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SWFL Asian-American, Pacific Islander communities discuss targeted hostility during pandemic

Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities in Southwest Florida organized a symposium Wednesday to discuss the violence and verbal attacks directed toward these community members associated with the coronavirus and the pandemic.

Violence against Asian-Americans nationwide has been hard to watch for many. There have been no such reports in Southwest Florida.

But members of these communities who we spoke to say there has been no limit to verbal attacks and discrimination.

“Being called Chinaman and also chinks,” said Dr. Colin Feng, a member of Asian Professionals Association of Southwest Florida.

“There is some good friends and members who work in spas, some of the elite spas in Naples area and they could hear the clientele saying that, ‘no, I do not want a Chinese person doing my facial. I don’t want my service person to be Chinese,'” said Pearl Cruz, the president of the association.

With those words come fear harmful words will escalate.

“I no longer wear headphones while in any type of public space because I feel like I have to be more aware of my surroundings from threat of physical assault,” said Terumi Rafferty-Osaki, who has a Ph.D. in history and is the director of Competitive Fellowships at FGCU.

“You’ll be afraid to be the one sneezing because you are Asian,” Cruz said. “You might clear a room or be blamed or something like that.”

That fear can be isolating. That’s why Rafferty-Osaki and other FGCU faculty organized the symposium.

The symposium was organized by Rafferty-Osaki, Mari DeWees, who has a Ph.D. in sociology, and Emily Nanna, who are all FGCU staff members. It included a presentation about the history of racism and xenophobia against Asian-Americans that includes blaming them for disease.

“It’s been linked multiple times with me Asian-American community, bubonic plague in 1900, SARS in 2002, swine flu,” Rafferty-Osaki said.

“For me it has created some anxiety and some fear that wasn’t there before,” Judy Wright said.

The conversation ended with promises to fight ignorance with education and violence with intervention.

“I think it’s good just to have the dialogue and talk about it,” Feng said.

MORE: Harassment and violence are on the rise – We’re here to end it

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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