TELLURIDE, Colo. — From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Japanese Internment Camps, Anti-Asian racism isn’t new, both on a historical and personal level.
“I grew up in Oklahoma. We opened a Thai restaurant and we faced incidents of hate crimes,” says Tesha Karnchanakphan, an Asian American woman living in Telluride. She says the restaurant was vandalized on multiple occasions, including with gunshots.
“I grew up around a lot of anti-Asian sentiments, but it was always subtle and that’s the problem. It was like, let’s make fun of the way she talks, or let’s make fun of the way she looks,” says Trang Pham, who also lives in Telluride. She says she worked hard to assimilate and blend in. “I practiced a lot when I was younger, to not have an accent.”
But many Asian Americans are feeling those anti-Asian sentiments have intensified since the beginning of the pandemic.
In fact, according to a study by California State University, anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by 150 percent in 2020 in the largest cities in the United States.
While the women we spoke with say they haven’t experienced physical violence, they have been harassed, and are wary of leaving the community they live in.
“I feel pretty safe living in Telluride because I know the local people and they know me. But at the beginning of the pandemic, I went to the local grocery store and a lot of people were staring at me and I felt uncomfortable,” says Tsubasa Yamada, a Japanese woman living in Telluride.
Yamada says she feels going to a city where people don’t know her personally will leave her with a higher chance of being profiled and possibly harmed.
“I’m a tiny Asian so, can I really protect my son if something happened?” says Yamada.
Pham and Karnchanakphan both say they are afraid for their parents and other family members who have accents, are older or live in bigger cities.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization advocating for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Colorado ranks 13th in the nation in violence against Asian Americans.
And though there are no immediate fixes to racist ideology, those experiencing racism say the first step to correcting racism is listening to victims.
“I think that requires people that look like me to voice out their concerns and their experiences, and it takes people that don’t look like me to hear that out,” says Karnchanakphan.