L.A.  Pilot Program Addressing Asian American Hate Could Be California

McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

Californians who are Asian American or Pacific Islanders (AAPI) were the targets of an escalated number of hate crimes and hate incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Many AAPI people, particularly the elderly, reported being too scared to leave their homes.  Others experienced firsthand hateful incidents stemming from deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes — such as verbal or physical assaults in public. Yet, too many of them were hesitant to voice their emotions, according to Yu Wang, an associate marriage and family therapist at the Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center in Los Angeles.

“A space for healing is critically needed,” Wang said, also noting that some Asian cultures don’t put a heavy emphasis on sharing feelings and vulnerabilities. “It makes it difficult to talk about experiences related to racism. Also, many of us lack to the language to express emotions, which exacerbates feelings of isolation and fear.”  

The Asian/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Equity Alliance in collaboration with other Asian American community groups recently launched the Healing Our People through Engagement (HOPE) pilot program in Los Angeles County geared at healing racial trauma experienced by Asian American community members by providing healing spaces and reducing isolation. Based on the successes of the initiative, supporters and organizers believe the “culturally centered” program could become a model for other cities around the state.  

Ethnic Media Services hosted an hourlong Zoom press conference on the last day of May, which was AAPI Heritage Month, to allow HOPE program facilitators and allies the opportunity to provide details of the initiative to the media.  

HOPE is a healing space for five distinct Asian American communities — Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean — created to make sense of their experiences with racism and recent surges in hate crimes. The psychology of the program is radical healing, a framework that has aided Black people in dealing with years of prejudice-caused trauma. HOPE is funded by a grant from the California Department of Social Services.  

More than 11,000 stories of hate have been reported to the California-based online resource, Stop AAPI Hate, since 2020.

AAPI Managing Director of Programs Michelle Sewrathan Wong called HOPE vital and said Asian Americans endured episodes of brutality on a scale not seen in generations in the U.S. during the pandemic.  

“They were scapegoated by politicians for transmission of COVID-19, targeted for violent physical attacks, made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own communities and bullied and ridiculed by neighbors and strangers alike,” she stated.  

HOPE opened healing spaces in Los Angeles County that offer six two-hour sessions conducted in groups by facilitators, who are staff from partner community organizations. The initiative’s curriculum encourages self-reflection and dialogue, and it facilitates connections among participants.  

DePaul University Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Anne Saw said the radical healing framework promotes healing over merely coping with the traumatic impacts of racism. She said radical healing is about becoming whole despite racism.  

“We believe the radical healing framework provides a powerful set of tools/approaches to help people of color heal from racism,” Saw explained. “Healing may be lifelong because racism is ongoing, yet a program like ours reminds people of the cultural, community, family, and individual strengths they have to resist racism. We believe that healing in a group can be more powerful than an individual engaging in healing on their own because of the support they receive.”

Wang, a HOPE facilitator, recalled a gathering of four Chinese and Chinese Americans people she met.  

“The participants shared their feelings of helplessness and fear,” Wang said.  

She noted how one of the participants, a woman who grew up in a predominantly White community, was initially reluctant to talk about her feelings because she didn’t grow up in a Chinese majority neighborhood.  

“However, after seeing how others shared their stories openly, she felt encouraged and shared her own story,” Wang recalled. “I think because our community tends to internalize traumatic experiences rather than talking about them, this healing space was so powerful and allowed us to express and validate these feelings. The group let us learn how to support each other.”  

HOPE facilitator Xueyou Wang, a social services program assistant at Little Tokyo Services Center in Los Angeles, said the center’s officials were uncertain if members of the community they served would benefit from HOPE.  

“The participants talked a lot about microaggressions that would build up during the pandemic,” she said.  

Wang said the group included new Japanese Americans and multi-generational Japanese Americans, who discussed and bonded over their concerns of loss of culture and history and how to combat gentrification in Little Tokyo.  

“It was very interesting to see participants meet each other where they were and hold space for each other,” she said. “Newer Japanese immigrants fearing the loss of culture and Japanese Americans, who have been here for longer, fearing the loss of the history.”

HOPE is meant to empower people and to fight racism.  

Next year, the program will focus on outreach to older adults.

“The concept of radical healing can be empowering,” Saw stated.  

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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