By Richie Burke Contributor Published Apr 09, 2021 at 5:01 PM

There has always been a problem with racism and othering toward the Asian-American community here in the United States, but there has been a massive uptick in the number of incidents involving hate crimes and attacks since the start of COVID. In fact, hate crimes towards our AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) community are up 150 percent in the 16 largest U.S. cities since the start of the pandemic, not including many that go unreported. How did we get to this point? Why are people pointing the finger for COVID at the AAPI community? What can we do to help?


On our latest episode of The GoGedders, we sought the insight of some of our AAPI community leaders here in Milwaukee to hear what they had to say about the horrible mass shooting in Atlanta – where a gunman shot and killed eight people, six of which Asian women, in three separate massage spas – and their experiences being a part of the AAPI community here in our city as well as the U.S. as a whole.

Contributing to our conversation was Erik Kennedy, Alexa Alfaro and Shary Tran. Eric is a returning GoGedder who is the Senior Community Relations Coordinator at Advocate Aurora Health. Alexa is the co-founder of Meat on the Street, as well as a member of this year's Milwaukee Business Journal 40 Under 40 class. Shary is the Executive Program Manager - Diversity and Inclusion for Amazon. Erik, Alexa and Shary are all also members of the AAPI Coalition of Wisconsin and have been named some of Wisconsin’s most influential Asians. Together, we dig in and discuss why and where these attacks are stemming from, what it's like in the AAPI community during this time in history and how you can be an ally. 

On March 16, 2020, former President Donald Trump started referring to the novel coronavirus with racist names like the “kung-flu” and “China virus." Fast forward one year and we have seen a disturbing and alarming number of Asian Americans being targeted with hate crimes, including the March 16 mass shooting in Atlanta.

“Tweeting ‘the China virus’ allows you to place blame on one group of people," Alexa said on the podcast. "I cannot say I am surprised that we have an increase in AAPI hate crime a year later."

That said, violence and descrimination against the AAPI community is not a new development.

“Racism against Asians is nothing new. It hasn’t just started just since the pandemic; it’s been happening since the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), and it’s continued generations after that," Shary added. "We have a history of oppression in our communities; it just hasn’t been well documented or taught ... I think we're learning that you can’t ignore small numbers of people because, if anyone in this country is getting oppressed and victimized, it’s one too many.”

On the podcast, we also discuss the issue of AAPI women being over-sexualized and taken advantage of. In the case of the shooter involved in the Atlanta murders, the defense has argued that he struggled with a sex addiction and, for him, killing these women “removed temptation."

“The over-sexualization of Asian women has to stop," Alexa said. "When I would work as a bartender, people would say the craziest things to me, and I don’t know if it was because I was young, a woman or Asian. I have been put in high-risk situations with people I was supposed to trust, who were supposed to be role models, and they made it into something else.''

Shary and Alexa added that people need to stop asking others where they are from.

“When you ask someone where they are from, why do they need to know? How does that change the conversation for you? Because I become exotic when I say I am Filipino," Alexa noted. 

“(Asians) no longer want to be the invisible race," Erik said during our conversation. "They want to let people know that here are the issues that are at hand and how we as a community can help promote, highlight and advocate for others."

Personally, as a white guy, I learned a lot putting this podcast together and am thankful Alexa, Shary and Erik came on, opened up about their personal stories and had a candid conversation. Make sure to take a listen to the full episode and share it with your friends to help spread awareness. 

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