The COVID-19 virus originated in China, making its appearance just a few months ago.
Now many avoid labeling it the “Chinese virus” including President Donald Trump who had been, relenting after pushback from many, including Asian Americans who feared more animosity directed at them, as across the country continuing stories emerge of outward racism related to the pandemic.
Databases are being compiled  of reported incidents and among those keeping an eye on the situation in Metro Detroit are attorney Roland Hwang, also a teacher of Asian American history at the University of Michigan, and Richard Mui with Asian Pacific Islander American Vote Michigan.
A few weeks ago One Detroit’s Christy McDonald talked with Hwang and Mui about the racist attacks.
Now comes a controversial Washington Post opinion column written by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang suggesting in these times Asian Americans need to show their American-ness to thwart racism.
See more in their latest One Detroit interview.

Read full transcript:

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Well, the people that have their pulpits, you know, have changed a little bit in terms of not using the term, China Virus. I think people on the street are still referring to it as sort of casually and so the damage has been done.

Christy McDonald There is a growing concern over discrimination and attacks against Asian-Americans during the Covid-19 crisis. With me now, Richard Mui. He’s the board chair of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Michigan Group. It’s good to see you again, Richard.

Richard Mui, President, APIA Vote MI Good to see you, Christy. Thank you.

Christy McDonald And also Roland Hwang. He’s an attorney and he’s also a professor of Asian-American history at the University of Michigan. Welcome back. Roland, it’s good to see you, too.

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Good to be back.

Christy McDonald You know, we had this conversation about three weeks ago. A lot has changed in the country since then. And I want to get perspective from both of you about what you have seen difference. There’s been more incidents reported in that you’ve heard of and how you think the conversation has changed. Richard, let me start with you.

Richard Mui, President, APIA Vote MI Well, I think I mean, it seems to change pretty rapidly. So I think from President Trump, last time we spoke, he still defended his statements, but he’d walk those back now and stop calling the Chinese Virus. But I think, unfortunately, it seems like the genie is out of the bottle. Maybe not so many incidents around here. Not that I’ve heard of, at least in southeast Michigan, but around the country, certainly, so that people are still making the association even in his administration. There is a New York Times article a week or so ago detailing like some people’s demonstration, like they were pushing to called the Wuhan Virus in the G-7 meetings. And so unfortunately, about that strength still seems to be there.

Christy McDonald Roland, what have you seen in the last? In the last couple of weeks, changed or not changed?

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Well, the community, the Asian American community is getting organized. There are several organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA, which is a national Asian-American advocacy organization, AP3CON, AALDEF–Asian American Legal Defense Fund. They’re all collaborating on creating a database and reporting numbers and anecdotal information about now, fifteen hundred cases that have occurred just in the last five weeks.

Christy McDonald And you were talking about really getting an accurate count of of incidents. You both were part of a town hall recently in Michigan and being able to try to get the word out. Richard, talk to me a little bit about that and just trying to get people to understand that this is something that, yes, they should be reporting.

Richard Mui, President, APIA Vote MI Yes. So the town hall was on. There was, I think, probably more of a press conference or Attorney General Nessel. Senator Chang and Representative Kuppa spoke as well as Roland and myself. Just there’s media outlets from around the state there just to get the word out and to think about the number that they can call and that the state is collecting data on that and that certainly anybody has been exposed to the discrimination or the hate they should call and report that. So just trying to make sure that everyone understands that’s an important part of multiplayer.

Christy McDonald And Roland and I was reading something where someone was quoted saying that people don’t want to rock the boat, though, or they say, well, if it’s something and someone yelled at me, you know, I’m just going to I’m just going to let it go. How important is it to be able to document that even the comments that are made?

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Well, I think it’s important to document both the hate incidents because we know that they occur. And also, if you can’t document things that can be elevated to a hate crime. If you can identify the perpetrators and then furnish the information, time, date, location, that sort of thing, it’s important because the department’s civil rights also tallies incidents as well as acts on investigations and prosecutions. And so it’s important to do both to get an accurate count and also to try to identify those perpetrators and take action.

Christy McDonald It also is something that if there’s simmering sentiment, that it doesn’t go away within a couple of weeks or even if someone changes what they call something. Talk to me a little bit, Roland, about what you have seen change in the way people talk about this discrimination against Asian-Americans and how it’s changing a little bit.

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Well, the people that have their pulpits, you know, have changed a little bit in terms of not using not using the term China Virus, but the damage has been done. And I think people on the street are still referring to it sort of casually. And so the damage has been done. A lot of reports have come into us about it happening at places like Boys and Girls Club in Cleveland, in the park in Sunnyvale, California, Moreno Valley, Brandywine Park in Wilmington, Delaware. Just people just of saying things about Corona virus and anti-Asian epithets. It’s disheartening.

