Statement from the Immigrant Affairs Commission on Anti-Asian Violence
By Laura E. Varela-Addeo, Chair of the Anne Arundel County Immigrant Affairs Commission
On March 16, a 21-year-old gunman killed eight people in a series of shootings in Atlanta area spas and massage parlors. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent. The immediate national reaction, after a year of unwarranted vitriol towards Asian Americans, was a dreadful presumption that these Asian women were targeted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Washington Post, however, reported that the suspect targeted these Asian women to “eliminate sexual temptation.” While the suspect has not yet been charged with a hate crime, these women were targeted because of their Asian descent; it looks and feels like a crime of hate.
Anti-Asian bias and violence has surged in the United States this past year. According to findings published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes surged 145% in 16 of America’s largest cities in 2020, even as overall hate crime dropped 6%.
In Anne Arundel County, we have a growing Asian American population who undoubtedly have growing fears related to our nation’s troubling trend of recent hate crimes. According to the most recent US Census population estimates, Asian American population has almost doubled in Anne Arundel County since 2011 from 2.4 to 4.2 percent in 2019.
The total Asian population in this county is 18,352 and Filipino, Tagalog and Korean tie for the third most spoken languages in the county behind English and Spanish. These residents, like all of us, just want to safely live, work and raise their families in Anne Arundel County.
But sadly, our nation as a whole has experienced a long history of anti-Asian bias. Chinese immigrants began coming to the United States in significant numbers in the 1850s, largely to Western states, to work in mining and railroad construction. There was a high demand for these dangerous, low-wage jobs, and Chinese immigrants, looking to achieve the American Dream were willing to fill these strenuous jobs.
Unfortunately, generations of Asian Americans who have been living in the United States for more than 160 years, have long been the target of bigotry. In 1882, anti-Asian sentiment resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which banned the immigration of Chinese laborers - this was after the Chinese massacre of 1871 where 19 Chinese residents, including a 15-year-old boy were attacked and murdered.
And in more modern history, xenophobia and fear of Asian Americans resulted in the forced internment of over 112,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, many of whom were American citizens. Tens of thousands of those who were placed in internment camps lost all of their property and belongings.
This pattern of hate and exclusion has sadly been repeated throughout U.S. history and it still persists today. Immigrants of all types often serve as scapegoats and experience this perception of being “forever foreigners” in a wide range of ways with racism as its fuel.
We must be better than this. We are better than this. The scapegoating, the fear, and the vitriol towards all immigrants cannot be tolerated.
Our local immigrant community is strong, with an estimated 47,810 immigrants living in Anne Arundel County, accounting for 8.3% of our total population. As a group, immigrants contribute $282.2 million in state and local taxes, which positively impacts government finances, increases innovation and significantly benefits the entire county. But more importantly, immigrants enrich American culture. Immigrants share their experiences, languages, food, traditions, religions and values. And Anne Arundel County recognizes the importance of cultivating a culture of inclusion. And we are better and will be better for it.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman established an Immigrant Affairs Commission in 2020 as an advisory body that serves as a means for immigrant voices to be heard and understood; it facilitates civic engagement among immigrants and recognizes and legitimizes issues of importance to immigrants living and working in Anne Arundel County.
We, the Anne Arundel County Immigrant Affairs Commission, condemn all hate crimes and the anti-Asian violence of March 16, 2021 as a hate crime. We will continue to promote equity and respect for all immigrants.