Moving into a new home should be a joyous occasion and it was for Thomas and Nadine Duchaine of St. Clair Shores, until they saw the egg rolls.
“I thought it was odd,” said Thomas, recalling the experience.
The young family with two children and a third on the way were very excited about their new home. It was located in a nice neighborhood with good schools and all of the amenities they were looking for, including a large lot with room enough for a playset, patio and even a garden.
But their day ended in disappointment.
“The movers were at the house dropping off the last of our stuff when I noticed a couple of half-eaten egg rolls sitting on the window sill,” Thomas continued.
“We figured it was the movers,” Nadine said.
They must have been eating their lunch and forgot that they had left the egg rolls on the window sill. But it wasn’t the movers. After questioning another neighbor who was African American and had a similar incident happen — only it was chicken bones left on his patio – they realized it was not an accident.
“It was some jerk being a racist,” said Thomas, who was born in South Korea but grew up in Escanaba after being adopted as an infant.
“Once I realized what it was I got really upset,” said Nadine. “My husband is Asian and my children are Asian.”
“I was angry but what could I do?” Thomas said. “We didn’t call the police because we didn’t know who it was but we knew it was intentional. The house had been vacant for some time and someone had to jump the fence in order to get into the yard.”
That was six years ago.
Since then Thomas and Nadine’s family — including Noah, 10, Jonah, 8, Marcella, 6, and Thomas, who will soon be 2 — have enjoyed their home, they are now looking to move due to further incidents with someone in their neighborhood who recently filed a complaint with the city saying they have not been following proper codes for where they put their trash cans.
In response to the family’s frustration, St. Clair Shores City Manager Matthew Coppler said it is unfortunate when neighbors can’t get along and have to use the city to take action. However, the city has to investigate complaints and take action when there is a clear violation of the code. In this case, he found the family was in violation of the code but have since complied.
“We just feel like we’re being targeted,” Nadine said.
Rise in hate crimes
Nadine and Thomas are not alone.
National coalitions and other groups throughout the United States and Michigan dedicated to stopping hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islanders say there has been a significant rise in incidents since the start of the pandemic, due in part to public officials referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” “Kung Flu” or “Wu Flu.”
Shenlin Chen of Novi and President of the Association of Chinese Americans, who was verbally attacked several years ago by a man shouting racial slurs at him on a street in Detroit, knows of several local incidents in Michigan.
One of his friends, a woman of Taiwanese descent in her 50s, was approached and told to “Go back to China,” while she was pumping gas at a Costco in East Lansing.
An Oakland County man who was going about the business of taking out his trash heard the same thing from his neighbor, and he is Vietnamese.
A young Chinese couple said they were denied service when they tried to order takeout at a restaurant while on a road trip in northern Michigan. They were told no carryout was available while someone had picked up food and walked out right before them.
Chen also heard about a Chinese senior in Washtenaw County who had someone spit on his cart when he was shopping for food.
At the start of the pandemic when no one was wearing masks, an Asian woman wearing one while shopping in a grocery store was taunted and called “stupid” by a customer walking past her. In another similar case, an Asian woman was attacked by a customer who tried to remove the mask that she was wearing at a grocery store in Ann Arbor.
During an online class, a Korean dance instructor from Detroit was accused of starting the pandemic.
“As public officials and leaders of our community we have a responsibility to speak out against racist acts of crime against all people of color. We must lead by example and denounce the rising hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Asian Americans have contributed immensely to the growth of our country,” said Mai Xiong, a wife, mother and Macomb County commissioner representing Center Line and parts of Warren.
Since the start of the pandemic, 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action and San Francisco State University Asian American Studies to address the anti-Asian discrimination happening during the coronavirus.
Of the cases reported to Stop AAPI Hate, nearly 35% of the incidents happened at a place of business. Other locations included:
• Public street or sidewalk, 25.3%
• Online, 10.8%
• Public park, 9.8%
• Public transportation, 9.2%
• Private residence, 9.2%
• K-12 school, 4.5%
• Other, 3.5%
• University, 2.5%
• Place of worship, .9%.
Despite the numbers, advocates against hate fear the numbers are far higher than what is being reported directly to Stop AAPI Hate and other groups like the Anti-Defamation League.
The Asian people
“As an Asian American, I know that my fellow brothers and sisters will not report these type of incidences for fear of retribution and knowing that nothing will be done,” said Xiong, who is hoping to change that as the first Asian American of Hmong descent elected to the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and a member of Rising Voices of Asian American Families.
“My parents were from Laos,” Xiong said. “They were farmers living in the mountains along the pathway of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”
During the Vietnam War the trail served as a military supply route running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. It was a vital location during the war as everything from weapons and ammunition to manpower and other supplies from communist-led North Vietnam and their supporters traveled along the route. Knowing this, the U.S. convinced members of the Hmong community living along the trail, including her father, to block the trail and aid American pilots in exchange for protection against any government retaliation.
