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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Local Asian and Pacific Islander communities praise President Biden's anti-discrimination order

Drew Angerer

This week President Joe Biden signed an executive action, aimed at combating xenophobia towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The move was part of a four-order action focused on advancing racial equity.

Grand Rapids dad Ace Marasigan said the order brings a feeling of progress. As he sat with his seven-year-old son Redd, he recalled their expereince reading headlines of Asian American discrimination just a few months back.

"“I remember red reading off my computer screen reading 'Asians being targeted with racist attacks,' at that time he (Redd) is only six years old. How do you explain that to someone like that?" Marasigan asked.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose along with the spread of the coronavirus, which emerged from China. Former President Donald Trump routinely referred to it as "the China virus." Other politicians also dubbed it "the Chinese virus" or the "Kung flu."

Since its launch on March 19, 2020, Stop AAPI Hate has received 2,583 reports of anti-Asian nationwide. 70% of the incidents were categorized as verbal harrassement.

The World Health Organization said in a statement it no longer names diseases after suspected areas of origin or after specific communities to avoid unintended reprecussions for others.

"In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO. “This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

Marasigan said he was "sheilding" his family from any hate acts as much as he could, adding that he didn't think xenophobic comments would occur in West Michigan. However, during with work with the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation, reports came to light.

"“It’s a wake up call. People felt more emboldened to in a way be more racist and that’s really a sad moment. When we put on the Asian street food drive thru event there was a comment there by a lady, and she was saying we’re going to be serving bats at our drive through, and that hurt a little bit," he said, "I know she was just being ignorant, but if one person thinks this way, in my head a lot of people are thinking this way,” he said.

When asked how he felt about the discrimination towards an entire community of people, Marasigan said it felt misplaced.

"You can just feel it that people are fearful being amongst you because of the whole rhetoric of Asians bringing the virus, and to have that stigma in your head you’re like 'I’m not a virus, I didn’t cause this virus,' but you’re prepared to defend yourself verbally," he said.

Marasigan said he didn't plan on having discussions about racism with his son this early on. However, he said President Biden's memorandum provides a "brighter future," and that he hopes the world will change for Redd.

“It’s really good to feel that someone’s got your back and knowing it’s from the top. Knowing that my son he’s going to continue to grow and hopefully in a world that’s more equitable and accepting. It’s going to be a tough road because we still have to be united as one, but knowing that we can all talk about our differences and challenges I believe that’s our step towards togetherness,” Marasigan said. 

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