By Janie Har
(AP) — On their final night together, father and daughter watched the news and traded goodnight kisses on the cheek. The next morning, Vicha Ratanapakdee was assaulted while on a walk in San Francisco and died, becoming yet another Asian victim of violence in America.
On Sunday, Monthanus Ratanapakdee will commemorate the one-year anniversary of her father’s death with a rally in the San Francisco neighborhood where the 84-year-old was killed. She will be joined by hundreds of people in five other U.S. cities, all of them seeking justice for Asian Americans who have been harassed, assaulted, and even killed in alarming numbers since the start of the pandemic.
Ratanapakdee, who was raised in Thailand, feels compelled to speak out so people don’t forget the gentle, bespectacled man who doted on his young grandsons and encouraged her to pursue her education in America.
“I really want my father’s death to not be in vain,” said Ratanapakdee, 49, a food safety inspector with the San Francisco Unified School District. “I wouldn’t want anyone to feel this pain.”
Asians in America have long been subject to prejudice and discrimination, but the attacks escalated sharply after the coronavirus first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. More than 10,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported to the Stop AAPI Hate coalition from March 2020 through September 2021. The incidents involved shunning, racist taunting and physical assaults.
In San Francisco and elsewhere, news reports showed video and photos of older Asian people robbed and knocked down, bruised and stabbed on public streets. Preliminary data shows that reported hate crimes against Asian Americans in San Francisco surged from 9 victims in 2020 to 60 in 2021. Crime stats don’t tell the whole story, however, as many victims are reluctant to report and not all charges result in hate crime enhancements.
High-profile victims nationally include Michelle Go, 40, who died after a mentally unstable man shoved her in front of a subway in New York City earlier this month. In March, a gunman shot and killed eight people at three Georgia massage spas, including six women of Asian descent ranging in age from 44 to 74. There’s disagreement among officials whether those attacks were racially motivated, but the deaths have rattled Asian Americans, who see bias.
Organizers say Sunday’s events in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles are to honor victims, stand in solidarity and demand more attention to anti-Asian discrimination. But organizers say they also want to spark conversation in a community where both longtime Americans and newer immigrants are often lumped together as forever foreigners.
“The tiny window of visibility we had with the ‘Stop Asian Hate’ movement, it really was just a glimpse of what Asian Americans feel every day, that kind of pervasive disrespect and casual contempt at our parents, our languages, our families,” said Charles Jung, a Los Angeles employment attorney and executive director of the California Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
“What we really want is to encourage Asian Americans to tell their stories,” he said, “and finally break the silence.”