Christy McDonald You know, I was pointed to an Op-Ed that Andrew Yang wrote in The Washington Post, and he was a presidential candidate and he talked about that Asian-Americans need to stand up and show their Americanness. And I’m gonna read you a quote of what he said, and I want to get both of your perspective on this. He said, We Asian-Americans need to embrace and show our Americanness in a way that we never have before. And, quote, demonstrate we are part of the solution. I want to get your perspective, both of you, on that. Does that put the onus back on an Asian-American person that they should be doing more to prove that they are all in this with everyone else? What is your reaction to that? Let me start with you, Richard.

Richard Mui, President, APIA Vote MI I took a moment to reread the editorial again this morning. I think unfortunately, what he misses and I think he had the right intention, this idea of Americanness is somehow limited to just our clothing. I know that’s the part of the editorial that got all the attention, but he mentioned he does mention other things, including volunteering and voting and things like that. But that was all consumed by the emphasis on clothing. But I think, you know, I would say I don’t think that’s ever saved any group ever. So in trying to prove that you are more American, that really falls to the wayside, I think, in times of trouble. And you just have to look back in history and Japanese-Americans and volunteering to fight for this nation, that didn’t really prevent the rest, their families from being put into internment camps. So, I mean, I think if you could expand and we should expand that idea of Americanness to mean, you know, filling out your census voting and organizing, really participating in the democracy that way, that is. I mean, that is how you can help yourself. You know, help your group and then help America, frankly. And I think those things are all good and we should focus on doing those as opposed to just, you know, wrapping ourselves in the flag.

Christy McDonald Roland, what did you think of that? What was your response?

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Well, it’s important to recognize organizations in the Asian-American community that are doing good things, delivering masks, the Association of Chinese Americans, the Council of Asian Pacific Americans. Am I India are all delivering masks to local hospitals, to the Detroit Police Department, Northville Police Department, that sort of thing and that’s just pure good work. But the other the flip side of it is we don’t have to prove our American identity. I mean, we are Asian-Americans, but we are Americans. And so there shouldn’t be the requirement that we prove our Americanness. I mean, we are part of the fabric of this country. And so it’s the issue of being a perpetual foreigner in the eyes of some people. That is a problem. But we are all Americans. So, I think all of the good work is part of the process for trying to identify ourselves as being part of the solution. And people should know that.

Christy McDonald Is there anything to any kind of federal guidelines to the civil rights department, anything that should be done on a national level in this kind of situation?

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General

I think it’s important for people to recognize that when they hurl racial epithets, that that is a hate incident. There is a little bit of education. I think that has to occur. That is when people hurl the N-word that is taken as a racial epithet. And that to be said, the same thing is true for all the words that are being hurled that are being hurled against Asian-Americans right now because of the Coronavirus. It’s it’s hateful words with an intent to intimidate a, you know, ethnic community in the United States. The intent is there. And so it should be considered a hate incident.

Richard Mui, President, APIA Vote MI And I think this is the opportunity to build coalitions as well. So certainly, this not the persons instance of crimes or hurtful words and things. And so, Roland, if they actually were part of a community statement drafted along with maybe the Mexican Consulate of Detroit, APIA-Vote Michigan, and the ACA—a lot of local statement, but stand standing up against this hate. And so it’s you know, even though it’s directed this time of, you know, Asian-Americans, next time, it could be another group. And I think it’s important on the on the level, as well as the national level for the groups to get together and stand against that.

Christy McDonald I was just going to say, is this something that we’re you’re seeing now, you’re talking about in the last three weeks the coordination and the amount of local coordination and group coordination across the state and being able to come together. Do you anticipate, I mean, even more or having even more conversations in the next couple of months or several?

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General And I think that’s happening. Andrew Yang joined up with Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League to have a joint statement against anti-Asian sentiment as well as anti-Semitic sentiment. I think that there’s some commonalities in terms of the mindset of the people that are perpetrators of hate speech and hate incidents. And so we see some of those connections just growing among different civil rights organizations.

Christy McDonald Richard, what would you say? What would your message be to people in Michigan, Asian-Americans, who are living here in Michigan and people who are not Asian-American? What would you say for them to take into consideration, into account right now?

Richard Mui, President, APIA Vote MI Well, I would say, again, the enemy is it’s the coronavirus. It’s that Covid-19. It’s not Asian Americans, not Chinese Americans. And we’re all in this together. And I think if we all do our part that we can help fight the virus. And I think it’s with the understanding that if you do see those kind of incidents that’s uh… don’t be a bystander. And so there’s certainly different ways to intervene. You know, there’s been some good online trainings in terms of how not to be a bystander to different things that you can do. And I think it’s important for people to call it. No matter who you are, that you identify that and call it out when you see it.

Christy McDonald Roland, what was your parting thought?

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General I think it’s important to take a stand and speak out when you see something or say something. And some of the most important tools that you have are your cell phone with the camera. Certainly, you know, buildings, video cameras are helping document those occurrences that occur on the street. And so we just have to be vigilant and try to identify the problem and act on it.

Christy McDonald All right. And we’re going to keep checking in with you, Roland Hwang and Richard Mui. Thanks so much for being with me. It’s good to see you.

Roland Hwang, Attorney, Michigan Dept. of Attorney General Thanks Christy.