The Palo Alto City Council added its voice on Monday to a growing chorus of cities and public agencies denouncing xenophobia, racism and discrimination against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
Responding to a national uptick in violence against Asian residents since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — including the March 16 deadly shootings in Atlanta, where six of the eight people who died were Asian women — the council unanimously passed a resolution vowing to combat racism and affirming the city's "commitment to the safety and well-being of citizens, noncitizens and visitors with ancestry from the Asia pacific region." It did so after hearing from numerous residents and two council members, who made it clear that anti-Asian discrimination isn't just a national problem but a local one as well.
Council member Greg Tanaka, one of the authors of the memo calling for the resolution, said Monday that he was somewhat surprised by the prevalence of discrimination against the Asian community, even in a liberal city like Palo Alto. Tanaka, whose grandfather died of tuberculosis in a Japanese internment camp, said he was well aware of the history of racism in California. His father was 10 when he left the internment camp and was subject to discrimination that was so bad that he dropped out of high school.
On Sunday, Tanaka attended a rally denouncing anti-Asian hate. He said he was struck by the stories he heard from those around him. Just about everyone had a story about being discriminated against.
"In Palo Alto, we're probably one of the most liberal cities in the country, the most open-minded city," Tanaka said. "But as I was walking with my fellow protesters there, I was surprised to hear many first-hand accounts of racism, of discrimination toward Asian Americans. … The amount of racism that people have felt was quite alarming."
In most cases, these incidents go unreported, Tanaka said. When he asked the Police Department about hate incidents against the Asian community, he was told that not a single one had been reported. Many people simply ignore the discrimination until things escalate.
"If someone throws a cup of water on you, is that a crime? Should you report it or ignore it?" Tanaka said. "A lot of the times, a lot of Asians just ignore it. We don't make it a big deal."
Alan Yang, a Gunn High alumnus, said Asian Americans in Palo Alto have been "verbally harassed on the streets and in grocery stores," despite the fact that they make up about 33% of the local population. The recent shootings in Atlanta has made it "difficult for me to feel safe in a community that I've grown up in my entire life."
"Just like Black and brown communities can be discriminated against, so can Asians," Yang said.
Gunn High student Aadi Mehndiratta agreed and said southeast Asian residents often experience prejudice in all spheres, from school to their workspace. This often stems from preconceived notions about their faith, he said.
"I've heard many stories of families and local friends being harassed for their clothes or complexion, including my mom," Mehndiratta said. "So Palo Alto isn't as immune as we'd like to believe."
Council member Lydia Kou recalled on Monday the history of racism against the Asian community by citing the various laws that the U.S. had enacted in the 19th century to curb immigration from Asian nations, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Page Act of 1875.
The resolution cites the recent increase in anti-Asian harassment, including the use of anti-Asian terminology when discussing COVID-19, rhetoric that perpetuates anti-Asian stigma. According to the Stop AAPI Hate Project, there had been about 3,795 anti-Asian bias incidents in American between March 2020 and last month.
Kou, who was born in Hong Kong and who had co-signed the memo with Tanaka and Mayor Tom DuBois, called for unity and education to combat racism.
"We are not going to win this battle if we do not stop scapegoating each other and raging against each other," Kou said.