As we all reflect upon the past year of the pandemic, it is clear that the time has been one fraught with many challenges including one of the darkest side effects – the virus of hate that accompanied it. Yet, it is often in the face of these darkest moments that light shines brightest – and we are called to speak up and build together for lasting social change.
Looking back, it is truly hard to grasp the number of lives lost, jobs that still have not returned, and the livelihoods altered throughout San Diego as well as across our nation. Our hearts continue to ache for all those who have been impacted either directly or indirectly by COVID-19.
The onset of the pandemic also brought upon us an increased wave of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and hate inflicted upon our Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities. Even before the virus itself had taken a foothold across the country, API communities were already sharing anecdotes that would become far too regular in the year ahead. Businesses reported decreased patronage, even as many communities were beginning to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday. Individuals retold stories of being the target of jokes and comments about “spreading the coronavirus.”
What may have started out as subtle biases certainly did not remain under the surface for long. As COVID-19 began to spread, so did reports of harassment and even physical assault. The national Stop AAPI Hate reporting tool was started in March 2020 and in just four weeks, nearly 1,500 incident reports poured in from across the country. Over 3,800 incidents have been reported to date.
As so many of us know, discrimination is not new to the pandemic nor to the API community, the LGBTQ community, and many marginalized communities. It has long been a part of the history of our country – inflicted upon anyone who might be labeled as “foreign” or “different.” Or as “other.”
The San Diego Asian Pacific Islander (API) Coalition was born in this darkness – organically and in response to the increased hatred we have all witnessed. The effort began through the outreach of the Queer Asian Pacific Islander Middle-Eastern Desi American (APIMEDA) Coalition, at San Diego Pride, to partners at Pacific Arts Movement, presenters of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, with an invite to consider a community response to the racism and xenophobia at the start of 2020.
In just a few weeks, the effort grew to include nearly a dozen organizations who worked collaboratively on a joint statement denouncing hate and calling upon San Diegans to speak out together. Over 70 API-serving organizations signed onto the final statement, ranging from student organizations at a variety of local college campuses to employee resource groups at local businesses to numerous non-profit organizations across the county. Hundreds of additional individuals and other community organizations would go on to offer their support as well.
Shortly thereafter, the core Coalition group began working with San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez to craft a resolution denouncing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. Co-sponsored by Councilmember Monica Montgomery, the resolution asked the city to take action on ten points of emphasis, and was passed unanimously 8-0.
Together, we all quickly realized that the San Diego API Coalition’s work had only just begun – and so we moved to consider how the newfound platform could continue as a way for the API community to collaborate, communicate, and advocate collectively.
Modeled closely to the San Diego LGBT Community Leadership Council, the San Diego API Coalition began to take a more formal shape last Fall by adopting membership policies and general operating procedures. Today, the Coalition operates with Pacific Arts Movement serving as its fiscal agent and includes over 25 API-serving organizations. Many more are anticipated to join in the months ahead including the Imperial Court de San Diego.
Throughout our efforts, the San Diego API Coalition has always understood that our strength was not just in bringing together the voices of our one community, but to consider how our collective efforts could be amplified by working in solidarity and allyship with all other communities who have been subjected to hate, discrimination, and racism. As a result, we have always sought to ask how our communities could combat hate in this instance, but to coordinate in response to hate and violence inflicted upon all marginalized communities.
Only by working together, as one broader San Diego community, can we truly shine our light to cast out the darkness that has arisen. We know that this fight will always be ongoing and so our work is only truly beginning – but we stand ready to ensure that the next time darkness comes, for any community, we will meet it head on.
As poet Amanda Gorman shared with the world during this year’s Presidential Inauguration, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it — if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Let us all endeavor to be that light.
— Kent Lee is the Executive Director of the Pacific Arts Movement. Alex C. Villafuerte is the Marketing & Communications Manager at San Diego Pride. Together they serve as co-chairs to the San Diego API Coalition. Learn more at sdapicoalition.org.