However, when America’s military pulled out of Laos most of the Hmong were left to fend for themselves. Many were killed as traitors but Xiong’s parents and several siblings managed to escape across a raging river into Thailand, where they were placed in a refugee camp. It was there, in the cramped camp where her parents longed for their life as farmers and nomads moving through the mountains freely, that Xiong was born and raised until the family immigrated to the U.S.
“They moved to Ohio with seven children. Then my mom had two more children,” Xiong said of her nine brothers and sisters, who eventually became American citizens along with her parents and grandparents before them.
By the time she graduated from high school, both parents knew that the key to succeeding in America was an education and supported her decision to move to Michigan and live with her older sister while attending the College for Creative Studies.
“I thrived in college,” said Xiong, who always had a passion for art.
After several years working for others in the advertising industry, she started Mai & Co., a small business that carries fashionable clothes for women and children featuring original designs by Xiong inspired by her American life and Hmong ancestors.
“When Prince William and Kate got married one of their guests was wearing a Hmong dress,” Xiong said, pointing to a purple, red, yellow and pink dress with intertwined white circles hanging in her shop. Today she is a successful Asian American entrepreneur and community leader who hopes to bring about change.
“There are 48 countries in Asia and we all have our own ethnicity, struggles and stories,” Xiong said.
“On April 7, I will be introducing a resolution to the Board of Commissioners condemning Asian American racism and hate crimes and to encourage county residents to stand up against it,” she added. “We have to deal with it. We have to speak up against it. We cannot be silent anymore.”
Working against hatred
Among the groups that support Asian Americans throughout southeast Michigan is the Council of Asian Pacific Americans (CAPA), which strongly denounces any and all hate crimes and the attacks on Asian Americans.
“I personally feel sad that this is happening in our great country. I am also proud of how we have banded together as a community to stand up against this. We have to stand strong and loud against all forms of hatred,” said Pina Vyas, president of CAPA. “We also recognize that symbolic or one-time actions are crisis control, not solutions. CAPA is partnering with several AAPI organizations to form working groups to help develop a shared vision and understanding of what anti-racism looks like and to ultimately guide long term change through education and necessary tools.”
Carolyn Normandin concurred.
“Hate crimes toward Asians have been happening for over 100 years,” said the regional director of the Michigan ADL in West Bloomfield. “People of Asian descent are not trying to call themselves out. They’re just trying to live their life.”
One example involved an elderly woman in New York City.
Normandin said she was disgusted when she turned on the television Monday and saw the report about a 65-year-old Asian woman who was walking in midtown Manhattan when a man came up to her and kicked her in the stomach, knocking her to the ground. The police said the man then stomped on the woman’s face several times while hurling anti-Asian sentiments at her.
Just as disturbing is the fact surveillance video released by police shows the man casually walking away after the incident and witnesses who seemingly stood by as it happened.
“When I saw that it made me sick to my stomach,” Normandin said. “It’s disgusting but it’s not surprising. We’ve seen this in the past and we’re seeing it again. At the ADL we believe that people should stand up against hate.”
In February, Michigan’s ADL sent a letter to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners raising their concerns about the anti-Asian rhetoric contained in a resolution that referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan Virus of 2019,” calling it deeply offensive, stigmatizing and harmful.
The ADL also intervened on behalf of the elderly man in Oakland County who was verbally attacked by his neighbor while taking out the trash and got the case resolved by contacting the homeowner’s association where the man lives.
In a year when technology companies have been attempting to combat racism on their platforms, the ADL conducted a survey and found that Asian Americans experienced the largest single rise in severe online hate and harassment year-over-year in comparison to other groups, with a 17% having experienced severe abuse this year as compared to 11% last year. In response to the results, ADL is working to create a plan to address the matter more seriously.
Still, not a lot can be done unless people start reporting the incidents to the ADL or other groups that collect the data on cases.
“When someone reports a hate crime it becomes a data point and data drives decision making for law enforcement and legislators,” Normandin said.
“I encourage my fellow brothers and sisters to report these incidents, hate crimes and acts of discrimination,” said Xiong, who had a woman come into her store to pick up a package that she purchased from a third party online ask her if she had been to China recently and whether she needed to worry about getting the coronavirus from the package.
The anger and frustration she felt, hearing the woman assume that she was Chinese and responsible in some way for the virus, reminded her of an incident in kindergarten when a little boy kicking wood chips in her direction told her to, “Go back to China.”
Anyone who has been affected by a hate crime can contact the Michigan Attorney General Hate Crimes Unit at 313-456-0200.
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