To the Members of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce,
Recently, like millions of others, I viewed the videos of two elderly gentlemen of Asian descent being shoved to the ground both in a neighborhood in San Francisco and in Oakland Chinatown. The gentleman in Oakland survived with serious health issues. The gentleman in San Francisco, Mr. Vicha Ratanapakdee, lost his life.
These incidents, and so many others, have broken my heart and impacted me deeply at a personal level. Both of these men reminded me of my own father, Dr. Peter Yee: a native San Franciscan, World War 2 veteran, Congressional Gold Medal Awardee, and the first Chinese American physician in Santa Clara County, 97 years young. Regardless of how much service he has given to our country, he could still be targeted simply because of his Asian background.
I visited Oakland Chinatown shortly thereafter. Usually, during Lunar New Year, there would be a positive energy and spirit throughout the markets. Instead, I felt a sense of fear, not only due to the pandemic, but from this wave of attacks in our city. I could see the trepidation in families and seniors—purchasing lucky red envelopes, mandarin tangerines, and Lunar New Year gifts—that they were somehow at risk. And I could feel the anxiety in the local shops, already reeling from the pandemic, now suffering from this added threat in their community.
From 1988 to1990, I was the Executive Director of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), a national non-profit organization whose mission is to advance the social, political, and economic well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community. Among the many issues we addressed during my tenure were hate violence and discrimination against the AAPI community. In fact, during that time, in a Senate hearing on immigration, I was told to ‘go back to China’ by a prominent United States Senator.
The sad reality is that this issue is not new, it’s been going on for over a century. From the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, to Vincent Chin’s killing in Detroit by two white men in 1982, to the wave of anti-Asian attacks that we’re seeing today. Simply stated, Americans of Asian descent, even in 2021, are still not viewed as Americans by some.
Crimes against the AAPI community across the country have only intensified since the pandemic. We, as a business community, must help find solutions to end this violence. Since the pandemic, the AAPI community has been unfairly targeted and blamed by many for COVID19. References to COVID-19 as the ‘Kung-Flu’ or ‘China Virus’, have fueled the sentiment and incited attacks against AAPIs.
Time Magazine reports that, “Since the start of the pandemic, the New York Police Department reported that hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment had jumped by 1,900 percent.” In California, over 1,200 incidents have occurred since the pandemic, with the majority of incidents occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond these reported crimes, dozens of other incidents go unreported due to a fear of reprisal, language, and cultural barriers, or a distrust of law enforcement.
So what can we as business leaders do? We must start by calling out these racially-motivated atrocities and mobilizing quickly when they occur. Collectively, we can continue to partner with AAPI business organizations that are on the frontline of these issues. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., we recently supported Asian, Inc. through a $250,000 grant to stand up COVID-19 emergency response efforts benefiting low and moderate-income small businesses. At the San Francisco Chamber, we will encourage our members, both small and large, to continue to support efforts that empower minority and women-owned businesses and help them emerge even stronger after COVID-19.
We are heartened to learn about open and inclusive dialogues occurring between communities of color in San Francisco, Oakland, and other cities throughout the country. We have seen innovative programs spring up, such as organizing volunteers from all communities to safely escort AAPI seniors as they run errands. Hate violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or any group of people, cannot and will not be tolerated. Let’s work together to bring down the temperature, address systemic racism when we see it, work to eliminate it, and stop individual acts of hate. Collectively, we can make good on the commitment to individuals like my father, who paved the way for all of us, that America is truly the land of opportunity for us all.
Melinda Yee Franklin
Chair, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
West Region Executive, Community Engagement/Corporate Responsibility
JPMorgan Chase & Co.