Asian Americans have had enough.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, they’ve seen friends, relatives and community members be harassed, threatened and violently assaulted.
Congress is now on track to pass legislation that would denounce discrimination against Asian Americans and expedite reviews of potential Covid-19-related hate crimes.
But some Asian Americans haven’t waited for lawmakers to act, countering hate and racism against their communities in ways big and small.
A Chicago restauranteur shows love for his elders by making them delicious meals every week. A Bay Area educator creates online zines to help Asian Americans better understand their histories. A New York food blogger uses her platform to help vulnerable Asians pay for cab rides in the city.
CNN spoke to six people around the US who are playing a part in protecting and uplifting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
Here are their stories.
A restaurant owner prepares special meals for seniors
After seeing his grandparents cooped up in their home all day eating the same food, Jackson Chiu figured other seniors in Chicago’s Chinatown were in the same situation.
So he decided to support the seniors in his neighborhood by providing them with fresh meals from his restaurant 312 Fish Market, a sushi bar he recently opened in the area.
For the past three months, Chiu has been making weekly food deliveries to two senior buildings. He plans to continue doing so for the entire year.
“I think that they deserve it,” he says. “I love my seniors a lot.”
Taking into consideration their dietary habits, Chiu curated a selection of dishes for the elderly in his community that are easy to chew and digest.
On the menu: Unagi don (charbroiled eel topped with oshinko and pickled shallots), tamago (Japanese rolled omelet) and a California roll.
Other local businesses have joined Chiu’s efforts to serve community elders, too.
88 Market Place, Chicago’s largest Chinese supermarket, has been providing fruits and vegetables, while Chiu’s childhood friends from Chiu Quon Bakery have been supplying bread.
Despite the hundreds of calls and messages he’s received from people asking how they can donate to the cause, though, Chiu isn’t accepting any money.
“If I’m going to accept donations, it’s just gonna ruin the point of me giving back to seniors,” he says. “I want to help out the seniors on my own, at my own cost and from my own pocket.”
An educator makes zines to help Asian Americans understand racism
For years, researcher and educator Bianca Mabute-Louie had been conducting workshops to help Asian Americans in the Bay Area understand their racial identities.
But around the time George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, she began widening her reach.
She noticed that Asian Americans across the country wanted to engage in the movement for racial justice, but that some had trouble understanding where they fit in. All the online literature around being an ally, meanwhile, seemed to cater mostly to White people.
Soon, she was creating and sharing graphics on the history of Black and Asian solidarity and on how Asian Americans could combat anti-Blackness in their friends and families. Those posts racked up thousands of likes, and her Instagram following grew and grew.
“I felt like it was really important for Asian Americans to see examples and get an analysis of how us engaging with a movement like Black Lives Matter is allyship and (how) we also have to get free from White supremacy,” said Mabute-Louie, who is currently pursuing a PhD in sociology at Rice University.
Recently, a string of high-profile attacks against Asian Americans prompted some in the community to respond with anti-Black sentiments because a few suspects were Black.
For Mabute-Louie, it was a reminder of just how vital it was for Asian Americans to understand the systemic forces behind incidents of racism and hate.
She reacted as she often does: By creating another educational zine.
“There’s lots of ways that these mainstream narratives like to pit us against each other,” she said. “Of course, there has been violence between our communities. But it’s really important to understand the bigger context of why and how this is happening.”
A food blogger funds rides for those who feel unsafe
Even the simple act of taking the subway to work in New York made Madeline Park fear for her life.
Every day, it seemed there was a new, disturbing headline.
Asian Americans were being harassed, beaten outside in broad daylight and killed at work. After a woman around the same age as Park had her backpack lit on fire while standing on a subway platform, it hit Park: She could be a target, too.
Park began avoiding public transit and started commuting to work by cab. In talking to her friends, she realized others were feeling just as terrified to take the train.
Then Park, a dentist who runs the popular food blog Cafe Maddy, recalled the days when she was a broke college student and couldn’t pay for regular cab rides.
“I thought about all the other people who were forced to do this because they can’t afford to take a cab,” she said. “So I said, ‘You know what, if you’re a student or you can’t afford your cab ride, just Venmo charge me.’”
And Cafe Maddy Cab was born.
