The Orange County Register, Jan 23, 2017

By Deepa Bharath, Staff Writer

“Go back to (expletive) China!”

Gloria Lee can still see the anger and hatred on the face of the man who uttered those words. On a warm afternoon in September, the lawyer was crossing the street toward her firm’s offices in Costa Mesa wearing a crisp dress suit when a car screeched to a halt beside her, almost hitting her.

“The driver rolled down the window and yelled at me to go back to China,” said Lee, a first-generation Korean American, born in Chicago and raised in Orange County.

Lee is the client relations partner at Rutan & Tucker, an alum of Stanford University and UC Berkeley Law School, and was named a “rising star” by the Southern California Super Lawyers publication from 2012 to 2016.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I realized that despite (my) accomplishments or contributions to the community, some people still just see me as a foreigner who doesn’t belong.”

Lee is not alone, says Karin Wang, spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), which has launched a website,, to help document, track and share experiences such as Lee’s.

“Our goal is not just to have a place where we can share stories, but also give people advice about complaints and legal actions they may be able to file,” Wang said.

The increase in hate crimes and hate incidents in 2015 statewide and in Southern California makes such a website increasingly necessary and relevant, she said.

According to the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission’s 2015 Hate Crimes Report, such crimes in Los Angeles County jumped 24 percent in 2015. Specifically, the report showed that hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, the majority of which were people of Chinese descent, jumped from six to 18 during this time.

Wang said while hate crimes and hate incidents committed against Muslims get a lot of media attention, incidents involving Asian Americans do not. She said Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric – making China the “economic enemy” during his campaign – may have played a part in rousing these sentiments.

“It’s reminiscent of the 1980s when Japan was portrayed as the economic enemy, particularly as a threat to the U.S. auto industry,” she said.

Wang gave the example of the death of Vincent Chin in 1982. Chin was misidentified as a Japanese man by two auto industry workers who bludgeoned him with a baseball bat in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park. will track numbers, but it is the individual stories that will energize it, Wang said. The site is open to people of all ethnicities, she said.

“The reality is people, at some point, become numb to numbers,” Wang said. “But they respond to the news and they respond to stories.”

When her organization posted a news story last month about True Light Christian Church in Buena Park being graffitied with swastikas and racial slurs, Wang said, it was widely shared in the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

“People were able to relate to it because they went to church there or they lived near the church.”

AAAJ will help those who come through the website assess their legal options, said Nicole Gon Ochi, the organization’s supervising attorney.

“We could help connect people with mental health or law enforcement resources,” she said. “We could help file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. And in some cases, we could help them pursue civil litigation.”

The website could be a valuable resource to the Asian American community, said Chino Hills resident Ishmael Ileto, a Filipino American whose brother Joseph, a mailman, was killed in the Aug. 10, 1999, shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills. White supremacist Buford O. Furrow Jr. walked into the center’s lobby and opened fire, killing Ileto and injuring five others.

“People in the Asian American community are very hesitant to talk openly about hate crimes,” Ileto said. “My mom, for example, didn’t want to bring attention to our family because she was scared we’d be targeted again. Being the minority, you sometimes get the feeling that everybody is against you.”

But it is crucial for victims or their families to be able to share their stories and bring awareness to the community at large, Ileto said.

Wang said she is seeing more solidarity among minority communities, a silver lining in the wake of increasing hate crimes and incidents.

“I hear a lot of people saying we should stand up for each other rather than being bystanders,” she said. “And that gives me hope as we move forward.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or