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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

AAPI Heritage Month: Bridging the gap (part 4 of 4)

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Statistically, since COVID-19, hate against Asian American Pacific Islander Communities has 

grown. According to stopaapihate.org, over 11,000 acts of hate against the AAPI community 

have been reported since March of 2020. Whether it is racist acts of violence or derogatory 

remarks, the AAPI community in the United States has been targeted because of the narrative 

of fear and blame upheld even by members of our very own government. 

In an article published by the University of California San Francisco entitled “Trump’s ‘Chinese 

Virus’ Tweet Linked to Rise of Anti-Asian Hashtags on Twitter,” the hashtag #chinesevirus 

used by former President Donald Trump escalated the stigmatization of people of Asian 

descent.  

AAPI Heritage Month, AAPI, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
(Photo provided/KB Butterflies)

I remember feeling particularly worried about my mother during the early days of 

COVID-19. One day she called and told me about how uncomfortable she felt while standing in the 

grocery store line. She said that people were staring, and she did not understand why. 

Emigrating to the United States in 1976 and living in Gary, Indiana for most of that time, 

without family or resources, my mother learned to navigate both social and political 

systems to survive. As a child, I was able to witness this firsthand, and I can tell you it was not 

an easy transition. 

While my mother was able to eventually earn a living and make a few friends, the relationship 

between Korean people and Black people in my community has been fraught with mistrust 

and suspicion. This dynamic was not just relegated to my community in Gary.  

In 1991, Latasha Harlins, an African American girl, was fatally shot at age 15 by Soon Ja Du, a 

49-year-old Korean American convenience store owner in South Central Los Angeles, 

California. Later, reports would reveal that the relationship between the Korean shop 

owners and the Black community was so unhealthy that members of the Black community 

predicted that someone would eventually be harmed. 

As a teenager, I worked at a Korean-owned store in the Village Shopping Mall in Gary. My 

friends and family who shopped there and at other Korean-owned stores in the mall described 

being watched by Korean employees and made to feel like criminals. Amongst the Korean 

community, because of incidents of theft, there was a sentiment that store owners had to be 

vigilant to secure what they worked so hard to build. Because I was a part of both 

communities, I had a unique perspective of each side and a clear understanding that mistrust 

and a lack of empathy perpetuated these divisive feelings. 

Understanding commonalities and differences in culture, better communication and 

courageous leadership are ways that the AAPI community can be embraced by members of 

our community. Michelle Obama says, “It’s harder to hate up close.” Taking the time to get to 

know members of the AAPI community is the best remedy for substituting fear and hate with 

love and acceptance. 

Pennie Gregory is a member of KB Butterflies, a group celebrating people of Black and Korean heritage. This piece is part of a 4-part series in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To read the first part of the series, click here. 

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