An attack on an Asian woman near her South End apartment last month has launched the victim’s family into action, as they seek to raise awareness about an increase in hate incidents against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic.
Yin Ching Lam, 67, was knocked to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked on May 23 shortly before 7 p.m., according to a police report of the incident. The attacker also tried to steal Lam’s purse, but bystanders intervened and caused the assailant to flee the scene before the woman could pry it from Lam’s hands.
Boston Police said an investigation into the attack is ongoing.
Neither the police nor Lam’s family are calling the crime racially motivated, but with the spree of assaults against elderly Asian women in places like New York and San Francisco this spring, family members said the possibility is hard to ignore.
“Given what’s been happening in the past few months, we just wanted to ... make sure that the Asian elderly feel protected and feel safe when they’re walking,” said Annie Chi, 21, Lam’s granddaughter and a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
“This made me realize this can happen anywhere,” Chi added.
Chi doesn’t want to leave more elderly Asian people vulnerable to violence. That’s why Chi, her brother, and her cousins have sought to raise awareness about the issue by telling their grandmother’s story at a recent public meeting in Chinatown and by posting on Instagram. They also launched a GoFundMe page and said they will dedicate the funds to moving their grandmother closer to Chinatown, an area where she feels safer, as well as establishing better transportation options for other elderly Asian people trying to reach the neighborhood.
“We’re not meek,” Chi said. “We will post if something happens to us and let everyone know.”
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of organizations founded to target anti-Asian racism, recorded 6,603 incidents of anti-Asian racism and discrimination nationwide between March 2020 and March 2021, according to a report released last month by the alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Of the incidents, women were more than twice as likely to be victims than men.
Bethany Li, director of the Asian Outreach Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, said Asian Americans in Boston experience discrimination like other Asian communities across the country, though her organization hasn’t dealt with any episodes of anti-Asian violence other than Lam’s, which has not been tied to her race.
Still, there is trepidation among Asian Bostonians of all ages about the potential for violence. In addition, some community members — particularly those without legal status in the US — don’t trust public institutions to protect them from instances of hate.
“There’s fear of the attacks and violence, but also fear about what the law enforcement response might be,” Li said.
A culture of placidity among elderly Asian people may also result in an underreporting of hate incidents. Chi said Lam only divulged to her a racist incident she experienced years ago — a person spit on her outside an Asian grocery store — while in the hospital after her attack.
“The elderly Asian people, they don’t want to cause any trouble,” Chi said.
A language barrier also could prevent Asian Americans from speaking out, Li added, underscoring the importance of nongovernmental organizations like Greater Boston Legal Services to serve as a bridge between ethnic communities and public authorities.
Chi hopes to address these issues by giving the elderly Asian community flyers on how to stay safe, written in Chinese and English. She also hopes to get more security cameras set up near housing projects where large concentrations of Asian people live.
While Chi believes these steps will improve the safety of elderly Asian residents, they are actions she never thought would be needed.
“We always thought it was really safe, we never felt like our lives were in danger,” she said of growing up in Boston. “I mean, apart from the last few months.”
Jack Lyons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.