A woman shops in a stall of red and gold decoration items in Oakland, CA., on February 8, 2021, in preparation for the Lunar New Year. (Sabita Shrestha / Golden Gate Xpress) (Sabita Shrestha)
A woman shops in a stall of red and gold decoration items in Oakland, CA., on February 8, 2021, in preparation for the Lunar New Year. (Sabita Shrestha / Golden Gate Xpress)

Sabita Shrestha

Attacks on elderly Asian Americans surge in the Bay Area during the festive season

In recent weeks, reports of violence against elder Asian Americans have skyrocketed

February 12, 2021

Stores in Chinatown are crammed with roadside stalls of red and gold decorations, mandarins and tangerines, dried ingredients and flowers; the festival is around the corner. The 15-day celebration of the Spring Festival, also known as Lunar New Year, begins on Feb. 11, New Year’s Eve.

But the ambiance doesn’t complement the festive spirit; instead, it’s full of terror.

A 91-year-old man was violently shoved in the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown; 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee died from an unjustifiable attack in San Francisco.

A 79-year-old man was attacked and robbed in San Francisco. A 64-year-old woman was robbed in San Jose.

These are some of the incidents that occurred in recent weeks, and the targets were all elder Asian citizens.

Anti-Asian hate crimes and xenophobia have been surging in the Bay Area and in the U.S. since the arrival of COVID-19, and some even blaming the community for the pandemic, including former President Donald Trump who repeatedly used terms like “Chinese virus,” “Kung Flu” and “Wuhan virus.”

In Oakland’s Chinatown alone, more than 20 incidents have been reported in the past two weeks.

Out of 351 COVID-19 deaths in San Francisco, 38% are Asian American residents, the highest of any ethnic group.

— San Francisco Department of Public Health

“My first reaction is that it is heartbreaking, gut-wrenching that our Asian elders are experiencing violence, on top of, you know, experiencing high death rates due to COVID,” said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a non-profit organization founded in 1969 to protect the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans.

“They’re obviously very fragile, and not in the ability, you know, not in the position to defend themselves, right,” said Choi about the series of attacks against older Asian Americans.

Out of 351 COVID-19 deaths in San Francisco, 38% are Asian American residents, the highest of any ethnic group, according to the data by San Francisco Department of Public Health.   

Russell Jeung, SF State’s professor of Asian American studies, said that there are two trends of xenophobia against Asian Americans. “One is the overall anti-Asian racism that was fomented by President Trump and the Republican Party, and that led to both interpersonal violence and racist policies like mass immigration bans,” he said. “The second trend is the spate of crimes against Asian Americans that may or may not be racially biased.”

The rate of violent crime against Asians raised from 8.2 to 16.2 per 1000 persons from 2015 to 2018, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Choi and Jeung both agree that the numbers of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents are underreported. They are also the co-founders of the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, along with Manjusha P. Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.

Stop AAPI Hate center was launched on March 19, in response to the surge in anti-Asian assaults and racism. According to the report, it received 2,808 reported incidents of bigotry and discrimination against Asian communities in the U.S. between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020. 

“People know that we’re out shopping more, we’re carrying money, people may think we’re more vulnerable and won’t report,” Jueng said about recent thefts and robberies.

Jueng believes that one of the reasons behind recent multiple media coverage of crimes is the focus and attention of the media on the Asian American community during Lunar New Year.  

A woman walks in the street of Chinatown in Oakland, CA., on February 8, 2021. In comparison to San Francisco Chinatown, Oakland was less crammed with people due to the fear caused by the recent series of attacks against the Asian community. (Sabita Shrestha / Golden Gate Xpress)

The increasing rate of attacks and robberies has hurt small businesses in Chinatown, as people are frightened to leave the house, go out shopping and even stroll in their neighborhoods.

Jacob Azevedo, a resident of Oakland, decided to step in after he could no longer sit by and watch the videos after videos of attacks. He called out for volunteers to escort older people in Chinatown and formed a group called Compassion in Oakland. Currently, 158 people have signed up to volunteer, and Azevedo said he is overwhelmed by the support he’s been receiving.

 Azevedo also organized a GoFundMe fundraiser to provide personal safety alarms, like whistles, and within 24 hours, it smashed the original goal.

“I figure people run whenever they hear a car alarm, and when they break into it. So, you know, maybe this could somehow be helpful to elderly people,” Azevedo said. “And when it comes to elderly people, your minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death.”

More than five Asian American organizations across the Bay Area, including CAA, teamed up to hold a virtual press conference demanding action against the recent attacks on Tuesday.

“Our resilience is not the reason for government officials to ignore the needs of Chinatown residents and small businesses right now,” said Jing Jing He, a member of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, in the press conference.

