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New Reports Show Need To Address Racial Trauma In AAPI Communities

Chinese-Japanese American student Kara Chu, 18, holds a pair of heart balloon...

Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Above: Chinese-Japanese American student Kara Chu, 18, holds a pair of heart balloons decorated by herself for the rally "Love Our Communities: Build Collective Power" to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence outside the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, March 13, 2021.

Nellie Tran will never forget the day she was driving through Poway on her way home. It seemed to be a day like any other, but as she approached a spotlight she spotted two white men protesting, waving US flags at the intersection.

As an Asian woman, she was struck by a deep sense of fear that they might hurt her.

“I was in the car and as I was approaching the stoplight, it turned red,” recalls Tran. “And I had this thought that maybe it would be better if I ran the light.”

She stopped at the light.

“For the entire red light I busied myself, looking at my phone and trying to not look at them because I was afraid,” said Tran. “I almost felt lucky that nothing happened.”

Reported by Cristina Kim

The fear she felt in Poway has stuck with her. She isn’t alone.

According to two recent reports from the National Urban League and the group Stop AAPI Hate, 75% of Asian American feel the US is more dangerous because they are Asian and they cite anti-asian racism as a bigger stressor than the pandemic.

Anne Saw is a clinical psychologist and lead researcher on both these studies. She found that 1 in 5 Asian Americans report racial trauma symptoms after experiencing a racist incident.

Racial trauma is the psychological or emotional harm caused by racism. Like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), racial trauma symptoms include depression, anxiety, anger, decreased self-esteem, avoidance, numbing or intrusive thoughts.

Racial trauma, however, doesn’t just occur when an individual experiences an overt act of racism or hate.

“Regardless of whether the incident happens directly to you or whether you witness it or hear about it from someone else, you can be impacted by racism,” Saw said.

San Diego County has mirrored the nationwide spike in anti-Asian hate during the pandemic. The DA’s office has received 13 hate incidents and Stop AAPI Hate received 42 reports of racist acts against Asians in 2020.

San Diego’s Spike In Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans Mirrors National Trend

Earlier this year a Filipina woman was attacked while riding the trolley from Encanto to Downtown San Diego.

JoAnn Fields, the director of the Filipino Resource Center and a community leader in San Diego’s Filipino community, says people are still impacted by what happened.

“That was traumatizing not only for Lola Rosario, but for many of our community members,” Fields said. “Our young people, our Lolos and Lolas are wanting to talk about what's happening.”

Lolo and Lola signify grandfather and grandmother in Tagalog and are often used to address elders that are not blood relatives.

In response to the rise in acts of racism, San Diego County has set up reporting hotlines, introduced a yellow whistle campaign to help people feel safe and encouraged people to report incidents.

The act of reporting incidents, whether to the police or Stop AAPI Hate, is something researchers, like Saw, say can help individuals make sense of their experience because it entails them talking about it.

“We found that after reporting to Stop AAPI Hate Asian-Americans reported a reduction in racial trauma symptoms,” said Saw.

According to Saw, portals like Stop AAPI Hate provide people with an outlet to process what happened even if it doesn’t rise to the level of a crime. Reporting, in this way, functions like therapy by validating and empowering the individual filing the reports.

For Asian Americans Bearing Racism’s Psychological Toll, Mental Health Experts Have Advice

More than 6 out of 10 Asian Americans don't have access to mental health resources, according to the new National Urban League report.

In spite of the growing need for mental health resources, Asian American and immigrant access to therapy remains elusive, in large part, because of the lack of culturally competent therapy.

Fields says the Filipino community in San Diego feels that lack of resources, especially when it comes to finding therapists that are familiar with or part of the Filipino community.

“It’s disheartening to say, ‘you really should consider therapy’ and then they say, ‘yes’ and you can’t find someone that would be a good fit,” said Field. She’s working on creating a Filipino provider list.

The need for more Asian American therapists is something Nellie Tran is also trying to fix.

As a psychology professor at San Diego State University, Tran is teaching the next generation of diverse therapists to bring their cultures into their practice so that therapy becomes more accessible to all.

“We ask them to talk about their past experiences, to not be ashamed of experiences of poverty and migrations,’ Tran said. “So they are more understanding of the experiences of their clients and can be together with them instead of top-down.”

California Representative Judy Chu reintroduced legislation aimed at ending stigma around mental health in the AAPI community and providing more resources, earlier this month.

Researchers like Anne Saw want to see more of these types of investments made into APPI mental health because the current need is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We’re expecting because of the long term impacts of stress and racism that the need will continue in the years to come,” Saw said. “It’s really important that we be able to put resources towards building out a pipeline to support Asian Americans, not just now, but moving forward into the future.”

Listen to this story by Cristina Kim


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Photo of Cristina Kim

Cristina Kim
Racial Justice and Social Equity Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover racial justice and social equity issues – an expansive beat that includes housing, health, criminal justice, and education. I am interested in unpacking how systems reproduce inequalities and highlighting the ways communities of color are pushing for greater equity.

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