Before the pandemic, Nora, 95, used to take long walks around the Houston suburb where she has spent most of her life. She felt safe in her neighborhood — enough to garden in her front yard and open the door for whoever cared to knock. But following the sharp rise in hate incidents against Asian American elders like her, things started to change. Nora no longer felt comfortable in the place she called home for decades, and neither did her loved ones.
“Our family makes sure she is never in public alone,” says Nora’s grandson, Nick, an Advocacy Manager at CAA. “To a certain extent, we also have to limit what she can do at her own home.” As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, Nora and others like her grapple with hate and fear in addition to health concerns.
This is confirmed in a new report from Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition CAA co-founded in March of 2020, that draws upon 800 hate incidents targeting Asian Americans over the age of 60. Ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault, their experiences paint a troubling picture about the toll of racism on senior citizens.
Some key findings from the report:
Asian American elders experienced higher rates of physical assault. One in four (26%) of cases involved physical assault. That amounts to twice the rate of the general population (15%).
“I was assaulted by two women in front of my apartment,” said a 70-year-old disabled woman in Columbia, California. “One woman verbally abused me by saying, ‘I hate Asians, you Asian c–t,’ and the other punched me in the face. I fell to the ground and passed out with a concussion. Now I fear for my life.”
Most incidents took place in public, including retail businesses, with 37% of cases occurring on streets and sidewalks and 27% in retail businesses.
One person submitted a report on the behalf of their parents — ages 65 and 70. According to the report, “they were pumping their gas at a gas station when a group of men started yelling at them. [My parents] couldn’t understand them but heard them say ‘China Virus’ and ‘Chinese.’ They were scared and got in the car and drove away.”
Asian American elders experienced increased fear, stress, and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 98% of respondents believe that for Asian Americans, the U.S is more dangerous now than it was before the pandemic.
Elders who reported their experiences also indicated higher levels of stress (66%) and anxiety (24%) than Asian American elders overall (24% and 19% respectively).
“I am retired from the U.S military,” said an 65-year-old man in Lawrence, Kansas, “and things have gotten so bad, I refuse to go out unless it is absolutely necessary. All of this has brought back bad memories, and now I am severely depressed.”
Our research shows that the fear and anxiety Nora feels leaving her house is a common experience shared by many Asian American elders — but it doesn’t end there. According to her grandson Nick, an Advocacy Manager at CAA, the fear of anti-Asian racism can impact entire families.
“We watch the news and we see the headlines showing rising levels of hate against Asian communities,” he adds. “It has left us in a constant state of anxiety, wondering who will be next — my parents, my grandparents?”
There is still reason for hope. In the face of hate and vitriol, AAPI communities united to protect our elders — escorting seniors home at night, providing mental health services, and building their confidence in technology. “Sustained investment in local communities is critical to building safer, more accessible places for Asian American elders,” says Cynthia Choi, a Co-Executive Director at CAA and Co-Founder at Stop AAPI Hate.
At CAA, we are following our own advice, and mobilizing resources to prevent, respond to, and address hate and harassment.
At the Coalition for Community Safety and Justice (CCSJ), we are providing support services to victims and survivors of hate in San Francisco. This includes financial assistance, language access, and healthcare.
At Stop AAPI Hate, we are leading campaigns to make our local communities safer and more accessible for all. In 2021, we secured $110 million in state grants for the community-serving organizations as part of the API Equity Budget.
One year later, we are advocating for No Place For Hate California, a first of its kind legislative agenda to end street harassment against women, girls, and communities of color. If successful, this legislation, in combination with state grantmaking and rapid response programs, could make a difference in the lives of Asian American elders like Nora — who want a safer place to run errands or visit with their loved ones.
To learn more about our current campaign to end street harassment, visit noplaceforhateca.org.
For more on our findings about Asian elders, or for recommendations for students, advocates, and lawmakers, please read the full report here.