After a year of racism and violent attacks against the Asian American community, Asian American Olympians are opening up about how they're dealing with discrimination while representing Team USA.
Athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympic Games shared the personal toll anti-Asian hate has taken over the past year and a half with NBC News correspondent Vicky Nguyen.
Artistic gymnast Yul Moldauer, 24, born in South Korea and adopted by American parents, said a woman cut him off while driving and when they stopped at the next red light, she screamed outside her window, "Go back to China."
When people question his identity, he said, his dedication to his sport is what makes him feel American.
"I feel like me going into the gym seven hours a day is one of the most American things to do is to grind your heart out every single day to get an opportunity to wear U.S.A. on your chest," he said.
The group Stop AAPI Hate received 6,603 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents between March 2020 and March 2021, according to data released in May. About half of those reports came in March 2021 alone, the same month as the Atlanta-area spa shootings, which killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
Volleyball players and brothers Erik Shoji, 31, and Kawika Shoji, 33, said they experienced little racism growing up in Hawaii. But after a Serbian volleyball player was caught on camera in June making a racist gesture – stretching her eyelids with her fingers – during an international competition with Thailand, Erik said he was appalled.
"To see someone do that gesture on the biggest stage that volleyball has to offer at the moment was insane to me," he said.
Erik took to social media last month to share his concerns. After it was announced the player was suspended for two international games along with fining the Volleyball Federation of Serbia the equivalent of $22,000, he shared on TikTok it was a "perfect" punishment and thanked the FIVB Volleyball Nations League for taking a stance and making the "sport an even safer space."
Paralympic wheelchair tennis player Dana Mathewson, 30, who is Chinese American, said her friends have made “jokes” about her bringing Covid-19 to the United States.
“That goes to show that people don’t really understand the gravity of what they’re saying,” she said.
Despite this, Mathewson said she's not conflicted about representing the U.S. at the Olympics.
“I’m so proud of the fact that I’m Chinese. If anything, it’s just another opportunity for me to show people what we’re capable of doing,” she said.
U.S. Olympic karate athlete Sakura Kokumai, 28, filmed an encounter of a man harassing her and yelling racial slurs like "Chinese disgusting" as she was training in a public park in April in Orange County, California. Though she said she likes to keep her social media positive, she posted it to her Instagram account to share what happened “so we can protect each other.”
Kokumai wrote in the caption that she was "angry, frustrated, confused, scared" and "heartbroken" but told Nguyen it was an experience that motivated her to keep going.
"As athletes, we always tend to use whatever obstacle, make that into strength and power and just keep moving," she said.
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