Hate and hope in a post-pandemic world for Asian Americans: A talk with advocate Linda Akutagawa

Linda Akutagawa

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world into a new reality – one filled with masks, semi-periodic lockdowns, and Zoom calls. But for Asian Americans, hate and prejudice was added to the mix by populists and nationalists slapping an Asian veneer on the coronavirus.

Linda Akutagawa, President and CEO of Los Angeles-based LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics) and a board member of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), one of the three co-founding organizations of Stop AAPI Hate, believes that having Asian leaders who understand exactly what Asians are going through in a time of increased anti-Asian hate is not only important, it’s critical.

“Somebody who looks like you has a different level of understanding than somebody who may consider themselves an ally,” Akutagawa said.

The need for that understanding is urgent.

On May 27 this year, Stop AAPI Hate, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Asian American Psychological Association released a report stating that Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the pandemic itself, showcasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and even PTSD. https://stopaapihate.org/press-statement-mental-health-report/

Amidst the trauma and hurt generated by anti-Asian hate, Akutagawa sees a couple of silver linings,

First, despite the unfortunate situation, more Asians are claiming their heritage.

“[Anti-Asian hate] has helped Asian Americans either connect or reconnect with their Asian identity. And it’s not just in the US, but globally,” Akutagawa said.

This means that there will be more people who are more vocal about Asian issues and therefore capturing the attention of corporate America, policymakers, and the media.

“Attention [has been] raised on our communities. And if anything, it has actually spurred corporate America to really think about what they are doing to support Asian American communities,” she said. 

Akutagawa added, “we’re no longer seen as just the Model Minority living the perfect life with no problems. Let’s hope this isn’t a flash in the pan for us that once the media attention has moved on and everyone forgets that this ever happened.”

The media and especially Asian American journalists can, and have been, instrumental in ensuring the attention doesn’t fade. https://abc7chicago.com/our-america-asian-voices-aapi-dion-lim-documentary/10574964/

“It’s great to see many celebrities and business leaders stepping up and voicing their support for stop AAPI hate, however, the reality is that discrimination and hate will not disappear overnight. Asian journalists play an important role in telling and sharing the Asian community’s stories. We need to build a sustainable movement of education and awareness to support a vision to eradicate racial discrimination and hate,” Akutagawa said.