MILWAUKEE — Friday, March 26 was proclaimed a day of action and healing in cities and states around the country. It’s part of a national movement called “Stop Asian Hate.”
The “Stop Asian Hate” hashtag is being shared across social media.
Here in Wisconsin, the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition organized a statewide vigil Friday night to honor the eight people - including six Asian women - targeted and fatally shot in Atlanta, Georgia earlier this week.
The vigil also meant to shed light on the nearly 3,800 Anti-Asian incidents that have been reported to the “Stop AAPI Hate” website just in the past year.
Ron Kuramoto is among the Wisconsinites leading the call for change. He’s the president of Wisconsin’s Japanese American Citizens League.
Kuramoto moved to Milwaukee from Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago. He’ll never forget his first conversation with a neighbor here.
“It was a very pleasant conversation, and then they told me I spoke English very well,” said Kuramoto. “I said thanks and told them they did too. These kinds of things are not always intentional and can be part of being human and learning.”
Kuramoto works to try and stop some of the implicit bias. He knows how dangerous those prejudices can be. Kuramoto’s parents and extended family were among the Japanese Americans incarcerated in the U.S. during World War II.
“I remember at family gatherings, some of my aunts and uncles would allude to camp, and as a kid I thought how cool it was that everyone went to camp,” said Kuramoto. “But that kind of camp is not what they were talking about. There was a lot of shame involved with that.”
Ron is worried about the uptick of hate crimes and racism. In the past year, all 50 states have reported cases of verbal harassment and physical assault targeted at Asian Americans. Asian women reported more than twice as many cases as men.
Alexa Alfaro is also helping lead the effort. She is the co-founder of Meat on the Street, bringing Filipino cuisine to Milwaukee.
Growing up in the city, she never understood why she was always asked the same question.
“New people would always ask me what I am, or where I’m from,” said Alfaro. “As a kid, I was so confused. But as I got older, I started realizing they were asking my ethnicity, which doesn’t mean I’m not American. I’m half Caucasian and half Filipino. My dad was an immigrant from the Philippines and had a very different life than the one he helped create for us. I was born in the U.S. Our story is an American dream.”
Alfaro is active with the local chapter of the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition, which has called on leaders and community members to stand up against racism.
Cindy Cheng, the director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin, says it all comes down to deeply ingrained stereotypes.
“The full humanity of a person gets reduced to this one quality,” said Cheng. “Asian-Americans are usually just seen as foreigners, no matter how long they’ve been in the U.S., how long they’ve worked here, or how many generations were here before them.”
Cheng says the stereotypes were exacerbated by scapegoating due to COVID-19.
“There was so much talk of it as the China virus,” said Cheng. “Asian-Americans were suddenly all viewed as a part of China. It unfairly assigned blame to one a group of people for this pandemic.”
While this day of action - and sharing the hashtag “#Stop Asian Hate” - are important showings of solidarity, the local Asian community says much more needs to be done.
“For the longest time, we think to just endure it, or that if we ignore it, maybe it will just go away,” said Kuramoto. “But it’s not right. It’s not something anyone should be subjected to.”
“It’s about trying to educate the public, and even your own friends and family,” said Alfaro. “It’s so important to talk about because a lot of times the Asian community feels extremely invisible and unheard, and nobody wants to feel that. We all want to feel fully represented, and that we all get to have a seat at the table and be invited to it in the first place."