Jueng and Choi are heartened by the amount of support from the communities, elected officials, celebrities, churches and unions, standing up against discrimination and violence.

Under usual circumstances, friends and families would reunite for Lunar New Year, wish each other good health, fortune and luck and exchange gifts, but unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.

“I am not going to see my, I can’t see my elder, my 94-year-old mom, and she can’t see her great-grandchildren,”  Jueng said. Although that won’t stop him or his family from celebrating New Year. “It’s just like we have Zoom classes, we are having the Zoom Chinese New Year parties,” he said.

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About the Contributors
Photo of Sabita Shrestha
Sabita Shrestha
Sabita Shrestha is the Xpress visuals editor for Spring 2022. She is finishing her last semester at SF State with a major in Photojournalism and minor in Labor Studies. Originally from Nepal, Shrestha came in the U.S. for an undergraduate degree in 2016 and transferred to SF State in 2019. Apart from student life, she enjoys reading, hiking, and having days off.

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  • S

    StopAAPIviolenceFeb 14, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    In response to the article linked at


    It is noted that some well-known Asian American figures have offered some monetary rewards to help with solving the recent hate crimes against senior citizens, one of the most vulnerable population in our community. However, in the article, Councilmember Carroll Fife suggested that this will not work as she states in quotation this results in putting “bounties on Black men’s heads”.

    Though councilmembers are elected by their respective diverse precinct and district, they should be impartial, fair and should be representing the diverse community within their district as well as within the Oakland general population, regardless which district they are representing.

    I feel that councilmember Fife comments does not come from an impartial stance, does not fully reflect the pains and struggles of other communities including but limited to the Asian American experiences in Oakland, and does reflect empathy for the Asian seniors that are being attacked and abused, but in a way it is divisive, paving the way for and reinforcing certain behaviors or agendas, in a way saying it’s ok to see and it’s ok for anyone to attack, rob and/or harm our Asian senior citizens and that nothing will happen because there is immunity and no repercussions for when you killed or hurt elderly Asians.

    As an elected councilwoman and a leader in our city, what have you done to protect our Asian American seniors from hate crimes and harm? As you stated what was offered does not work, what will you offer then as strategies, whether development of a protocol, policy and/or a task force, to help combat and contribute to ending hate crimes in our community on our seniors, particularly the Asian Seniors in Oakland? While graphically shown on youtube and news outlets, It is clear that Asian seniors in Oakland have been unfairly and disproportionately the targets and victims of attacks and abuses.

    Please help us understand your comments and help us protect our asian elders from senseless and unprovoked hate crimes, not only in Chinatown but across the broad in all communities of Oakland, as Asian seniors are representative in all areas of Oakland.

    With these hate crimes occurring in Oakland, perpetuated by mostly young people of color, I feel ashamed, embarrassed, hurt, sad, and infuriated to be an oaklander; what have we done to deserve seeing our parents and grandparents being harmed and attacked unprovoked-it really pains me, like a sharp knife piercing into my lungs and heart. No one period, if unprovoked, should be attacked in such a horrific way.

    Our Asian elders have done nothing to deserve this. Please stop the attacks and preying on our elders, just because they are easy targets, weak, fragile and can’t fend for themselves.

    This really touches closed to home as I recently learned my elder dad was recently the target of hate crime as he told me last month he was pushed onto the ground by a stranger for no reason. My dad said the guy that pushed him didn’t even take his wallet or stole from him. My dad sustained bruises and scrapes in the ordeal. He was afraid for his life. And he was too scared to tell anyone about it. While he was telling me this, I was sadden, angry, and hopeless. This had occurred in east oakland.

    I have a few questions for all the councilmembers, if we are anti-pro police and, with the mindset of defunding or limiting police resources, who would, then, be tasked to protect the Asian American population in Oakland? Given the need for protection of our most vulnerable community, what changes are needed and how will resources, in terms of policing be allocated in the long term? Also understanding that language barriers are major issues in this community, what would be done to support and address this so that police reporting can be implemented seamlessly? It’s not that Asian seniors don’t want to report the crime; it’s because they could be incapable of it due to language barriers, not speaking and understanding English, which double their vulnerability because of age and the lack of command of the English language. Some other reasons could be fear of retaliation from other communities, which should never be the case as they have done nothing wrong. Understanding this, how would council as a whole address and bridge this issue concretely to end crimes against this population and reinforce a culture of respect and protection of our elderly so that this unlawful behavior never happen again?

    Thank you councilmembers for hearing my pain as I am sure others, similarly, are facing as well. Thank you also Mayor of Oakland for calling these unlawful acts out and offering some concrete solutions to the current crisis at hand. Thank you the Oakland PD for mobilizing support for the AAPI community to help mitigate further hate crimes against our vulnerable elderly population in Oakland.