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Port Stands Against Anti-Asian Racism

May 28, 2020

On Monday, May 18, Bookda Gheisar, Senior Director of the Port of Seattle’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion hosted an online panel on how the pandemic has fueled discrimination against Asian communities. The webinar included insights from Port Commissioner Sam Cho, Executive Director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) Michael Byun, Executive Director of Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) Toshiko Hasegawa, and Sameth Mell of the Community Response Alliance. 

The panelists covered topics including the impact of the pandemic on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) businesses, the intentional use of terms like the “Chinese Virus” or the “Kung Flu” to avert blame and embolden racist acts, and the history of structural racism against AAPI communities in the Pacific Northwest. 

Here are a few moments, resources, and a link to the recorded webinar:

Bookda Gheisar
Gheisar opened the conversation:

“As [King County] has started tracking the [COVID-19] data by race, we know that all communities of color have been deeply impacted. We acknowledge the tremendous loss in communities of color and all other communities. And in honor of [Asian and Pacific Islander] Awareness Month, the Port of Seattle has passed a proclamation against racism — the racism that the API Community has been a target of and experienced over the last few months.”

Commissioner Sam Cho
Commissioner Cho emphasized the importance of the proclamation:

 “We [, the Port of Seattle,] are the gateway to the Pacific Northwest. As such, we should maintain a welcoming gateway. Anyone who knows me or my story knows that my parents immigrated to this country through the Port of Seattle many, many years ago. And I think the Port of Seattle should always remain a welcoming place, and this region should always be a welcoming place for people of color, immigrants, and refugees.” 

Michael Byun
Byun discussed how his organization is adapting to meet the changing and challenging needs of their clients, and how the broader API community is suffering terrible economic hardships. Michael said that API-run businesses are experiencing a “double whammy.” The Governor’s orders to stay at home have reduced spending and economic activity, and discrimination against the API community has meant additional loss of revenue of API-owned businesses. 

“Right before the first case in the U.S., which was here in Washington State, Asian-run businesses across the region saw a dramatic reduction in business, anywhere in the area of 20-70%. Part of that is the fact that the broader community is connecting COVID-19 to Asian Americans, and there’s unfounded fear that [supporting] an Asian business might potentially put them at a higher risk.” 

Toshiko Hasegawa
Hasegawa detailed how the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing social inequities — in areas such as education, healthcare, and immigration — experienced by the API community and communities of color. Toshiko also talked about the history of racial oppression and discrimination experienced by the API community, and how today’s events should be informed by history. 

“These acts [of discrimination] and prejudicial attitudes have historically been precursors to systemic oppression.” 

Sameth Mel
Mel introduced Partners in Change (the Partnership), which is a statewide coalition of organizations serving undocumented, migrant, farmworker, incarcerated, detained, houseless, disabled, refugee, immigrant, multilingual, LGBTQ, Native, and low-income communities of color. Recognizing that communities of color have been left out the government’s pandemic response, the Partnership is working with local and state government agencies to center racial equity in the government’s response and recovery efforts. For instance, the Partnership has been working with Governor Inslee and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to figure out how to get laptops and reliable internet access to low-income students and students of color so that these students can fully participate in online learning. 

The panelists and attendees provided the resources below, including: strategies to support victims of racist acts, how to support local API businesses and organizations, and information about the history and strengths of the API community in our region and country. 


  • A portrait campaign by Seattle-based photographer Sharon H. Chang to help combat increased racism against people of color during the pandemic, raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus on communities of color, and prioritize safety instead of stigma by the public
  • Stop the Hate provides a way for victims of bias and hate crimes to report these incidences. The incidences are then recorded and mapped to provide information on which areas may be less safe 
  • Hollaback!'s bystander intervention resources include trainings, tips, and more show you how to stand up for others when you witness hate and harassment
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice holds training events and are currently partnered with Hollaback! to hold bystander intervention trainings 
  • United We Stand rallied the nation around the 2nd Annual AAPI #DayAgainstBullying+Hate on May 18, 2020. They commemorated this day with a live virtual event
  • Asian Americans on PBS is a five-hour film series on the history and ongoing role that Asian Americans have played in shaping the United States

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