During a recent outing in downtown Los Angeles with her daughters, Christianne Cruz dodged people walking toward her.
“(I was) hoping I wasn’t going to be another headline,” the mom of two told TODAY Parents. “Although I do push myself to go and take them out, the answer is no, I don’t feel safe. And yes, I do feel a little ashamed to admit that.”
Cruz said her husband, who is white, has been taking their daughters, who are biracial, outside lately.
“When I’m walking outside, even just around the block, I experience waves of anxiety,” said Cruz, the California-based co-founder of MiLOWE, an inclusive digital village for parents.
The fear is real: Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 15 percent in 2020. The number of anti-Asian hate incidents hit nearly 3,800 over roughly a year during the pandemic, according to data from the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate. Of the incidents reported, 68 percent have targeted women.
Cruz said she has not felt this sense of "high alert" before when thinking about raising her daughters, both under the age of 3.
"It seems irrational, but I’m giving myself some grace to live with my thoughts. I’m reminded that this is a fear that many people around the world experience from the day that they’re born. I’m just awakening to it now.”
For many Asian American moms, every trip to the grocery store or playground is now fraught with an extra level of tension.
A Filipino mom from San Gabriel Valley told TODAY Parents that she has been tempted to put her 4-year-old son back into the stroller when they are out so that he is always close.
“I can keep a closer eye on him,” J. Delos Santos explained. "My husband does not resemble the stereotypical Asian look and sometimes I feel he is safer without me and my kid.”
Jollene Kuo Hastings of Kansas City was out on a walk with her two young sons wearing masks when she noticed a couple looking in their direction and whispering to each other.
“As we approached a middle-aged white couple, I noticed their unmistakably disapproving looks directed at us,” Kuo Hastings told TODAY Parents. “We were coming up on passing each other when they quickly darted across the street. It was very apparent that they wanted to avoid passing us — so much so that they felt the need to get on a completely different sidewalk.”
Kuo Hastings said that she still goes out in public with her sons, but she feels nervous.
“I want to believe in the goodness of people, and that most would show kindness towards children, but with the increasing amount of crimes against Asian elders, I question all those things,” she said. “I approach the public with heightened awareness right now, but I refuse to live in fear.”
Kuo Hastings told TODAY she definitely has heightened awareness since the pandemic started.
“I am not oblivious to people calling Covid-19 the ‘China virus’ or the general xenophobic climate,” she shared. “But I remain committed to teaching them about their cultural history so they can proudly embrace who they are, understand racism, and stand up for social justice.”
In the face of hate, Asian American moms say they're raising their children to be proud of their heritage.
"I want my boys to be wholly proud of their identity," Kuo Hastings said. "I have been diligent about raising them bilingual, celebrating every relevant holiday, and exposing them to all aspects of Chinese culture."
Cruz agreed, adding that she and her husband share the “massive task” of raising girls who are sure of themselves and their importance in the world.
“What my kids don’t yet realize is that they are growing up in a society that has an extensive history of racial and gender inequality, which includes the hyper-sexualization of Asian and biracial women,” Cruz told TODAY. “And that the degradation of BIPOC women is correlated to physical violence and sexual assault.”
Added Cruz, “If equipped with knowledge, empathy and a home that communicates freely, I hope my daughters will have a head start in life in a way that I did not."