By Dr. Francisca Beer & Marina Kamel
CSUSB Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration Office of Academic Equity

May 3, 2021, marked the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration Office of Academic Equity’s (JHBC OAE) second Essential Conversations event. This conversation was held in collaboration with the San Bernardino Community College District (SBCCD). “Essential Conversations: Anti-Asian Racism” had approximately 150 people registered. These included CSUSB faculty, staff, students, and administrators, SBCCD faculty, staff, students, and administrators as well as community  members from around Southern California.

In 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took the United States by storm, and everything was forced to shut down. While businesses grappled to stay afloat, people were laid off, struggling to pay their bills, keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. While the struggle is real for many individuals through this pandemic, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been the target of hate crimes from racism to verbal and physical harassment. Many Asian community   members have voiced concerns about their well-being following the global pandemic. Additionally, Asian-led businesses have seen a recent decline in traffic.

The event began with a short welcome message by JHBC OAE’s Director and Associate Dean Dr. Francisca Beer and JHBC Dean Dr. Lawrence Rose. CSUSB’s deputy provost and vice provost for Academic Programs, Dr. Clare Weber, joined in welcoming our attendees to this important conversation. Dr. Weber began the conversation by reminding everyone of the tragic events that transpired on March 16, when a shooting spree occurred at three massage parlors in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, killing eight people; six of these victims were Asian women.

Eastvale Mayor Jocelyn Yow joined the conversation to express her concern and disbelief of the Atlanta shooting and the continued violence against the AAPI community. Overall, Mayor Yow said she wanted to see more Asian history taught and more people educating themselves.

Dr. Jacob Chacko (the inaugural associate director of diversity and inclusion for the Santos Manuel Student Union at CSUSB) and Sunny Lin (president of Asian Faculty, Staff, and Student Association and the operating systems analyst/data architect of information security at CSUSB) were the guest speakers for the night. Lin began the presentation by stating that many in the AAPI community are   misunderstood due to their culture and traditions. He used history and past events to explain his points.

He also said he believes that “there is a lack of conversation in our country.” “Stereotyping is another problem in this country and it is seen in the media and Hollywood movies,” Lin said.

Dr. Chacko continued with a call to action: stop Asian hate. He said he would like people to better  understand Asian customs and culture. He believes data disaggregation of Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities can help us understand what needs to be done. For example, if we are using data disaggregation for race, as Dr. Chacko suggested, it means that Asian Americans can be divided into cultural groups (e.g., Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Lao, etc.) and we can then understand what each community needs. He also shared his experience at airports, post 9-11, as a dark-skinned South Asian person. He said that he “must be at the airport three to four hours in advance, even for  the smallest airports” because he is always stopped. Before ending his presentation, he shared that a way to help with racism is for  “the privileged to bring everyone who is less privileged or marginalized up with you.”

People from CSUSB, Crafton Hills College, Pasadena City College, and UC Riverside also shared their experiences and stories. From Crafton Hills College, Dr. Rejoice C. Chavira and Chloe De Los Reyes; from UCR, Dr. Raj Singh; from Pasadena City College, Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao; and from CSUSB, Dr. Wendy Paik, Dr. Craig Seal, Danny Chung and Zheng Cai.

Dr. Chavira told her story of being born in the Philippines and raised in Hawaii. She shared that she was not exposed to racism growing up until she started attending a predominantly white college. She said she  wanted to make sure that our schools are reaching out to their students to ensure they are OK because many of them are waking up to racism for the first time.

Dr. Seal shared what his wife (who is Asian) has been experiencing.  She hears of all the anti-Asian attacks happening in the U.S., including a friend who was verbally accosted while shopping in Redlands and her cousin who was attacked while riding the subway in New York. She is afraid to go out by herself, even to take a walk in her own neighborhood.  Why must people be afraid to walk outside their homes?

Similar to Dr. Seal’s story of his wife, Dr. Paik said she and her husband felt anxious, frustrated and stressed with what is happening in our community. Dr. Paik states, “I am 8 months pregnant and I have a 13-month-old baby” and added how her family once went on a walk every   weekend, but lately they have been playing it safe by staying home because of the stories they hear from friends. They don’t want anything to trigger their mental health, and have chosen to avoid the possibility of hateful encounters as much as possible.

De Los Reyes shared that she moved from the Philippines to the United States when she was 12. She shared an excerpt from a presentation she previously gave that she said was a call to action. She said,  “We can’t expect things to change if we can’t change ourselves.”

Danny Chung, a student, said there needs to be a cultural understanding and a dialogue to help lead the change. Cai, a CSUSB alumnus, said that he was a target of racism but believes that violence wasn’t used because of his build. He also asked the “what if” question: What if he was a senior citizen or a woman who couldn’t defend themselves?

Dr. Kouanchao shared her experience of living in encampments as a child before moving with her family to Minneapolis. But growing up there wasn’t easy. She and her siblings have experienced racial slurs due to how they look. An adult woman told them to go back to their country even though they were just children at the time. She believes it’s “the lack of education, the lack of empathy,” and even “not being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes.” She says that if there is something you can take from the event, it is to “educate yourself” and to “educate students and teach empathy.”

Lastly, Dr. Kouanchao   agreed with Dr. Chacko’s request for more data disaggregation broaden people’s understanding of the Asian and Asian American community.

“Essential Conversations: Anti-Asian Racism” event ended with Dr. Van Wart, a professor and the director of faculty development for the JHBC, summarizing what was shared. Dr. Van Wart said that “knowing is the first step and willing to take action. Be willing to march and stand up!”

He concluded the event with the quote “First they came …” by Martin Niemöller. That quote ends, “Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”