LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in southern Nevada, but many in the community have recently experienced blatant discrimination due to the coronavirus, which first originated in China.
It’s an encounter UNLV junior Ava Carino will never forget.
This past spring, as COVID-19 started spreading in the U.S., Carino says someone accused her of having the virus just because she is Asian.
“He followed me and he spit on me, and he threw some food on my car,” Carino said. “I was feeling sort of apprehensive because I didn’t know how to react. I haven’t dealt with such an aggressive form of discrimination at that point in my life.”
Carino is Filipina American — born and raised in Las Vegas. In the past, she mostly experienced micro aggressions, which are subtle statements made against marginalized groups. But she says the coronavirus has thrown the door to discrimination wide open.
“This is something else that needs to be stopped right now,” Carino said.
“Please go home, leave, go back to Asia.”
Those are words CCSD teacher Matthew Dang never expected his family to hear in the wake of COVID-19. His father was berated while out shopping.
“It’s just really upsetting,” Dang said.
Dang, who is Vietnamese, teaches second grade at Arturo Cambeiro Elementary School, but over the last couple months, he’s been trying to educate the public.
“Stories I think are the best vehicle for change.”
Dang created this Instagram page, consisting of a collection of COVID-related experiences from Asians across the country.
“Make it more accessible for people, to view and to have something also to reflect upon, so we could avoid more situations where discrimination and racism gets targeted against this group of folks,” Dang said.
Different organizations here in the Las Vegas valley are also trying to make a difference through empowerment and engagement.
Taiwanese American Eric Jeng is the deputy director of One APIA Nevada — a group advocating for policies that help Asians and Pacific Islanders.
“We try to make sure that their voices are being uplifted,” Jeng said.
We spoke to Jeng at Chinatown plaza, where many Asian-owned businesses have struggled because of what they call anti-Asian sentiment, even at the highest levels of government.
“When they talk about China Flu of Kung Flu or China Virus, it doesn’t help,” Jeng said. “It makes the community feel like they somehow are being discriminated against. And I think that that’s something that hurts.”
In response, One APIA Nevada has worked to help promote these businesses.
“We are fighting this together,” Jeng said.
But the duel against discrimination needs the next generation to join the fight.
Filipina American Erica Mosca founded the nonprofit “Leaders in Training,” which works with high school and college students. They talk about the inequities facing all ethnicities, including Asians, and they inspire action.
“I feel like we’ve been forgotten and the more that we can stand up and do something about it, the better,” Mosca said. “Empower them to do something about it, whether it’s volunteering, advocating, and lobbying their legislatures to do something about it now and in the future.”
At 20 years old, Carino is part of that future. She says it’s important for everyone to understand a simple truth about the Asian community.
“While our oppression isn’t as visible as other marginalized groups of people, it’s still prevalent in our lives,” Carino said.