Park and two of her friends launched the Instagram account in early April, offering to personally reimburse rides for Asian New Yorkers who felt unsafe riding public transportation. Within two days, she says they raised about $100,000 to help fund rides.
As of Thursday, Cafe Maddy Cab had reimbursed more than 2,000 ride requests.
While the effort has garnered a lot of support, Park says demand for rides has been even higher. She estimates her funds may only last through the end of the month.
Still, Park is encouraged by the solidarity she’s seen from others.
“Not everyone is a bystander turning a blind eye to what’s happening,” she says. “There are people who want to stand by us and there are people who want us to be safe.”
A Queens native patrols a majority-Asian neighborhood
When Queens native Teresa Ting saw the video of an Asian woman being violently shoved to the ground not far from where she lives, she felt pure rage.
She knew she wanted to do something to protect her community, and recalled reading about volunteer chaperone and patrol services for Asian elders in California.
The efforts there inspired her to start a similar program in Flushing, a predominately Asian neighborhood in Queens that Ting considers her second home.
“I just really wanted to be on the street and help patrol it and keep an extra set of eyes and ears and mouth for the community,” she said.
Ting dubbed her organization Main Street Patrol, after Flushing’s main thoroughfare.
She and her fellow volunteers trained themselves in bystander intervention methods, ensuring that they’re equipped to deescalate street harassment, sexual harassment, bias crimes and xenophobic situations.
The goal: Protect the neighborhood’s streets – and educate residents on how they can safely play a part in that effort, too.
“I was hoping to give more access to the public so they can be more informed and better equipped with the right tools so we can all be more active bystanders,” she said.
During peak hours on weekend afternoons, groups of volunteers now patrol the area around Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue, one of the busiest intersections in New York City. Anyone in need of help need just look for the vibrant purple masks, a nod to the 7 subway line that begins in Flushing.
An internet celebrity made a documentary film to educate others
Eugene Lee Yang has a big platform as one of The Try Guys, an adventurous foursome that takes on various challenges for their popular online comedy series.
Recently, he used that platform to bring attention to a more serious issue.
“We need to talk about anti-Asian hate,” Yang says in the opening of a new documentary uploaded to The Try Guys YouTube channel, which has more than 7 million followers.
The Korean-American filmmaker and internet personality felt that people didn’t know enough about Asian American history – and that lack of awareness was affecting how they saw the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
So Yang and his team got to work.
They wanted to highlight the complicated and often untold stories of Asian Americans, as well as the unique challenges they face. And they wanted others to know how they could help. Within a month, the team had researched and condensed hundreds of years of Asian American history into an hour-long documentary.
“Even as an Asian American person, I learned so much about our community’s struggles,” Yang said. “I never got that education or exposure myself growing up, even within my family, let alone the American education system.”
Yang also called on his followers to donate to organizations that support and protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, raising nearly $130,000 in less than a month.
He hopes the documentary will inspire people to take a greater interest in who Asian Americans are and what they’ve endured.
A dancer launched a movement to unite Black and Asian Americans
Being both Black and Asian, author and dancer Rohan Zhou-Lee has experienced racism across the spectrum.
The parallels were especially evident last year.
Asian Americans became scapegoats and targets during the Covid-19 pandemic, following a pattern seen throughout US history in times of tension or crisis. And Black Americans continued to die at the hands of police, another longstanding pattern.
Still, Zhou-Lee felt the two groups were often in conflict with each other.
“After a lot of traumatic incidents with myself over the summer, I was like, ‘You know what? I think it’s time that I just built my own space and start to work on bringing communities together,’” said Zhou-Lee, who uses “they/them” pronouns.
That fall, Zhou-Lee created The Blasian March, a movement designed to create Black and Asian solidarity through mutual education and celebration.
What began as rallies in New York and Los Angeles in October 2020 has since expanded into a vehicle for advocacy and understanding around issues that affect Black and AAPI people.
The Blasian March creates and shares resources for allyship through its Instagram page, and helps activists in other cities organize shows of solidarity, too. And it puts a special emphasis on empowering women, LGBTQ people and those with disabilities.
As Asian Americans continue to face hate and violence over the pandemic and as Black Americans continue to experience police brutality, Zhou-Lee and The Blasian March are spreading messages of unity rather than division.
“We all came together last summer for Black lives and now people are coming together for Asian lives,” they said. “There’s such power in that communal love.”