The voices of South Asian Americans, who experience the highest incidence of hate crimes within the Asian American community, were heard in a documentary last night that candidly depicts the backlash after Sept. 11.
A diverse crowd of nearly 60 students, faculty and staff members gathered for the sneak preview and discussion of the documentary titled “Raising our Voices: South Asians Respond to Hate Crimes.”
Sponsored by the Indian American Students Association, the event kicked off the University”s first annual Hate Crime Week, a new addition to the University”s ongoing Martin Luther King Symposium.
LSA senior Howard Liu, the program”s chief organizer, said this week”s events commemorate the death of Vincent Chin who was murdered 20 years ago as a result of prejudice against Asian Americans. The Hate Crime Symposium is designed to simultaneously raise awareness and facilitate dialogues amongst students to reduce the ignorance that leads to hate crimes, he said.
The documentary”s co-producer, Debasish Mishra, a University alum, said Asian Americans are subject to hate crimes partly because of ignorance and because of the false perception that all Asian Americans are the same.
“It”s time to put a human face on the problem,” Mishra said.
Because hate crimes are most prevalent when people feel threatened or fearful, Mishra said the events of Sept. 11 only worsened the incidences of prejudice against Asian Americans.
As the author of “American Backlash,” a report documenting 645 of the hate crimes that occurred against Asian and Arab Americans the week after Sept. 11, Mishra considered last year”s tragedy “one of the greatest threats to civil liberties that we know.”
The recent wave of racial profiling across the country and the increased use of secret evidence against immigrants has led Mishra to believe that Americans are now responsible for looking after their own rights, he said.
“We can no longer trust our government to protect us. Our communities are going to have to band together,” he said.
The documentary detailed the accounts of several hate crime victims and mentioned possible solutions to the problem, including a wide-scale effort to educate the public about the causes and effects of hate crimes.
Mishra advised students to assume a more proactive role in combating race-based discrimination.
“It takes real leadership to show people the conditions of the community, and to do it persistently,” he said.
Engineering sophomore Mahima Mahadevan said she learned a lot from the event.
“I didn”t even know about half of the issues the documentary presented. It”s very shocking to see. I”m actually surprised to see that so many Indians are victims (of hate crimes). I thought (the backlash) was more of an Arab thing,” she said.
LSA sophomore Kimberly Kim agreed.
“I guess I”ve been very ignorant about the backlash,” she said.
Mishra plans to go on tour with the documentary, distributing the film to community-based organizations around the country.