Asian students express concern about studying in the US amid spike in anti-Asian hate crimes

Clara Ki Lu
  • Incidents against Asians have increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • One student reported that an American classmate said she wished to kick out all Chinese students, claiming they were responsible for the coronavirus
Clara Ki Lu |

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Frank Irigon, from the Organisation of Chinese Americans (OCA), speaks during the “We Are Not Silent” rally against anti-Asian hate in March 2021. Reported hate crimes in the US, in particular targeting African Americans and Asian Americans, surged in 2020, according to statistics released on August 30, 2021 by the FBI. Photo: AFP

Many Asian students studying in the US have returned to the country gingerly and cautiously amid a spike in hate crimes related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

New FBI data released on Monday showed that 7,759 overall hate crimes were reported in the country last year, a 12-year high. Offences targetting Asians rose from 158 in 2019 to 274 last year, and from 1,930 to 2,755 for Black people.

Twenty two murders and 19 rapes were reported as hate crimes, while thousands others were classified as intimidation and assault.

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An 18-year-old Hongkonger, who attended boarding school in the US and will head to university there, said that when the coronavirus outbreak started last year, one of her American classmates said she wished she could “kick out all the Chinese students”.

“The classmate said she wanted to do it they were the ones bringing the coronavirus over, completely ignoring the fact that I was Chinese,” she said.

One day, when she was eating Chinese food in her dormitory, another American student came up to her to call her food “disgusting” and made a gagging noise.

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In spite of these incidents, she said she’s grateful for the support she receives from her school.

“I am glad that my school is doing its best to make sure all students feel included and safe,” she said.

A student from mainland China, who attended boarding school in the US and will be starting a new chapter at the University of Chicago this month, also recounted some not-so-pleasant experiences.

Members and supporters of the Asian American community attend a “rally against hate” in New York City in March 2021. Photo: AFP/Getty Images/TNS

Earlier this year, when he and his schoolmates were looking through dorm photos to be published in the yearbook, one student asked him to draw mustaches of Fu Manchu, a fictional villain often associated with racism, on all their schoolmates’ faces, including those from mainland China.

That student later apologised.

Recalling another incident, the student said that once, an American schoolmate approached him, then suddenly took a step back and said “coronavirus, coronavirus”.

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The Chinese student was surprised because that schoolmate studied in the mainland for a year and was studying Chinese at school.

The student from China, now on holiday in Shanghai, expressed concern about returning to the US.

“As a new college student, I am a bit worried, but as a man, I feel a bit more privileged compared to [what women experience],” he said, saying that he felt he could defend himself if anything happened.

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Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit organisation tracking discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US, has reported more than 9,000 incidents from March last year to June this year.

Around two thirds qualified as verbal harassment, while 13.7 per cent were physical assault and 8.3 per cent were online harassment.

“Preventing and responding to hate crimes and hate incidents is one of the Justice Department’s highest priorities,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The FBI Hate Crime Statistics for 2020 demonstrates the urgent need for a comprehensive response.”

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