As he drove off, he yelled anti-Asian slurs, Kokumai said.
The 28-year-old, who is set to compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, said she was stunned to be targeted by the random abuse — and horrified that no one in the park came to her aid.
“Yes, what happened was horrible, but I don’t know which was worse, a stranger yelling and threatening to hurt me for no reason or people around me who witnessed everything and not doing a thing,” Kokumai wrote on Instagram.
Kokumai, who was born in Hawaii to Japanese parents, is one of thousands of Asian Americans who have reported being harassed or assaulted since the beginning of the pandemic. Orange County has also seen several recent cases, including a 23-year-old man arrested last month after allegedly kicking a 69-year-old Asian man and stomping on him. On Monday, local prosecutors charged a man with a hate crime for allegedly pelting rocks at an Asian women’s car in the county.
A seven-time national champion who is ranked fifth in the world, Kokumai is the only American among 40 karate athletes who qualified for the Summer Olympics — the first time the sport will be included. Kokumai competes in a discipline called kata, which focuses on specific movements that are judged on speed, strength, rhythm and technique.
Kokumai recently joined other Asian American Olympians to speak out about the rise in racist violence. During a virtual U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media summit on Wednesday, Kokumai, gymnast Yul Moldauer and wheelchair tennis player Dana Mathewson described their experiences of hatred.
“People are getting hit, people are getting slashed, people are getting killed,” Kokumai said. “We are, in a way, being targeted, and the violence, harassment and discrimination is real.”
Kokumai’s recent firsthand experience happened on April 2 at Grijalva Park in Orange, Calif. Kokumai said she often works out in the park and was talking to a friend on the phone when the man, who has not been identified, approached her.
The first video Kokumai posted to Instagram shows the man walking past her and heading toward his car. He yells at Kokumai to “get away from me” and “don’t be looking at me behind my back.”
In one video, Kokumai laughs uncomfortably, trying to brush the man off as he continues his diatribe while he stands in front of his car, which is parked behind her. It was only later that she understood how troubling the interaction was, she said.
“Obviously I was scared,” Kokumai told KTLA.
As the man drove away, Kokumai said she could hear him saying “'Chinese' and ‘sashimi,’ which have no connection at all,” she said at the media summit.
What was just as jarring, she wrote on Instagram, was that many people stood by and watched. Some smiled and some walked by and didn’t say anything, she wrote. One woman approached her toward the end of the incident and asked if she was okay.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she wrote on Instagram, adding that the harassment made her “angry, frustrated, confused, scared.” But the lack of interference by onlookers left her “heartbroken to see and experience how people could be so cold,” she wrote. “We need to take care of each other. Why is it so hard to treat people with respect[?]”
Kokumai told KTLA that despite being aware of the increasing violence against Asian people, she was taken aback when it happened to her.
“I didn’t think it would happen to me at a park I usually go to train,” she said.
Kokumai has not reported the incident to the police, according to KTLA. But she chose to publicize it on her Instagram to raise awareness of what Asian Americans are experiencing around the nation.
“I do know the responsibility of having the platform and being an athlete representing the U.S., so I really thought it’s important to raise awareness,” she told KTLA. “This is happening. This is real.”