Northern Nevadan Asian Americans and the Fight Against Racism Amid COVID-19

Jade Tagulao, Ashlyn Rodgers, and Melanie Mendez investigate violent hate crimes against the Asian community, present and past, and reflections from Reno’s community.

Recently, violent hate crimes against the AAPI community, including Asian civilians being attacked in the streets, the subway, on their way to church and at their workplace, have been broadcast across various media platforms. In light of this recent coverage, members of society have started advocating for the Asian community. Digital art by Ashlyn Rodgers.

Hate is a Virus: Extremely Infectious, but Sometimes Hidden

“I think my family and I, we had like these rose colored lenses, everything seeming like so beautiful and perfect in America. And in many ways, it is still like that same feeling. But we now see it differently. And we see more of the reality, and that it’s not always so perfect as we imagined,” said Aya Sato, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who lists the flags of the United States, Brazil and Japan on her Twitter bio feed, reflecting her rich cultural DNA.

Throughout the past year, the world has gone through turbulent changes due to the pandemic brought upon by the Covid-19 virus. Life as we knew it was suddenly halted, creating the “new normal” where people had to wear face masks, keep six feet apart in public, attend class and work virtually using Zoom.

Among these new norms, tragically, racism, hate crimes and violence towards the Asian community surfaced and further divided America. These violent events gravitating towards the Asian community have only seemed to gain attention in recent months, despite the racial tensions that have been long deep rooted problems in American society.

In Reno, Nevada, there seems to be little to no public media reports of racist incidents affecting the local Asian community. But, this does not mean there is an absence of racism against the Asian community.

For this investigative report, we interviewed four Asian figures in the Reno community: UNR professor and historian, Meredith Oda; UNR’s Asian Pacific Islander Coordinator, Keola Wong; UNR student and Reno local, Aya Sato; and local advocate, Rain Fernandez.

Although these four individuals live different lives, experiencing their own personal triumphs and losses, they are all connected by their Asian heritage. All were open to having conversations about topics that are often pushed aside.

In our interviews with Oda, a historian and UNR professor, and Wong, UNR’s Asian Pacific Islander Coordinator, the two shared thoughtful insight on Asian American History. Oda went into depth about the long-rooted hate found within the Asian American historical timeline. She explained the harmful impacts the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had on Chinese laborers, sparking a chain of immigration laws trying to keep Asians out. Wong expressed how violent hate crimes within the Asian community are not new. Wong used Vincent Chin’s killing in the 1980s as an example of this sad reality. According to Wikipedia, Chin “was a Chinese American who was beaten to death by two white men” in 1982 at a bachelor party in Michigan. Photo collage by Ashlyn Rodgers.

Recognizing Asian American History Rooted in Hate

Asian hate crimes, although recently reported on, are not new incidents. Like many minorities, the Asian community has faced its own racism and oppression in American history.

We spoke with Oda, a historian, via Zoom about the history of Anti-Asian hate crimes and violence and racism that are rooted in very early dates in our historical timeline. Although conducted over Zoom, as face to face interaction is still limited, Oda still brought a sense of liveliness through the screen, making our conversation engaging and highly educational.

“Violence has played a tremendous role in shaping Asian American history, so that the way in which Asian Americans have been seen, and their relationship to the law and politics and society has often been shaped by violence,” explained Oda initially.

Anti-Asian hate has a long and old history that connects back to the first Asian immigrants in America. Oda spoke about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers. This made these individuals the first group to be singled out and excluded by immigration laws. These laws prohibited them from entering the United States and from naturalizing. Following this, many immigration laws continued to be passed in effort to keep Asians out.

“…Bureaucracies were all structured to keep Asians out… it helped us solidify this idea that Asian Americans are foreign, they’re fundamentally un-American, they can never assimilate,” said Oda. “[Asian Americans] ‘don’t speak the language’, they seclude themselves in these ethnic enclaves they refuse and cannot ever become, just inherently ever become true Americans.”

Wong, UNR’s Asian Pacific Islander Coordinator, shared his own brief take on Asian American history during another Zoom interview the team conducted. Similar to Oda, Wong’s passion was felt through the screen as he spoke powerfully about the Asian community.

“Going back to history, this all started, way before the 1700s, even more in the 1800s with something called the Page Law, which was the beginning of excluding Asians from the United States and went into the Exclusion Act. Asians were never really accepted until like the 1950s, or 60s, right around the Civil Rights era,” said Wong.

