Credit: Robert Bernstein

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University, San Bernardino recently released a report on hate crime trends in 16 major American cities. Such hate crimes decreased overall by 7 percent from 2019 to 2020. But hate crimes targeting Asians and Asian Americans increased nearly 150 percent.

Much of the hate seems to have been inspired by former President Trump associating people of Asian ancestry with the COVID virus. He regularly used the term “China virus” to make this association.

Local residents Karena Jew, Sharon Hoshida, Juliet Velarde Betita, Judy Guillermo-Newton and Michal Lynch organized a gathering in solidarity with Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders on Saturday, March 27 in front of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Nearly 300 people turned out, many of them residents from the Asian-American community who play vital roles in Santa Barbara.

The event was not a traditional activist rally. There were no speeches and it was not widely publicized to the larger social justice community. It was mostly intended as a way for Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) residents to come out in a public place and see and meet each other. It was very quiet and low key. After people were gathered, there was a brief ceremonial performance.

I soon spotted Katie Becchio, who was holding a sign that read “Proud to Be Asian and We Belong Here!” I know Kate as one of the energetic and creative forces at the Solstice Workshop.

Here organizer Sharon Hoshida posed with Vijaya Jammalamadaka. I have known Vijaya for many years through her work with the Air Pollution Control District and my work on sustainable transportation. She has also come on some of my hikes. She is currently active with the League of Women Voters. You may remember Sharon Hoshida for bravely opening and running a real bookstore next to the Granada Theatre at a time when most bookstores were closing!

You will probably recognize Santa Barbara Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso for her reports on the local news almost every day this past year. She kindly gathered her co-workers at Public Health for this group photo. Also with her was her daughter who wants to be a psychotherapist.

Tina Villadolid was carrying this sign and posed with her friend and talked with me for a bit.

I was curious to know the particulars of the hate her ancestors endured. She asked what I knew. I said I was aware of the internment camps that Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced into. And I knew of the major Western American cities that expelled all of the people of Chinese ancestry when they were no longer needed to build the railroads. Even though they were legal US residents and/or citizens. But I was curious to know more specifics. It seemed that she was speaking in more general terms of colonialism and attitudes of white supremacy.

In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. But it also became a pretext for both mob terrorist acts against Chinese in the US as well as official discrimination by local governments.

Organizer Karena Jew had a simple message reminding everyone that Asian Americans are Americans who belong here.

In the 1980s there was another wave of anti-Asian-American scapegoating. The U.S. auto industry had failed to make reliable, energy-efficient vehicles, and Americans were buying Japanese-made cars as a result. Instead of blaming U.S. auto executives, some white Americans blamed people who looked Asian for the loss of U.S. jobs.

On June 19, 1982, a Chinese-American man named Vincent Chin was murdered simply because he looked Asian. The killers said they thought he was Japanese. As if that justified doing any harm to him at all. Worse yet, the killers each received a $3,000 fine and no jail time at all.

Very appropriately, flyers were handed out at the gathering reminding everyone that Asian Americans are not a scapegoat. On the back of the flyer was a list of resources:

All photographs are by Robert Bernstein. To see all photos and a short video, visit


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