Macomb County Commissioner Mai Xiong, D-District 2, is a mother, a business owner and a Warren resident. She recalled an incident with a woman who came into her clothing store, Mai&Co, last year.

Macomb County Commissioner Mai Xiong, D-District 2, is a mother, a business owner and a Warren resident. She recalled an incident with a woman who came into her clothing store, Mai&Co, last year.

Photo by Brian Louwers


Reports detail harassment, hate aimed at Asian Americans

By: Brian Louwers | Metro | Published March 19, 2021

 A marker along the crosswalk at Woodward Avenue and Nine Mile Road in downtown Ferndale was placed near the location of the former Gold Star restaurant where Vincent Chin once worked. The Oak Park High School graduate was beaten to death on June 19, 1982.

A marker along the crosswalk at Woodward Avenue and Nine Mile Road in downtown Ferndale was placed near the location of the former Gold Star restaurant where Vincent Chin once worked. The Oak Park High School graduate was beaten to death on June 19, 1982.

Photo by Brian Louwers

METRO DETROIT — As COVID-19 spread across the country over the last year, so did an ugly wave of hate.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center dedicated to tracking incidents that include physical violence and assault, verbal harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying aimed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 3,795 incidents were documented between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.

Countless other incidents across the country went unreported, including some in metro Detroit.  

“You just remember those types of things. It just becomes normalized,” said Macomb County Commissioner Mai Xiong, a Warren resident, the mother of four and a business owner elected in November to represent District 2.

Xiong, who is Hmong and a naturalized United States citizen, recalled an incident in early February 2020 at her store, Mai&Co, on 12 Mile Road east of Van Dyke Avenue in Warren, where she sells clothing inspired by traditional Hmong textiles. She said she was inside of the store one day with her 1-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, who were playing behind the counter. Her two older children were in school.

“I had a customer come in. She was a white woman in her late 50s, to pick up an item she had ordered from a third-party app,” Xiong said. “At the time our store, we partnered with this company so that their customers could order items from the app and pick them up at a physical location. This company was widely known for actually selling products that were made and shipped directly from China.

“I found her package and as I handed it to her, she said, ‘You don’t happen to know if the coronavirus can live on these packages?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so,’ because I had just read an NPR article that week that said it can’t survive on certain surfaces for a long period of time, so I was trying to reassure her as she was taking the package,” Xiong said. “Then she interrupted me, and she said, ‘Have you been to China lately?’ And then she just kind of laughed it off. I just gave her this blank stare and I said, I said firmly, ‘I’m not Chinese,’ and then she just walks out.”

After the encounter, Xiong said she was left with an “awful feeling.”

“I felt defeated. I felt maybe I should have said more to educate her, and I felt angry,” Xiong said. “I just felt sad and horrified that my children were there, but I was also very grateful that they were just too young to even comprehend what just happened.”

Xiong said for her, the experience was typical of an encounter with racial undertones that she and others across America experience “time and time again.”

“It just becomes normalized,” Xiong said. “Sometimes it can be worse. Sometimes, it can turn violent, because the person on the other end is angry at you for looking different, for being Asian or a person of color, and they have set ideas about you, that you are all from the same country, that maybe you carry the virus because you look like a person that came from China.”

According to a national report compiled by Stop AAPI Hate and released on March 16, 68.1 % of the acts included represent incidences of verbal harassment and 20.5 % involve shunning, or the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans. Physical assaults comprise the third-largest category at 11.1 % of the total.

Incidents of hate are reported 2.3 times more frequently by women. Most reported incidents (35.4%) occur at businesses, followed by public streets (25.3%).

On its website, Stop AAPI hate cited an “alarming escalation in xenophobia and bigotry resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” The reporting center was launched by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University.


Violence around the country resonates at home
While an investigation remained ongoing at press time, the killing of eight people — including six Asian women — in Georgia on March 16 sent shockwaves through Asian American communities across the country.

Investigators in the state’s Cherokee County said it was still too early to determine the motive in the shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. A 21-year-old Georgia man is now in custody.

On March 17, Chief Corey Haines of the Madison Heights Police Department released a statement on Facebook in which he addressed “the increasing frequency of violent attacks” against Asian Americans in the United States. Haines expressed “unequivocal support” for Asian American residents and business owners and encouraged anyone who has experienced “targeted hate crime acts” to report it to local law enforcement.

“Across the nation, since the start of the worldwide pandemic, the number of attacks against Asian American people, based solely on their appearance, has increased significantly,” Haines said. “We want to make it clear that hate crimes against any person will not be tolerated. “To our Asian American community members who have experienced hateful acts, we want you to know that we hear you, we see you, we believe you and we support you,” Haines said.

At the corner of Nine Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in Ferndale, the State Bar of Michigan placed a legal milestone marker in 2010 to commemorate the city as the “birthplace in 1983 of the pan-ethnic Asian American civil and victim’s rights movement” and the formation of the civil rights organization, American Citizens for Justice, following the 1982 beating death of Vincent Chin, an Oak Park resident.

The former Gold Star restaurant on Woodward, where Chin once worked, became a gathering place for Chinese Americans after he was beaten with a baseball bat during an encounter in Highland Park with two auto workers. According to witness reports published at the time, at least one of the men blamed Chin, an American of Chinese descent, for the troubles faced by domestic car companies and the loss of jobs, amid increased Japanese competition. A fight ensued, and Chin was struck in the head with a bat several times and died of his injuries.

A plea bargain led to a manslaughter conviction for the two men, who were sentenced to probation and fines of $3,000.     

Ryan Jarvi, press secretary for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, said the office doesn’t have compiled stats for hate crime incidents aimed at Asian Americans specifically.

An available report with information covering Hate/Bias Crime in Michigan was generated using Michigan Incident Crime Reporting data and created on March 11, 2020, for the 2019 “Crime in Michigan” publication.

“We encourage anyone who thinks they may have been the victim of a hate crime to report it to our office so we can review the situation,” Jarvi said in an emailed response.

Hate crimes can be reported by email at hatecrimes@michigan.gov or by phone at (313) 456-0200.

“Once we receive a report, it is reviewed by our team for potential criminal allegations, and if additional investigation or action is warranted, then we proceed with that work and file charges when appropriate,” Jarvi said.

On March 26, the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission will host the “Past and Present: Anti-Asian Sentiment & Racism” virtual event from 4-5:30 p.m. A panel of speakers will discuss the history of racism and discriminatory policies against Asian Americans, the current wave of anti-Asian sentiment and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The free event is open to the public and will be co-hosted by the MAPAAC, the Michigan Department of Attorney General and the University of Michigan’s Department of American Culture. To register in advance, go to Bit.ly/3kD29k1.