By Noah Biesiada
April 29, 2021
Orange County has a high concentration of Asian Americans, making up just over one in every five residents according to the US Census Bureau. Some cities including Westminster, Garden Grove and Irvine are over 40% Asian, and the county hosts the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam.
City councils across Orange County have been issuing statements of support for the Asian American community, but the actual action with those messages varies widely depending on where you live.
But as hate crimes against Asian Americans soared during 2020, including multiple attacks in Orange County, civic leaders have stepped up to the plate to address the problem via resolutions.
While resolutions hold very little power, cities have largely fallen into one of two camps on how they use them: motions that simply state the city stands against hate without offering concrete actions to move forward, and statements that order local police departments to release regular hate incident reports and work with affected communities.
Priscilla Huang, secretary for the volunteer advocacy group Asian Americans in Action, said many of these resolutions are the first time cities have acknowledged the Asian American population and are a strong step in the right direction.
“It’s actually really meaningful to see the city councils take up the resolutions and show some support for their asian American community members,” Huang said. “People are hungry to talk about their personal experience, to feel like they’re being heard by elected officials and policy makers.”
She also highlighted some city’s decisions to start releasing monthly hate incident and crime data, a program that never existed before in Orange County. Previously, the county compiled the data and released an annual report on the issue, a report advocates say failed to provide accurate timely data on hate.
“For us data is so critical, we need it in real time. Otherwise people don’t understand the extent of the problem,” Huang said.
Irvine Councilwoman Tammy Kim also pointed out that past efforts to collect data on hate crimes in her city have failed.
“Stop AAPI hate had in 2020 recorded 11 incidents from Irvine. You say 11 incidents, that’s not that many. That’s 11 more incidents than IPD knew about,” Kim said. “The fact an LA based organization is monitoring hate incidents in the city of Irvine and they got 11 while we got 0, that says something right there.
But word choice on these resolutions has sparked a massive debate over how cities should manage and respond to hate, with a few cities serving as lightning rods for discussion.
Irvine approved their resolution in a 4-1 vote on April 13, with longtime Democrat Councilman Larry Agran voting against the motion because he felt the language wasn’t inclusive enough because it only spoke to communities of color.
That kicked off a weeklong debate within the party over whether Agran should apologize for his actions or be reprimanded, which ultimately ended with him issuing an apology via Facebook on April 21 that said while he didn’t absolutely agree with the final language, he should have still voted to pass the resolution.
Kim, the one who originally proposed the motion, said the point of these resolutions is to help encourage Asian Americans to collaborate with other people of color.
“This was written by Asians and that was addressed to Asians, saying we can’t get through this without the collaboration of our Black, Latinx and other peoples of color,” Kim said. “He read it in sort of a different way and had a different lens versus from our lens.”
A similar debate over inclusive language played out the week before in Buena Park. Council members Beth Swift and Art Brown both opposed their city’s resolution, asking staff to cut out all mentions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and any reference to the term systemic racism.
“I think it’s fine for us to adopt a resolution, but…I don’t think we need to rehash history,” Swift said. “I know those were racist things that happened but those were before any of our time. None of us were living when those things happened.”
Their council colleagues disagreed, but pushed off the vote by two weeks to allow for more discussion.
Ultimately, the two voted to approve the original resolution at the next meeting, where Swift said she still opposed it but knew it would pass with or without her vote.
While most cities in Orange County have wrapped up their resolutions on combating Asian hate, Huang said she hopes to see more action in the future as the community gets more involved in the growing discussion.
“I’m a policy person, so I see this as an opening for future conversations to go back to these city councils and say hey thank you for passing the resolution, here are some other ideas your city can take as a next step and follow up that way,” Huang said.