“During these times, there was violence against Asians. I believe, in the 1980s, Vincent Chin was killed. You know, part of the reason why he was killed had to do with taking jobs or that the thought that he was taking their auto working jobs. So he’s clubbed to death. And so these things have been happening a long time. It’s just now coming out. Really, a lot more people are talking about it, more people are saying things about it,” said Wong.

On April 14, 2020, the most recent report on UNR’s Bias and Hate Incident reporting summary, several students who identify as Asian expressed they were being insulted, with one reporting they were spat on. In the action column of the summary, individuals are told to redirect to an article by edjustice on standing up to hate and bias.

A Violent Rise in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

In the first quarter of 2021, hate crimes towards the Asian community were reported to have soared 169% in 16 of America’s largest cities, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) reported.

Comparing national statistics to local ones, there seems to be a massive gap between the numbers of incidents occurring. It is important to note that hate crimes and acts of racism being reported in Reno against the Asian community are so low, these appear to be non-existent.

Fernandez, a local advocate, expressed that one of the harder things that happens when it comes to reporting such incidents is that they must be specifically distinguished as a hate crime.

“Sometimes it’s like, I’m not victim blaming or anything, but there’s two sides to [a] story. You still don’t destroy other people’s property. But, is it a hate crime? An actual hate crime? Or is it something else? Is it just like road rage? We have to separate that,” said Fernandez. The Philippines born and raised immigrant runs an organization called Support Washoe, which among other endeavors promotes locally owned Asian American businesses.

UNR publicizes its Hate and Bias Incident reporting summary on their website. This summary highlights reports made to the Hate and Bias Response Team that is reviewed by the Equal Opportunity and Title IX Office for violation of the law or University policy. The university provides help and a place to report any hate and/or bias encounters on campus for students and university staff. Through the Hate and Bias Response Team, “the Equal Opportunity and Title IX Office reviews it for violation of the law or University policy.”

This report has not been updated since April 14, 2020 when a report was made that several students who identify as Asian, expressed they were being insulted, with one reporting they were spat on. The ‘action’ taken was redirecting individuals to an article by edjustice on standing up to hate and bias.

“Some people are optimistic that Reno or Northern Nevada is different than Vegas, or like other places. We’re so like, ‘Washoe County is purple’ in terms of the political landscape. So, some people just believe that it’s not gonna happen here. But, just because we can’t find it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, especially if it’s not being reported,” said Fernandez.

Earlier this semester, two reporters on the team, Ashlyn Rodgers and Jade Tagulao, created their own Reynolds Hotbox podcast episode titled Hate is a Virus: What it Means to be Asian-American in 2021. Here, the two discussed their personal experiences being Asian-Americans, opening up about their own struggles growing up. Rodgers and Tagulao also dove into media coverage of the recent hate crimes against the AAPI community, sharing their own feelings about the current crimes happening and how the community continues to work through the hateful actions. You can listen to the episode on your desired streaming service by looking for “Reynolds Hotbox” or find it above.

Reno’s Asian-American Community

Throughout the course of our investigation, we asked our interviewees to share any experiences or stories they know of that involved racism, if they were comfortable doing so. Sato, a UNR student and local, and one of our reporters, Tagulao, shared deeply personal experiences of being an Asian-American in a small city like Reno.

As an immigrant, Sato has had firsthand experiences with racism. When asked about these during the interview, she was very open to sharing with us, but the look of disappointment and hurt was very evident in the tone of her voice and her expressions.

“One of the events that really comes to mind, like an experience that I’ve had, is in middle school,” she said. “There was a day when I was walking to the bus stop, and I always go through the garage, because that’s where our shoes are. So I was walking down the driveway and I saw that there was something like, I don’t know, I still don’t know what that material was, someone had used some kind of red liquid to write ‘F you Asians’…” said Sato.

“It was something pretty intense…seeing my dad having to clean it up was something that’s really sad. Because I know like, it’s physical labor, but also [very] emotionally draining as well for him having to clean all that mess up,” added Sato.

Just like Sato, Tagulao is an immigrant who moved to the United States in hopes of finding the “American Dream” alongside her family. Tagulao shared her own firsthand experiences during the interview with Sato.

