Around 7 p.m., as the last bit of sunlight disappears, darkness takes over the world. A girl checks out from work and starts heading down the street that takes her home. Though it is not a long walk, only 10 minutes, the darkness that hides the unknown still makes her walk a bit faster, and her heart pumps louder than usual. As she turns at a corner, she sees a man not wearing a mask walking very quickly in the distance towards her. Every part of her body tenses up.
When they are less than 10 feet apart, the man looks up and exchanges gaze with her. She quickly looks back down. When they are about 6 feet apart, she hears the man mumbling. She steps aside for him to pass by, and when his body passes hers, she holds her breath. During those few seconds, the news and videos of the recent violence targeting Asian American women flash through her mind.
Questions, wonderings, and worries fill her head: “Did he look back at me? Is he still walking in the opposite direction? Or is he following me? Why aren’t the streetlights working? Will I become a victim of an anti-Asian hate crime? Is that the sound footsteps behind me?”
This is a common experience for Asian American women, the feelings of being followed and the danger on a dark street.
Anti-Asian racism spiked when former president Donald Trump called coronavirus the “China Virus” and the “Kungflu,” both of which push the narrative that the virus is connected to Asians. Trump’s supporters have then followed his lead through social media hate speech. Due to this misinterpretation, some Americans blame Asians for bringing the virus to the states and spreading it.
The past year has been a restless series of episodes with clear racial animus; Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have been pushed, beaten, stepped on, and attacked. These countless cases of violence have terrified the AAPI community, including international students from Asia at Pasadena City College.
PCC serves about 830 international students each semester, with students coming from 76 different countries. During the pandemic, many of the international students stayed in the U.S. to avoid traveling by plane due to the high risk. However, the continuously increasing cases of anti-Asian hate crimes made some students reconsider their safety.
Ngan Hong and Kevin Law are international students at PCC, and both of them decided to wait until the pandemic is under control to return to their homes in Asia.
Hong has been studying Business Administration at PCC for 2 and a half years, and when she was back in Vietnam, she never heard the phrase “anti-Asian hate crime.”
“It is a new term for me since I first heard it from the international peer leadership meeting,” said Hong. “And yesterday, my aunt from Vietnam sent me a video about the hate crime.”
The video was about an Asian woman being bitten by a young man in an elevator. Hong could not finish the whole video because it was so violent to her.
Law is from Taiwan, and he is majoring in Public Relations. One of Law’s academic goals is to learn many skills at PCC to bridge the communication gaps between people of different races and organizations. According to him, the perpetrators of hate crimes have shown a lack of communication, understanding, and compassion among communities.
“The attackers were probably influenced by Trump when Trump called it ‘China virus.’ Plus, Covid-19 has changed Americans’ lifestyles completely and harms the economy terribly,” said Law. “I guess there are also some psychological elements that people may no longer be able to take. They use Asian people, especially older people since they are less threatening.”
The incidents on the news may seem to be far away, but many are actually happening around LA County. As both Asians and being alone in the country without family, Hong and Law geared up to protect themselves.
“If I encounter a dangerous situation, first, I try to remind myself to bring my phone with me in case I can call someone when I need help. Secondly, if I walk alone, I should have self-defense, including pepper spray, alarm, and flash in my backpack. Finally, I will not enter someplace if it is only me and a man who is there, such as an elevator, parking lot,” said Hong.
Traveling by car provides more protection, as it is safer than walking on the street, yet Law says he still takes precautions.
“Generally, I will be extra careful when I walk on the street or drive around. I will try my best to remember the street name that I am in so that I can call 911 and tell them my location if I have the chance. I will also prepare some self-defensive tools and put them in my bag and car just in case, like a swiss knife, fire extinguisher, pepper spray, and stun gun,” Law said.
When it comes to racial awareness, diversity, and equality, PCC has always considered all the communities on campus. Organizations such as the International Student Center, often host meetings and send resourceful links to students. Moreover, the population of Asians takes up a great portion in PCC, therefore, the chance of anti-Asian hate crime is less likely.
“I think it is safe to return to campus and I do not think hate crimes will occur because I believe that students and faculties at PCC are respectful and they will fight against it,” said Hong. “I truly hope that when everything goes back to normal, people will stress out less and we will love each other again.”
“I would say that PCC provides a friendly environment for international students,” said Law. “I once encountered racism during my first semester at PCC. One of my instructors was racist and kept assuming that I was from China. She assumed that people from China were lazy and always wanted an easy way out. The worst experience I ever had honestly. I am still feeling hurt and angry when I think about it. It seems tiny and almost invincible, but it creates a huge negative impact.”
Despite the unpleasant experience, Law also commented on how the International Student Center has supported him.
“The International Student Center sends us emails weekly and provides resources for us to learn about the current situations, and the resources available to students at PCC,” added Law. “To make PCC more friendly for international students, I think PCC can provide resources to the Asian communities and regularly engage with Asian people to check in on how they feel.”
These international students have traveled far from home, believing the education in the U.S. would widen their worldview, and they expected to enjoy the American lifestyle. However, what they have experienced recently is violence, misleading information, and bias against their race.
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