By Alexander Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
In a unanimous vote, the Port of Seattle Commission passed a proclamation on May 12 rejecting racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
“The fact is that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners,” said Commissioner Sam Cho. “We are perceived by the public as perpetual foreigners. The reality is that for some reason, Asians are never American enough.”
May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month, but the AAPI community has very little to celebrate. The COVID-19 outbreak has claimed the lives of thousands of AAPIs and left millions more without a job. The origin of the COVID-19 virus has led to an increase in discrimination and racism against AAPIs.
“The Port of Seattle Commission hereby proclaims that racism against Asians and Asian Americans shall not be tolerated in any form, AND we stand in support of individuals and communities targeted by association with COVID-19, AND we urge everyone to interrupt instances of racisms and intolerance by speaking up in support of equity, justice, and inclusion.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal testified at the hearing in support of the proclamation.
“Some in our community and across the country are using this moment to scapegoat our AAPI community. Stigma is the enemy of public health. The virus does not discriminate and neither should we.”
Cho said the Port had considered issuing a similar proclamation in March, but wanted its passage to coincide with Asian Pacific Heritage Month.
“The purpose of the proclamation was to address the unfair backlash that the AAPI community has received during the COVID-19 crisis.” Cho noted that businesses in the International District began to struggle even before the COVID-19 outbreak due to misplaced racism.
The Port pledged to avoid repeating previous instances of mass discrimination like the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The proclamation referenced the Port of
Seattle’s creation of an office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to address institutional and structural racism. It also called for residents of King County to report incidents of racism and intolerance to the Washington State Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
Research from Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, found over 1,000 media reports documenting xenophobia against Asian Americans between Jan. 28 and Feb. 24. The Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and its affiliates, has received almost 1,500 reports of verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assaults of AAPIs related to the COVID-19 outbreak since March 19.
COVID-19 adversely impacted the health and financial wellbeing of the AAPI community. Around 3,000 Asian Americans have died in the United States from contracting the COVID-19 virus. The mortality rate for Asian Americans is slightly above their population share in Washington state. The national Asian American unemployment rate increased from 4.1% in March to 14.5% in April due to the forced closure of industries that employ a large percentage of AAPIs, such as casinos, hair and nail salons, and restaurants.
Cho indicated that the challenges faced by the API community are not new, but are more pronounced because of the pandemic.
The Port announced that starting on May 18, travelers, visitors, and employees of the airport will need to wear a face covering. When asked “why now,” Cho said the Port had been vetting this proposal for several weeks with airline companies and the airport’s tenants to determine whether it had the legal authority to impose a face covering rule. No Port employee has died from contracting COVID-19, but 15 employees and seven contractors have been monitored or quarantined.
Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.