SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday the bigotry and violence sparking fear in Asian-American communities “infuriates” him and that it is incumbent on everyone to combat it, reflecting on California’s historic role in perpetuating discrimination against Asians.
“What the hell is wrong with us?” Newsom asked.
Newsom, a Democrat, spoke alongside Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco. He was joined by a leader of Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting organization that has found 3,800 hate incidents directed toward Asian people over the past year, nearly 1,700 of them in California.
Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, said he was proud to grow up in a city and state known for its diversity. More than 6.2 million people of Asian descent live in California.
He spoke in personal and emotional terms, saying California cannot shy away from its own role in promoting bigotry. The California Legislature discriminated against Chinese immigrants in the 1800s, passing several measures aimed at Chinese people, including requiring special licenses, labor rules and preventing naturalization. In 1882, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law. Denis Kearney, a political leader and opponent of Chinese immigration, was active in San Francisco.
“We have to be vigilant, this is something that’s been with us for 150 years in this state and the country,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s emotional remarks came with no new policy initiatives.
Asian American and Pacific Islanders groups have been calling on him to take several concrete steps to combat anti-Asian bigotry, including by appointing an AAPI attorney general. State Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who is of Filipino descent, is among the contenders to replace Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed Thursday as the U.S. health secretary.
Newsom declined to say Friday who he will name to the job.
Assemblyman David Chiu, who represents San Francisco, said the California Department of Justice should begin tracking hate incidents as well as hate crimes “whether it be vandalism or the racial epithets or discrimination that we see in retail environments, or bullying that we see in the schoolyard.”
Asian-American parents and business owners are fearful of their children or places of work being targeted, and many community members are afraid to go out in public, said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, one of the groups that launched Stop AAPI Hate.
“We have schools reopening where parents are fearful that their children will be bullied and encounter racism. We have private businesses that are fearful that if they are Asian owned and have primarily Asian employees will they be targeted,” she said.
Newsom said he still keeps a stack of hate mail he got when he named Heather Fong, who is Chinese, as chief of the San Francisco Police Department in 2004. Some of the opposition to Fong’s appointment came from within the department, he said.
“That wasn’t that many years ago. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.