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Activists Say Anti-Asian Attacks Go Unreported Due To Stereotypes, Language Barriers

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The shootings in Atlanta last week focused attention on the spike in attacks on Asian Americans. While more people are speaking out about their experiences, there's still widespread reluctance to report such hate crimes. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang of member station WBEZ reports on efforts to change that and to train bystanders to help deflect harassment.

ESTHER YOON-JI KANG, BYLINE: Last spring, Tina Tran was walking to a dance class in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood when, out of nowhere, a young white woman verbally assaulted her.

TINA TRAN: This person started yelling at me and just said, like, what the [expletive] are you looking at? Die, immigrant - and some other words.

KANG: Tran, who is Vietnamese American, says she was shocked and hurt by the confrontation, but she just kept walking. Later that day, she told a couple of friends and family what happened, but she didn't take any other action.

TRAN: I didn't think telling anyone else would have done very much. I don't know that I would have necessarily felt safer. I didn't want to risk also wasting anyone's time or not being believed.

KANG: When Miwa Shimokogawa was harassed by a muscular man at a library last fall, she too didn't think anyone would believe her.

MIWA SHIMOKOGAWA: Because it was only a verbal assault, not, like, physical assault, you know, that a lot of people have been facing.

KANG: Other Asian Americans say they didn't know that anyone was even keeping tabs on incidents like these. And that's where Russell Jeung comes in. He teaches Asian American studies at San Francisco State University and founded the Stop AAPI Hate tracker. Since last year, the website has collected stories of nearly 4,000 incidents from all over the U.S.

RUSSELL JEUNG: We know that our numbers are just a fraction of what's happening.

KANG: Jeung says he's been doing so many interviews recently that people started calling him Dr. Asian Fauci. He says there are many reasons people don't report hate incidents to authorities or to groups like his. Some have language barriers; others don't fully trust the police or the government to take action. And there's also this.

JEUNG: There is, for some people, a cultural tendency to remain quiet. Keep your head down. Let's move on. We really need to just take care of our family and survive.

KANG: Jeung understands why some people keep quiet, but he says it's important for Asian Americans to report all of these incidents.

JEUNG: It's helpful. It develops a collective voice that helps us document the problem, and it proves to people that these aren't isolated incidents, but that there's a clear pattern and trend that's hurting real people. It's killing people.

KANG: Here in Chicago, there have been some efforts to address that. A couple of advocacy groups have joined forces to hold what's called bystander intervention trainings.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CATHERINE SHIEH: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone. As you can already see in the chat, some people have already introduced themselves.

KANG: That's Catherine Shieh with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago. She's leading an interactive webinar in conjunction with a Muslim organization. The training shows bystanders what to do when someone is being harassed.

SHIEH: We actually give talking points to folks 'cause we acknowledge that when people are witnessing a form of harassment, we might freeze up.

KANG: The training offers suggestions for bystanders, things like creating a distraction when you see someone getting harassed or checking in with a victim to reduce their trauma. Shieh says the training is for people of all races.

SHIEH: Public spaces aren't necessarily segregated always to, like, white-only spaces or, like, Black-only spaces. We're all still going to grocery stores or ordering takeout, taking walks, right? Everyone needs to take this simply because we are a public member of society.

KANG: Shieh says there's one encouraging sign. In recent weeks, registration for this training has surged, as more people express interest in trying to stop hate crimes against Asian Americans.

For NPR News, I'm Esther Yoon-Ji Kang in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.