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Older Members of AAPI Community Experience Hate Incidents

A new report finds those over age 60 have suffered harassment, fear and anxiety

Sad mature mother sitting on sofa and looking away with her son sitting in the background and supporting her
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​Older members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community who have experienced hate attacks believe life in the United States has become more dangerous for them, according to a report from a group that tracks Asian hate incidents. ​

​The report, released by the Stop AAPI Hate coalition and supported by AARP, found that Asian Americans ages 60 and older were more likely to be physically assaulted than others in the Asian American population. One out of 4 incidents reported against Asian American elders—26.2 percent—were cases of physical assault, compared with 15.4 percent for those under the age of 60. ​

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​The report also found that older AAPI community members were refused services more often than their younger counterparts and had their property vandalized more often than younger members of the AAPI community. Of those Asian American and Pacific Islanders 60 and older who reported hate incidents: ​

  • 62.5 percent were verbally harassed or shunned​
  • 7.8 percent were coughed or spat upon​
  • 7.2 percent had property vandalized​
  • 5.7 percent said they had been refused service​ ​

The Stop Asian Hate coalition has been tracking anti-Asian hate incidents, receiving nearly 11,000 reports between March 2020 and December 2021. Nearly 8 percent of those reports, or 824 incidents, were attacks against older Asian Americans, a figure the group says is likely an undercount because some in that group face language, technological and cultural barriers that make them reluctant to file a report.​ ​

“From the start, we were alarmed by elders who reported racism to our website,” says Russell Jeung, coauthor of the report and cofounder of the Stop Asian Hate coalition, and an Asian American studies professor at San Francisco State University. “You don't normally think of elders going online and complaining about mistreatment. They tend to underreport. [So] the fact that so many elders were sharing their stories concerned us.” ​ ​

Daphne Kwok, AARP’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Asian American and Pacific islander Audience Strategy, noted that the report is “significant because it spotlights the impact of COVID-19 quarantine orders and the rise in anti-Asian hate on the safety, social isolation and mental health of AAPI older adults.”​ ​

Grappling with stress and anxiety​ ​

Asian Americans aged 65 and older accounted for about 4.4 percent of the total U.S. population in that age range, and more than 9 percent of the Asian American population in 2019, according to the U.S. census. In general, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. ​ ​

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The “Stop Asian Hate” report also studied how the attacks have impacted the mental well-being of Asian Americans 60 and older:​ ​

  • Virtually all (98.2 percent) of the older Asian Americans who experienced a hate incident believe the United States has become more physically dangerous for Asian Americans.
  • Of the older Asian Americans who experienced a hate incident during the pandemic, 66 percent reported feeling stress and 24 percent felt anxious. ​ ​

“Seeing our elders in such stress is really troubling,” Jeung says. “When we see our elders attacked, we can't help but see our own grandparents being attacked, our own parents being attacked. And I think that concern for our elders, who are the most respected of our community, has galvanized our community.” ​

​Around the country, communities have mobilized to support older Asian Americans, delivering meals or helping them get connected to the internet. ​

​After a 94-year-old Asian American woman was stabbed in broad daylight in downtown San Francisco in June 2021, Anni Chung, president and CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly, received funding to start a service to escort older members of the AAPI community to help them feel safe as they went to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, or other outings. ​

​Since the launch of the service, Self-Help for the Elderly has assisted about 1,000 older adults and logged more than 8,000 hours of service, Chung says. ​

​Such services are vital to ease feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. “The next big wave of need is to provide mental health services,” Chung says. Older adults in the AAPI community “are afraid to admit it, but they will tell our staff that they can’t sleep or don’t have an appetite.” ​

​Chung encourages family, friends, and community members to help with even the smallest gestures. “Make an excuse to take them to H Mart,” she says. “Call a friend or relative, take them out for a short walk, bring them dan tat [Chinese egg tart]." ​​

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Assistance needed​ ​

But more needs to be done. The Stop AAPI Hate report calls for a multipronged approach from local, state, and federal governments, local transit agencies and community-based organizations to collect data and provide more support to older Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. For instance, Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York) introduced a bill last fall to launch a four-year pilot program that would offer mental health services in languages other than English at federally qualified health centers. ​

​“Oftentimes people think of Asian seniors as being invisible,” says Dorothy (DJ) Jiang, membership and capacity-building coordinator at the Asian American Federation. “This report highlights that seniors are urgently under attack, their suffering is happening, and we need to do something about it.” ​

​In New York City, the Asian American Federation convened a dozen community-based organizations that serve Asian American seniors throughout the region. These on-the-ground groups have played an important and needed role, Jiang says. They’re familiar with the community, understand its culture, and speak the language—but they need more resources to do their work effectively. “It takes more investment, but that investment is so worth it,” Jiang says. ​

​More than two years since the start of the pandemic, anti-Asian hate incidents have not waned, according to the Stop Asian Hate coalition, which continues to collect data. The impact on the Asian community, especially on older adults, continues. “Their routine and daily lives have changed,” Jiang says, “and they will stay changed for a long time.”​

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