In a show of bipartisan solidarity, 26 governors and dozens of Asian Americans who have served in top roles across six presidential administrations on Friday issued a pair of statements forcefully condemned the spike in anti-Asian harassment over the past year.
“What is happening to Asian Americans is simply un-American. We condemn racism, violence, and hatred against our AAPI communities, and we must do more to protect, lift up, and support” them, the governors wrote, using an acronym that stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) helped lead the effort, organizers said.
John C. Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, praised the governors, emphasizing that the “words and actions from our leaders matter and have a far-reaching impact.”
A separate statement from more than 60 Republicans and Democrats who have served as Cabinet secretaries, senior White House officials and congressional chiefs of staff for the past six presidents urged the Biden administration and Congress to enact policies to help protect the Asian American community.
The signers of served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. They include Elaine Chao, labor secretary under George W. Bush and transportation secretary under Trump; Obama commerce secretary Gary Locke; and Norman Mineta, who was transportation secretary under George W. Bush and commerce secretary under Clinton.
“For centuries, AAPIs have contributed much to the vibrancy and success of this country,” the former officials said in the statement, provided to The Washington Post in advance of its release. “Yet we are sometimes still seen as ‘the foreigner’ or ‘less American’ and treated as the ‘other.’ ”
The letters were released on what organizers were calling a “national day of action and healing”at a time of heightened national attention on verbal abuse, discrimination and attacks against Asian Americans. Advocates have cited former president Donald Trump’s efforts to blame China for the coronavirus for contributing to a backlash.
Both statements denounced the mass shooting in Atlanta this month that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent who worked at local spas. Police have charged Robert Aaron Long, 21, a White man who reportedly told authorities he was motivated to eliminate sexual temptation.
Stop AAPI Hate, a community advocacy group launched shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic, has tracked more than 3,800 self-reported incidents of anti-Asian bias or hate incidents since March 2020, with about two-thirds reported by Asian American women. About 70 percent of all the incidents constituted verbal harassment and 11 percent were physical assaults, the group said.
Noting that more than an estimated 2 million Asian Americans serve in critical pandemic jobs such as health-care professionals, first responders and grocery store employees, the group of former U.S. officials praised those front-line workers but cautioned that “even they are not immune to this kind of bias and hate.”
“What is currently happening in our country is alarming, and it requires that we all stand in solidarity to protect and support the AAPI community,” the group said.
Other signers include Karen Narasaki, former commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Adm. Harry Harris, who was Trump’s ambassador to South Korea; Lanhee Chen, a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush and policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign; Chris Lu, deputy labor secretary under Obama; and Nani Coloretti, a top Department of Housing and Urban Development official under Obama, who is now being promoted by AAPI advocates as a potential nominee for Office of Management and Budget director under President Biden.
About a half-dozen former government officials organized the letter in recent days, driven by not only the recent high-profile acts of violence but also instances of harassment against their friends and families.
“I was animated by viral video of an elderly Asian woman being viciously attacked while waiting for a bus,” said Cesar Conda, a former chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who also served as a senior aide to Vice President Richard B. Cheney. “That lady could have been my Filipino mom or my aunts. We felt the need to get Republicans and Democrats to speak out in a bipartisan manner.”
Francey Lim Youngberg, a former deputy assistant secretary at HUD in the Obama administration, said she personally knows several AAPIs who have been harassed, spit on and called racial slurs during the pandemic.
“My 80-year-old mom who loves to take long country drives told me she doesn’t feel safe stopping anywhere to use the facilities or grab a cup of coffee,” Youngberg said. “She has been in the U.S. for 57 years and has lived in rural parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Oregon but now she doesn’t feel safe in the greater Washington, D.C. area. This has got to stop.”
The organizers of the statement included Conda; Youngberg; Joyce Meyer, who served as a top legislative aide in the Trump White House; Irene Bueno, special assistant under Clinton; Erika Moritsugu, assistant HUD secretary in the Obama administration; Jocelyn Hong, the chairwoman of the H Street Group, an informal association of more than 100 AAPI government relations officials; and Tina Wei Smith, who was executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Trump White House.