On March 30th, an AAPI healthcare worker was randomly attacked in my hometown of Los Gatos, California
America is off to a promising first half in 2021. With the COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort well underway, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Catching up with friends, family and colleagues is something we all look forward to as we emerge from the pandemic lockdowns.
Yet, despite the sense of optimism, there is a dark undercurrent running through the country. Street crime is up in many of our urban centers, mass shooting events are reigniting national debates about firearms and mental health, and a wave of random assaults on Asian-Americans are raising doubts about our collective humanity.
The last point hit home for me recently when I learned about a racially motivated assault in my hometown of Los Gatos, California. On March 30th, a 40-year old Filipina healthcare worker wearing her medical scrubs was shoved to the ground by a man riding a bicycle who told her to ‘Go Back to (expletive) China.’
While I wish this were an isolated incident, it is part of a larger trend of anti-Asian hate crimes across the Bay Area and the country (I highly recommend everyone follow local Bay Area reporter Dion Lim of KGO-TV for her brave and tireless reporting of these atrocities).
It pains me deeply to even think about the trauma this poor woman experienced as she was randomly attacked. Not only was she targeted because of her race, but she was also presumably walking home from work after her shift as a healthcare worker – an essential but stressful gig, especially during recent times. She certainly did not deserve this, and in my humble opinion, the attack was a sad reminder of how awful people can be to one another.
After learning about this incident, I was curious to see the response from Los Gatos leadership. For those of you who may not be familiar, Los Gatos is a small town of about 30,000 residents at the southern edge of the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley. More recently known as the headquarters of Netflix, it has historically had an independent character distinct from the rest of Silicon Valley. While Los Gatos has never been the most socioeconomically diverse place, it is generally a safe, civilized and neighborly enclave.
Given that Asian Americans comprise only about 15% of the town’s population, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the current mayor and the town’s Police Chief are both members of the AAPI community. Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc, herself a Filipina American, responded to the attack with passion and empathy, calling for the community to speak up if they witnessed the incident. Los Gatos Police Chief Pete Decena echoed Sayoc and pleaded with the public to promptly report any hate incident to the department.
Both Sayoc’s and Decena’s comments underscore the reality of what it will take to stop hate crimes: looking out for one another. Keeping an eye out for the elderly and vulnerable, becoming allies with your neighbors and local business workers, and developing trust and rapport with law enforcement are all critical components to a community approach to stopping criminal behavior in its tracks.
Unfortunately, the knee-jerk response to hate crimes like this is too often to double down on racial divisiveness by blaming one ethnic group or another. This approach is not only not helpful, but it also divides us even further and makes outcomes worse. Blaming societal forces removes individual agency from the perpetrator and absolves them from a crime whose responsibility is theirs alone.
Instead, we need to come together as Americans and reject the notion that the United States is an inherently racist country. While there are undoubtedly many shameful moments in our nation’s history that we should all be aware of and never repeat, we cannot let the past be the prologue if we want to move forward. Individuals who hold racist beliefs should not be demonized as representative of a larger group but should instead be called out for their own individually flawed outlook.
Tribalism is deep-rooted within us as humans. Rising above our base evolutionary instincts is not natural and takes work. For millennia we aligned with those who looked like us and shared our beliefs while we clashed with those who did not.
The United States is unique in that a shared sense of civic pride comes not from what we look like or even our spiritual beliefs or political persuasions. It comes from the notion that we are all here together to pursue our dreams and improve the lives of our families and communities. We may disagree on what a successful outcome looks like, but we should all do our best to ensure everyone has a fair shot at living a decent and dignified life.
Sharing our diverse cultural backgrounds is an integral part of uniting as Americans. Speaking from my own experience as a mixed-race individual of Mexican and German descent, I’ve found that cross-cultural understanding most often arises just simply from being around others who come from different backgrounds.
Whether in one’s neighborhood, workplace or house of worship, we have a daily opportunity to connect with others. When we make those connections, we begin to see each other not as members of a larger group but as individuals with unique characteristics and personalities.
Los Gatos and the surrounding Silicon Valley region are increasingly diverse. Drawn by the booming technology industry, ambitious and tech-savvy individuals from all corners of the globe arrive excited to contribute to advancing our economy to better serve humanity's needs. It is somewhat disheartening then to realize that some of the most successful companies in the area are responsible for developing powerful algorithms that have had the unintended consequence of tapping into and reinforcing our tribal instincts.
That is why it is more important than ever to take a breather from the digital world, especially as we begin to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us. It has been a tough year for many, and frustrations are at an all-time high. Let’s collectively acknowledge this and try to have a bit more patience with people when we encounter them out in the real world. The future of our country depends on it.