Hate crimes and bias attacks on the Asian American Pacific Islander community due to racist scapegoating over the pandemic increased nationwide by 339% from 2020 to 2021, according to a report published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Instead of focusing on these problems, NBC Asian America editorial director Jessica Prois decided to show what the AAPI community was doing in response to these challenges by compiling a list called AAPI Action: 100 ways Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and allies have found solutions to racism and violence.
The patchwork arrangement was a strategic choice, meant to show the breadth and diversity of how the AAPI community has dealt with hate – including coverage of Seattle-based bakers holding bake sales for AAPI organizations and passage of national hate crime legislation. Prois and NBC News contributors Angela Yang and Claire Wang discussed the project with NBCU Academy. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What was the process like for creating this project?
Jessica Prois: We’ve covered hate for the past two years, so we needed to come up with a new angle, something that showed where the community was at this point and honor everyone’s efforts.
“I remember especially in 2020 or early 2021, there were so many stories about what everyone was doing to help the AAPI community and people were really paying attention to those stories. I think revisiting everything that we’ve done as a community to really help each other is important.”
—Claire Wang, contributor
First, we figured out the list’s categories: authors, athletes, legislators, sports leagues. And then, we started panicking, like, “What am I missing?” We really do need to zoom out and get a big picture of, “How does this feel all together?” “Does it feel like there’s enough variety?” or “Oh, wait, there’s a gaping hole” or “How did I forget about this?”
Claire Wang: Nearly all the initiatives we ended up covering we had already written about over the last couple years. And this is getting back to the beginning of the pandemic. I started off by pulling out projects or initiatives or groups that I had already covered – profiles I had written or people I had interviewed.
Angela Yang: I looked at press releases of grassroots organizations and local news coverage. I saw if organizations that I’ve been following had done anything new. I kept track of prominent people, scouring the internet and social media for who has been promoting what they’re doing.
Prois: We wanted a wide variety, like: What’s the Hmong American community in Minnesota doing? It wasn’t just the coastal ethnic enclaves that we usually hear from. We wanted to make sure that we had geographic diversity. We really wanted to show how the AAPI community has responded in big and small ways, and that they’re all equally important.
Why was it important to create this for AAPI Heritage Month?
Yang: This is a chance to highlight that our communities are really stepping up and helping each other. Donating to our neighbors, making sure people have safety devices like personal alarms, whistles and pepper spray so they can feel comfortable walking on the street. And checking in on each other, taking care of each other’s mental health. All of that highlights the productive ways that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are responding.
Wang: I remember especially in 2020 or early 2021 that there were so many stories about what everyone was doing to help the AAPI community, and people were really paying attention to those stories. I think revisiting everything that we’ve done as a community to really help each other is important.
Of the solutions in this project, which ones do you think were among the most impactful?
Prois: The Asian American members of Congress who have really elevated this. You see that picture of Congresswoman Judy Chu and Congresswoman Grace Meng with President Biden signing the Covid 19-Hate Crimes Act — they really pushed for it. We don’t often see Asian Americans having such a spotlight and influence and power. I think it encourages even more action.
“I never could have done it alone. I came up with the idea, but then I immediately relied upon my reporters. This is their body of work. We’re editing our ideas, editing the conception of the project, editing it altogether.”
—Jessica Prois, editorial director of NBC Asian America
Yang: The initiatives like handing out pepper spray or hosting mental health healing spaces really stood out to me because it is genuine, on-the-ground change. It’s different than just donating money, which is great, but it’s not immediate change. I feel like those things are what the community really needs right now. And that can have an immediate impact.
Wang: One that was really impactful was the volunteer foot patrols that popped up all over California because of the immediate impact of providing safety to people who were most vulnerable. They were able to provide a vision of what that might look like – community-based safety initiatives.
What advice would you give someone interested in creating a project like this one?
Yang: Make sure you’re being conscious of representation, and you want to do it because you feel it’s important to highlight, and not because you want to pander to certain communities. Be sure to be culturally competent and put enough time into it to make sure it’s a quality project.
Wang: Have an idea of what you want the project’s impact to be and what you want your reader to get out of this. A story like this one is not necessarily news; we’re covering things that already have happened. So make sure you know why the readers should be interested in this now.
Prois: I never could have done it alone. I came up with the idea, but then I immediately relied upon my reporters. This is their body of work. We’re editing our ideas, editing the conception of the project, editing it altogether.
Oftentimes you hear a story about an attack [on an Asian American] multiple times, multiple days throughout the week. And we’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. We made a living document of the things that our community rose up and did. We can all be proud of this.