“I am very certain that I lost my Asian identity when I first arrived here in America, because I literally dropped K-Pop, anime and my own Filipino culture,” Tagulao said. “It just didn’t feel like I fit in if I continued to be into those things, because people laughed at me for my accent, for the food I like and for the stuff I like. So I chose One Direction and other western artists… I didn’t even bother making friends with the Asians at my school because the kids made it feel like they were the weirdos and outcasts… I didn’t wanna be one of them…”

“I wanted to fully believe in what Aya said about the ‘rose colored lenses,’ but I got tired of living in the dream that just didn’t exist. I slowly realized that no matter how hard I tried to hide my Asian identity, people will continue to treat me differently because I’m a foreigner and they will continue to be racist towards me because I am not from here. Some high school classmates will forever remember me as that one Asian girl, Ling Ling.”

A photo collage of screenshots consisting of negative tweets about the #ChineseVirus versus positive #StopAsianHate, to show the different sides of social media during these racial tensions. Clockwise from top left, a tweet from former President Trump using the word “Chinese Virus,” a tweet from Chinese-Canadian actor Ludi Lin using the #StopAsianHate and advocating for human rights, a tweet from Spotify USA featuring different Asian music artists for #AAPIHM and #StopAsianHate, a tweet from actress Gemma Chan launching a #StopAsianHate campaign, and racist tweets from twitter users. Photo collage by Jade Tagulao.

Asian Advocacy vs Asian Slander on Social Media

The first spike of Anti-Asian hate crimes occured in March and April of 2020 in the midst of the rise of Covid-19 cases when the World Health Organization officially declared the pandemic, sparking online and political stigmatizing of Asians.

Between March 16 to March 30, as the pandemic began to hit on a national scale, former President Donald Trump used the term “China virus” and “kung flu” more than 20 times.

According to a study by the University of California, San Francisco, data showed that before and after Trump’s tweets, there were about 700,000 tweets that had more than 1.2 million anti-Asian hashtags. The researchers said that these social media hashtags are known to be predictors of various hate crimes as well as a start of hate groups.

Given that there seems to be a gap between the number of hate crimes reported versus the ones actually occurring with the city of Reno, that didn’t stop Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak to speak out against these events on Twitter.

While Governor Sisolak received some praise for posting about this issue within the state of Nevada, that didn’t stop many others from flooding the replies with slander against him and the topic.

Some disgruntled online users labelled Sisolak a ‘Biden puppet,’ while others took it upon themselves to yell at him for being a tyrant and not opening Nevada back up. This simple tweet aimed at trying to make the state of Nevada more aware of the growing situation throughout the U.S. is the perfect example of how some incidents might not be reported because of the backlash against it.

In comparison to the spike of anti-Asian hashtags and offensive posts, positive hashtags such as “Stop Asian Hate” surged the internet, which helped voice out all the hate crimes and racism that are gravitating towards the Asian community. Many people, ranging from famous Asian-American celebrities to the general public, including Reno locals, shared their opinions, feelings and experiences on social media to help voice out how problematic the American society is.

“It’s been a crazy year, this year, with a pandemic, or being virtual…it’s hard to build community, it’s hard to help a lot of people virtually. Sometimes you have to be in front of them and talking to them,” said Wong.

As violent hate crimes continue to negatively impact the Asian community, people are continuing to extend a helpful hand to the community. Individuals are using their voice at higher volumes, advocating for real change to happen. Bystanders are using their voice by peacefully protesting, speaking up online, and providing resources to the community. Together, the Asian community and its supporters are showcasing that the Asian people are not a virus, hate is. Digital art by Jade Tagulao.

A New Direction Full of Hope

I don’t think it’s gonna go away, I think it’s gonna be like, maybe we find a common ground, and maybe we start the conversations, and we start with, you know, the next generation, because we can’t do anything about our parents, or grandparents. It’s just not gonna happen. But we can do it, we can start with us. And we can start just like doing unity celebrations,” said Fernandez.

The advocacy and “Stop Asian Hate” movement reached many cities, including Reno. On March 29 2021, protestors met in front of the Believe sign located downtown. Organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, this event was aimed at showing gatherers the history of racism within Reno, while also going into detail about how the pandemic has radically changed a lot of Asian-American lives.

UNR’s Kappa Phi Lambda held a vigil on March 19, following the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16 where eight people were killed, six of them Asian. The sorority held this vigil in collaboration with Wong and their chapter advisor, Oda, to create a safe reflection space for the university students and to “Uplift the community in hopes to keep the API students feeling safe and heard during these times.”

“We need to start seeing people that look like us and talk like us and understand us,” said Wong.

Reporting by Ashlyn Rodgers, Jade Tagulao and Melanie Mendez for the Reynolds Sandbox

To find out and learn more about how to support AAPI and how to stop the hate movements visit:

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The Reynolds Sandbox showcases innovative and engaging storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab.

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Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.

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