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Community organizes AAPI support amid rise in racist Oregon attacks

Community leaders are pushing to uplift Asian American and Pacific Islander voices in Oregon to help prevent further hate and violence.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Community activists are heartbroken over two recent attacks in Portland targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), but they are pushing ahead to uplift positive voices.

The first of the two Portland incidents was in early July. Portland Police Bureau said Dylan Kesterson attacked a family of Japanese descent as they were biking on the Eastbank Esplanade. 

The second incident was several days later in SW Portland. Police said Neal Walker harassed and threatened a man off of Macadam and SW Taylor's Ferry Road, believing the man was from China.

"Hatred—if the only thing you do is retreat, it'll always find you," said Joe Kye, a musician and community organizer in Portland.

Kye is helping put together an event called Tiger Tiger, featuring art, music and food from AAPI groups. 

"[There's] hunger for an event like this," Kye said. "To build solidarity and heal, but also an opportunity for Portland at large to show up and practice some radical joy."

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is one of the event's cosponsors.

Credit: Joe Kye
The event 'Tiger Tiger: A Celebration of Our AAPI community' is happening Sunday, July 17

Duncan Hwang, a representative on Metro Council and APANO's associate director, called recent attacks on the AAPI community discouraging.

"These events, as horrible as they are, are really galvanizing for a community," Hwang said. "People are stepping up, putting on events, doing advocacy."

The Oregon Department of Justice reported 1,099 bias or hate crimes in 2020. That rose to 1,683 in 2021, a roughly 53% increase over the previous year. The monthly average in 2022 was slightly lower than 2021, but remains close.

Hwang said rhetoric during the pandemic by leaders across the nation, including former president Donald Trump, served to embolden anti-AAPI hate.

"Blaming the 'China virus,' and 'kung flu," Hwang said as an example.

RELATED: Experts: Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric could galvanize extremists

Kye has two young children and felt impacted by the Eastbank Esplanade attack, which targeted a family with a child.

"I think hate crimes are an attempt to silence, to bully, to push us further to the margins of society," Kye said.

However, Kye emphasized the need for AAPI culture and people to become more visible than ever.

"The more space we can create for it, the more we can dance and create joy around it, the more I think we can progress as a society," he said.

Credit: KGW
Joe Kye, a musician and community organizer in Portland, speaks to KGW News on Monday, July 11

APANO surveyed about 1,600 people in 2021 and found 49% of AAPI people here had experienced or witnessed a bias incident or hate crime. The same survey found 84% did not report it.

"Tip of the iceberg," Hwang described.

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Hwang said communities stepping up against such hate can help chip away at growing extremism and acts of racism.

"Be more clear about pushing back against those harmful narratives, especially from our leadership," Hwang said.

The Tiger Tiger event is Sunday, July 17 in Northeast Portland's Fernhill Park from 4 - 9 p.m.

RELATED: How a former PNW news anchor started a movement promoting Asian American and Pacific Islander pride

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