Community leaders call for steps to end racism targeting Asian Americans

Chhaya Chhoum (fourth from left) executive director of Mekong NYC, with her staff. The Asian-led organization is one of dozens throughout the city advocating for better resources for the Asian American communities they serve. (Photo: Mekong NYC)

By Ester Wells
Medill Reports

Some Asian Americans are risking death from COVID-19 rather than turning to medical care where they fear health care professionals won’t understand their language and often don’t respect their medical requests, said Chhaya Chhoum, framing the larger Asian experience in the crisis through the challenges confronted by one family her organization helped. Chhoum is executive director of Mekong NYC, which provides health and social services to the Southeast Asian community in the Bronx and greater New York City.

Making visible the issues important to traditionally “invisibilized” people is key to addressing anti-Asian racism and violence, urge Chhoum and other Asian American community leaders. They say the underreported impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Asian communities hurts some of the most marginalized people at this time.

COVID-19 hate crimes against Asian Americans in New York City were up 700% between January and November 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, according to the New York City Police Department. Combined with the economic hardship wrought by deliberate shunning of Asian-owned businesses and the lack of necessary and dedicated resources, Asian Americans are dealing with a confluence of pernicious forces.

Speakers from more than 45 Asian American activist organizations and other New York City community representatives gathered virtually Tuesday for the 13th annual Asian Pacific American City Advocacy Week, hosted by the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. Participants hoped to call attention to the most pressing issues for Asian communities and support a New York City budget advancing Asian American interests.

Dozens of Asian-led and Asian-serving New York City organizations shared their experiences and challenges working through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo:

Four community leaders share their stories and advice for how to move forward:

(Chhaya Chhoum, center. Photo: Mekong NYC)



Chhaya Chhoum, executive director of Mekong NYC, which provides health and social services to the Southeast Asian community in the Bronx and greater New York City. Chhoum shares the story of the life-threatening dilemma one family faced due to the lack of medical services dedicated to Asian Americans.






Peter Koo, council member for the 20th District on the New York City Council. Koo describes the economic and racial struggles he has witnessed in the Asian communities he represents.






Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council, which promotes the empowerment of Chinese Americans. Ho stresses the need for unity among BIPOC in addressing racism and race-related issues across all groups.







Anita Gundanna, co-executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, which advocates for equity for Asian and Pacific Americans. Gundanna talks about the importance of representation and why having a seat at the table is critical to moving forward.


Ester Wells covers health, environment and science at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @esterwells_.