A series of surveys conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found a rise in hate crime and harassment incidents against Asian Americans in Oregon. Nearly half of all the Asian Americans surveyed said they heard someone use a racial slur, epithet or degrading language against them or a family member or both. A third of those surveyed reported reducing the amount of time they spend in the community because of a race-based bias incident or hate crime. Holden Leung, executive director of the Asian Health and Service Center, tells us about the survey, and what his organization is doing to address anti-Asian hate crimes.


Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. A series of surveys conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found a rise in hate crime and harassment incidents against Asian Americans in Oregon. Nearly half of all the Asian Americans surveyed said they heard someone use a racial slur, epithet, or degrading language against them, or a family member, or both. One in three said that they reduced the amount of time they spend in the community because of racial harassment. Holden Leung is the executive director of the Asian Health and Service Center, which helped do this survey. He joins us now to talk about both the results, and the way forward. Holden Leung, welcome.

Holden Leung: Good morning.

Miller: Can you give us a sense for the kinds of incidents that people reported in this series of surveys?

Leung: We can see that our clients are really disturbed by more incidents in the last few years, and particularly seniors who are feeling more vulnerable, and with limited English proficiency. They try not to go out that often for groceries, for social life, for dim sum. And if I can use the illustrations about what the Center has been doing during the pandemic, we deliver a food pack. I call it the special Asian foot and essential pack delivery. Starting from over a year ago, we distributed about 700 per month. But now it’s over 1,200 a month. So the demand keeps going up, and one of the reasons, on top of the pandemic, is more seniors are afraid to go out shopping.

Miller: What kinds of generational differences did you find in the responses that people gave to these surveys?

Leung: This survey is in partnership with another nonprofit organization, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. They did a similar outreach survey before we got a grant from Kaiser Permanente. Our agency received a grant from Kaiser Permanente around the same time last year. So we would like to understand the scope of what’s the current impact, or any data that can help my council to get better prepared.

We were able to call over 300 of our clients in their primary language, covering Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. And the observation that I have is, compared to the general data from OVBC, it seems our clients are less vocal, they experience similar threats or racial slurs, but when compared to the data that I see, our clients are more quiet, and seem to already take other approaches. And they are hesitant to voice out, and there’s less reporting. So that is a general observation that when I compare the two sets of data.

Miller: And when you say your clients are more likely to be older, you see that as a generational component? Or or you’re saying this is more broadly, Asian Americans who have faced bias incidents are less likely to report them than other groups?

Leung: Yes, but at the same time this survey covers people from different age ranges. So we did have a larger percentage of older people. And when I reviewed the data compared to the voices of the older populations, compare our groups and the general groups, generally speaking, I see that people experience that more and more harassment, but at the same time comparing the two groups, my group, who are mainly non-English speaking, seem to be rating their concern less seriously. But the behavior, when I checked with my council, people are hiding from the public, people are hiding from social gatherings, not even going out for grocery shopping. So I interpret from their behavior that the impact is more severe when compared to older folks in the general public’s categories.

Miller: Even if they’re not reporting that the incidents that they have experienced are serious, their actions show that they truly are serious, because as you noted many of the people that you serve are even afraid to go out into the community. That’s your proof of just how seriously these incidents are impacting them?

Leung: Exactly. That is what I have observed. I can use one example to cite. We’ve been serving a group of seniors living in one of the senior apartment complexes at the corner of Powell and 82nd. In that senior apartment complex, over 90% Asian, and they are all our clients. And judging from my conversations with the clients, and also the managers, even though they are blocks from 82nd, also only a few blocks from Division, before the pandemic or the increased that number of hate crimes, people are going out and then walking from Powell all the way to Division for dim sum, for social gatherings, for grocery shopping. But no more nowadays. People are seldom going out by themselves.


Miller: What do you see in terms of the impact of that isolation? The isolation is a result of fear. The fear is because of experiences of harassment or bias. But what follows from what you’ve seen from that isolation?

Leung: I think it’s a generalized anxiety. That said, our staff make regular welfare check calls to our clients. The general response from our clients, if a stranger called them, of course they may not respond. But it seems like they trust our agency. The situation is what we call learned helplessness. They feel they cannot do much.

Miller: The Oregon Department of Justice has created a non-emergency bias response hotline, where people can report incidents. How many people that you heard from know about this hotline, and actually use it?

Leung: To be honest, very limited. To be honest, I need to also empower my team so that they know where to refer clients, to what organizations. So I see that there’s a gap. Because, if they watch tv, they may see the challenging times that people demonstrate, people protest, and they’re holding signs against anti-Asian hate crime.

But other than that, people may not pick up where they can seek help. Not to mention that the information may not be clear enough. At the same time, the lack of trust to call the system. So that is what I heard from my clients,

Miller: You’ve set up your own hotline. How is that different from the state’s?

Leung: I think the major difference is that our center has been serving the community for close to 40 years by next year. And we have a strong database, about 20,000 members. So people who call us usually already know our agency, or have been helped by our agency through our community health program, behavioral health program. It’s more comfortable for them to call us.

We have language specific hotlines for our community program, and then language specific hotlines for our behavioral health program. So people can call a number and expect the people on the other side will speak the same language. That makes a huge difference over just calling a number that they don’t know who’s on the other side of the phone line, and not to mention the trust level will be a significant difference.

Miller: What kind of supports do the people on the other end of the phone provide? It’s one thing to just write down in the database, to count up the incidents of bias or hate. But that alone is not going to support the person who is telling their story. What support can you offer them?

Leung: For us, we start with welfare checks about what the clients intend to call us, and what’s the current situation, whether they need any support on transportations, on groceries, or how to set up medical appointments.

Miller: You told the Capital Chronicle when the report of these surveys came out that it was necessary to address root causes of this. What do you see as the root causes of these incidents of racial harassment or bias?

Leung: To start with, people are being judged because you look different, because your language is different. This is between different ethnic groups, not just Asians. Your appearance looks different, your language is different, so you’re different from me.

And then people lack a chance to appreciate the culture, or learn more, have a better understanding about the others. So I think the root causes a lot of time is over judgments, and in the last few years, because of the turmoils in the political world, and in downtown Portland or in different cities, leading to a generalized judgments on some ethnic groups. And in particular, the pandemic, and for a period of time people say that that is China virus. When more incidents happen, people pay attention, and jump to see how to advocate for the victims, or how to advocate for justice.

Miller: Well, what would you most want to see along those lines, from local or even state officials?

Leung: I just want to take this opportunity to once again raise people’s attention. It needs a sustainable approach to support programs, or have some policy or statewide collaborations on how to address the issue.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show, or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to thinkoutloud@opb.org, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.