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'You have Chinese virus!': 1 in 4 Asian American youths experience racist bullying, report says

A group of high school students interviewed nearly 1,000 young Asian Americans to explore how youths are dealing with the pandemic-fueled rise in racism.
Beth Yeung, Rebecca Wu and Amanda Young are interns with the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign, which interviewed nearly 1,000 young Asian American adults across the country about their experiences with racism during the coronavirus pandemic.
Beth Yeung, Rebecca Wu and Amanda Young are interns with the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign, which interviewed nearly 1,000 young Asian American adults across the country about their experiences with racism during the coronavirus pandemic.Courtesy Beth Yeung, Rebecca Wu, Amanda Young

A 14-year-old student in Dallas was followed home by a group of high school boys who pretended to cough on him and shouted, "Ching chong! You have Chinese virus!" A 17-year-old was told over social media that their "insides are full of 'f---ing bats" and that they should kill themselves because they are a "dirty f---ing dog eater." An 18-year-old who was grocery shopping was called "chink" and told to go back where they came from.

These are some of the stories revealed in a new youth-led study showing that one-quarter of Asian American young adults have been the targets of racism over the past year. The discrimination they detail primarily takes the form of verbal harassment, shunning and cyberbullying.

The report was released Thursday by the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign, a high school internship program at Stop AAPI Hate, a national center that collects reports of coronavirus discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The study details the emotional toll of growing anti-Asian sentiment around the country. Nearly 8 of 10 respondents expressed anger over the epidemic of hate against Asians.

The findings come from nearly 1,000 interviews of Asian American young adults conducted by a team of 87 Asian American high school students this summer.

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"I think we hear this a lot, but the youth are the future," said Cassie Eng, a senior at the Urban School of San Francisco, who worked on the study. "This is a critical time for us to find our sense of self and our identity."

The campaign, which is supported by the Jeremy Lin Foundation, grew out of the San Francisco Bay Area in the spring. During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, students at Eng's school learned about the work Stop AAPI Hate had been doing and wanted to get more involved, so they reached out to the group to find out what they could do.

Through their research, the students found that in addition to the racism they experienced themselves, Asian American youths have also been affected by the growing racism around the country, fueled by President Donald Trump's racist rhetoric, such as calling the coronavirus the "China virus" and "kung flu." Nearly half of those interviewed expressed sadness or depression about the situation, and one-quarter said they were scared for themselves and their families.

"Fear is really damaging to a person's self-esteem and sense of identity," said Rebecca Wu, a junior at Alhambra High School. "The rise in anxiety about you and your family in public can lead to many other concerning mental health issues. It also prevents you from speaking out."

In addition to the youth-led study, Stop AAPI Hate analyzed 341 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian American youths nationally that it received through its reporting tool since March. One pattern that emerged is the complicity of adults, who were present in nearly half of the cases and almost never intervened.

Even before the pandemic began, Asian American students reported high rates of bullying. In California public high schools, for instance, AAPI students are the racial group most likely to be bullied, according to data from the California Healthy Kids Survey.

"Asian Americans are targeted for their racial differences and linguistic or immigration status differences," said Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, who oversaw the youth project. "Part of this is because teachers don't always recognize when Asian Americans are being bullied and stigmatized. They may not acknowledge that certain gestures, like pulling your eyes slanted, can be offensive."

The student researchers shared policy recommendations they developed alongside experts to curb anti-Asian racism in schools. They include anti-bullying training for teachers and administrators, creating anonymous reporting sites on social media, forming affinity groups and coalitions to empower Asian students on campus and developing restorative justice practices to foster communication and empathy between victims and perpetrators.

The centerpiece of the interns' policy platform is the addition of an ethnic studies course in secondary school curricula so young people can learn about U.S. history through the lens of communities of color. In doing so, the report says, all students can develop a deeper understanding of the roots and ramifications of racist policies and attitudes.

Amanda Young, a senior at Campolindo High School in the Bay Area city of Moraga, said the Asian American history covered by California's public schools is rudimentary, even though the state has the largest Asian population in the country.

"For the most part, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese internment camps were the extent of our lessons," she said.

Several student researchers said they were surprised to discover just how normalized anti-Asian stereotypes have become. Beth Yeung, a sophomore at Aragon High School in the Bay Area city of San Mateo, said interviewing friends and family for the project was an emotional experience.

"This is not something that my family has talked about a lot," she said, adding that she's been brushing off microaggressions since she was young.

Working on the report "made me think about times when these incidents have happened to others and why I personally didn't stand up to help," she said. "It was a big moment of self-reflection on why we aren't educated to do more."