IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What record-breaking Google searches showed us about AAPI issues in 2021

“I’m encouraged by these trends and by the public’s greater interest in learning about Asian Americans,” one advocate said. “Now the key for all of us is to sustain that energy.”
A demonstrator takes part in a protest against Asian hate in New York on March 21, 2021.
A demonstrator protests against Asian hate in New York on March 21.Wang Ying / Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images file

Newly released data on Google trending searches showed record-breaking searches related to Asian Americans in 2021.

As anti-Asian hate spiked amid the coronavirus pandemic, Google’s data showed that searches for the term “Asian American” increased by over 5,000 percent, what the company defines as a “breakout search.” In addition, searches for “what is a hate crime” hit record highs in March, the same month eight people — six of them Asian women — were killed at three Atlanta-area spas.

“Atlanta shooting” also became a Google Trends breakout search, helping create a dialogue about sexism and racism when discussing the victims.

Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the group Asian American and Pacific Islander Equity Alliance and co-founder of the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate, said the search volume is promising, but she wants to see it lead to new policies and change.

"How does [a search] then result in policymakers taking it seriously and saying, 'I need to protect these folks, I will need to make sure they don’t get discriminated against. I need to make sure they’re safe'?" she said.

She pointed out that online engagement like Google searches can be a first step, but after that, leaders need to step up by investing in communities and creating policies, which are concrete efforts that she said have been lacking.

“When I testified in front of Congress in March, that was the first time in 30 years that there was a single hearing dedicated to any issue involving Asian Americans,” she said.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said the searches related specifically to the Atlanta-area shootings ultimately equate to an increase in visibility. 

“It’s really unfortunate that it took something like a mass shooting that took the lives of Asian American women for this to come to light,” she said. 

She said the shootings were “trauma reminders of how we have experienced life in the U.S. being hypersexualized. So in some ways, it’s not that Asian American women weren’t visible; we’ve always been hypervisible in ways that dehumanize us. And for once, we all had this collective moment to be able to name that.”

According to Stop AAPI Hate, 62 percent of the more than 10,000 reports it received between March 2020 and September 2021 came from Asian women.

Around the same time, the phrases “stop Asian hate” and “stop AAPI hate,” popular slogans at protests and on social media, were searched more than ever and peaked after the shootings.

“You have seen corporations and other allies step up in a different way than they had previously because of everything that has happened to the Asian American community,” John C. Yang,  president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, said. “We have seen tangible change. Now, is this change sustainable?”

Google searches for AAPI Heritage Month and Filipino American History Month were also higher than in previous years. Kulkarni said these searches show the hunger people have for learning more than what they were taught in school.

“It’s directly connected to the need for ethnic studies, an accurate depiction of history, racial empathy, solidarity and having structured dialogues to resolve racial conflicts,” she said. “So I think people are realizing that what they learn in school is not the full picture.”

The increased searches can also be attributed to more companies commemorating the month.

Observed in May since 1992, AAPI Heritage Month became a breakout search in 2021. From NASA to Netflix, many companies and agencies celebrated for the first time this year. 

“I think when you’re in the national spotlight as a community, people become more curious and are willing to do more,” Choimorrow said. 

Searches for Asian-led media were also higher this year than ever. Netflix’s “Squid Game” was the most-searched TV show, and Marvel’s “Eternals” was the second-most-searched movie, with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” as the sixth-most-searched movie. “Drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo, who is Filipina American, was the top-searched song. The film “Minari” was the most-searched topic related to the Oscars and overall breakout search.

“People are recognizing that our communities are worthy of investment, worthy of being uplifted,” Kulkarni said. “I want to say they’re recognizing the movement, the thousands of people who’ve spoken up, and I think some of these searches are a reflection of that.”