On Wednesday, the record bonding bill dominated the news coming out of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Shortly after its passage, however, the five members of the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus (MAP) read out a resolution condemning a wave of anti-Asian sentiment related to COVID-19.
The resolution, co-authored by all five members of the caucus, takes aim at the use of anti-Asian terminology to describe the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the House hasn’t come up with an official statement of solidarity with the Asian community here in Minnesota,” Representative Samantha Vang (DFL–Brooklyn Center) said in an interview with Sahan Journal.
The resolution will “show the Asian community that we’re with them,” added Vang, who is the chair of the MAP Caucus. “That we still remember, and know, and we’re with them.”
Federal data about the number of hate crimes that have occured since the beginning of the pandemic will not appear until late next year. However, anecdotal evidence from across the country points to a sharp increase in hate crimes and incidents of bias targeting Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic.
Representative Kaohly Vang Her (DFL–St. Paul) is the vice chair of the MAP Caucus. “When you’re a legislator of a certain cultural descent, regardless of whether someone lives in your district or in your state or even this country, they’re calling you because they think you can help them,” Her said.
Her said she has heard directly from multiple community groups and from individuals who have experienced bias and even violence. In preparing the resolution, Her *cited the experience of an elderly woman who was kicked in the face while sitting at a St. Paul light rail stop in March.
Vang and Her also described accounts passed along by friends and family. Her recounted a March incident when an Asian American woman found a note, filled with profanity and racial slurs, demanding that she and her husband “take the Chinese virus back to China.”
“I hear a lot of stories that you think twice about entering a grocery store,” Vang said. “I’ve heard many stories of elders walking around the park and getting attacked.”
Her recounted smaller incidents, such as people being confronted in restaurants and asked if they are Chinese.
Academic research suggests these are not isolated incidents. According to a report published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, “COVID-19 has enabled the spread of racism and created national insecurity, fear of foreigners, and general xenophobia, which may be associated with the increase in anti-Asian hate crime during the pandemic.”
The resolution “condemns all manifestations of expressions of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, anti-Asian sentiment, and ethnic or religious intolerance.”
“We’re reading it to make a statement around an issue,” Her said. “There’s no vote taken on that and no action taken afterwards.”
But that doesn’t mean the resolution isn’t important. The experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can frequently seem invisible, Her said. She has observed that many of her peers in the legislature don’t recognize biases that seem too big (that is, structural racism) or too small (microaggressions).
“My GOP colleagues don’t even believe the fact that the words our president is saying are harmful to a whole entire community,” she said.
President Donald J. Trump’s name does not appear in the resolution, but he hangs over it. The resolution specifies three examples of language that inaccurately link the virus to Asian people: “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and “Kung flu.” Trump and members of his administration have used all three terms.
Trump has repeatedly referred to SARS-CoV-2 as “the Chinese virus.” A widely shared image showed his handwritten edit changing “coronavirus” to “Chinese virus” in his notes for a March press conference.
Representatives of the Minnesota Republican party did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Trump says “Chinese virus”; bias incidents follow
Vang said that in the early days of the pandemic, she and her colleagues saw an increase in incidences of bias. But the bias turned more violent as time went on. “The turning point of that stigmatization was when Trump started using words like ‘Chinese virus,’” she said.
As an immediate response, the MAP Caucus worked with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to set up a hotline for Asian Americans to report hate crimes.
A representative of the Department of Human Rights said by email, “The phone number for the helpline is 1-833-454-0148 and anyone who is the victim of a crime, including a hate crime, or fears for their safety, should call 911—not the helpline.”
Since the spring, violent incidents have waned. When people are frightened or confused, “It’s easier to blame folks,” Vang said. “Now we’re understanding more about COVID-19 and there’s less of that blame and fear, and people are living with it.”
She added that many in the Asian American community don’t report hate crimes to law enforcement. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that nearly half of all hate crimes committed against Asian Americans go unreported. “Just because it’s not overt and being reported doesn’t mean that it’s not happening,” Vang said.
The members of the MAP Caucus also worry about a resurgence of violence. “There’s still that rhetoric being used, especially by our president,” Vang said.
For instance, in September, a woman walking alone in the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington was attacked by a man wielding a large branch. She later told Bloomington police that, as he attacked her, he was “yelling about COVID.”
*Correction: This story has been changed to reflect the connection between the MAP Caucus and the woman who was assaulted.