represent a clear-cut blowback built on his rhetoric. Unless we take definitive, decisive steps to push back against the people who seek to do us harm, this violence will continue and, likely, deepen.

I am an Asian-American woman and, every day, I worry for myself, my family, and women and men who look like me. My mother and I came to this country because we believed in the American Dream, and I will not stand for people who seek to do us harm — people who use violence and fear tactics to silence Asians and Asian-Americans.

This hate, violence, and fear-mongering must end now — and it can only end if our community stands up, casts our votes, and, together, fights to end these vicious hate crimes.

April Somboun is a candidate for City Council in District 33 (currently represented by Stephen Levin) in 2021 local elections, hoping to represent communities along the East River.