- Asian American reporters, who have become watchdogs for the communities they serve, often receive the brunt of online anti-Asian hate.
- Local news anchors Gia Vang (Minneapolis), Chenue Her (Des Moines) and Dion Lim (San Francisco) spoke to NextShark about the racism and xenophobia they’ve received before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The journalists say that these hurtful encounters will stay with them long after the pandemic is over.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been victims of xenophobia and racism for hundreds of years. Many Asian Americans, however, are currently experiencing highly publicized, violent forms of anti-Asian hate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One group of individuals who have been particularly impacted by this aggressive increase are Asian American reporters.
Local broadcast news reporters are highly accessible online, and their contact information is usually available to those who want to submit tips or suggestions for stories. Because they act as a resource to the communities they serve, their social media is often available to the public as an open forum.
For many of these reporters, their comment sections on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have become less of a space to share and discuss news and more of a place where they receive negative comments and harsh threats, often directly targeting their race.
Gia Vang, KARE 11 Minneapolis anchor
Gia Vang recalled the uncomfortable interactions she had as a new reporter in Eugene, Oregon, and how news sources would be surprised about the way Vang looked when they finally met her in person.
“Perhaps it was because of my English, but I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth,” she told NextShark. “They were surprised because I was Asian.”
She said she often received casually racist and microaggressive comments like “Your English is really good” despite the fact that she grew up in the U.S.
Once when Vang was knocking on people’s doors in rural Oregon, a man looked her up and down and waited for her to explain what she was doing in the neighborhood.
“He closed the door, and I heard him yell at his partner: ‘There’s an Asian girl outside,’” Vang said. “This has been a part of my existence for a very long time — both personally and professionally.”
Vang said being a person of color sets her apart from others in both good ways and bad.
As a reporter, she shares, you are able to “come at stories with a different lens.” Diversity is important in newsrooms, she insists, but at the same time, she is constantly “othered” by people she talks to on the street.
In some ways, a strong connection to one’s culture may allow a reporter to be more aware of news that others may not even know is happening, as Vang has experienced in her current position as a morning anchor in Minneapolis.
“I will say that there was a heightened knowledge within the Asian American community about what was going on when it came to anti-Asian hate,” Vang said. “And I think that I saw that miles before any of my white counterparts did.” It wasn’t until the spa shootings in Atlanta happened that people who hadn’t noticed the increase in anti-Asian hate started to realize that it was going on, she said.
“The shootings in Atlanta was a triggering event for me,” she said. “I was feeling it in my body so deeply, in such a different way than any of my co-workers who were not Asian could even understand.”
Right when it happened, one of her news stations talked about the shootings and asked if they should cover it from a local perspective. But later, when local authorities in Atlanta denied that the motive was race related, Vang’s producers decided not to pursue the story at all during the morning show.
“I remember feeling sick to my stomach, feeling a visceral reaction, where I had to leave the room and go take a break in the bathroom,” Vang recalled. “I was in tears, because it was so hard for me to explain to people who had never lived in my body what it’s like when someone dismisses those sorts of actions where six Asian women were killed and targeted.”
Over the next few weeks, the story persisted in the news cycle and became a defining moment for Asian Americans.
“I think and I hope that a lot of my white counterparts really reflected on their decisions and really heard from Asian Americans in the industry,” she said.
In talking about that newsroom incident now almost a year after the shootings happened, Vang remembered what it felt like in the moment, saying it only added on to all of the misunderstandings, all of the racism and all of the implicit biases that she’s already endured throughout her career and personal life.
She said she has been irrevocably hurt by the injustice Asian Americans have gone through “not just in the last few years, but in the 200 years we’ve been in this country.”
“And the last two years, I’ve felt empowered, because I felt a collective unity moving forward — about working towards stopping anti-Asian hate and working towards celebrating being Asian,” she said.
Vang said she has felt more proud to be Asian than ever, and that feeling’s only growing.
Chenue Her, We Are Iowa Des Moines anchor
After moving to a new state at age 22, Chenue Her mispronounced the name of a county he had never been to before, Her recounted to NextShark. Soon after, he received an email from a viewer saying, “I can’t believe you can’t pronounce that” and accusing him of not knowing how to speak English.
“That was really striking to me, because I’m from Minnesota,” Her said. “I’ve been speaking English for as long as I can remember.”
Another time, Her was covering a story when someone said to him, “Oh, you’re not welcome here. You work for the Chinese news network.”
“And, clearly, I was working for a local station,” he said. “Just getting comments like that have happened my whole career. I don’t think saying I’m numb to it is the right description, but I just kind of learned how to deal with it.”
Her’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook comment sections are filled with racism. Her sometimes re-shares the comments he receives — such as “F*ck you China. Thanks for Covid! We’re coming for you! Smelly sick f*cks!” — on his platform.
“I think I’m a lot better now that I’ve been in the business for a little bit,” he said. “And I think just with a lot of awareness now, I’m not as shy about sharing [the comments], because I know there are others out there who are going through what I’m going through.”
Her hopes to inspire younger journalists in the industry who maybe don’t know how to deal with the hate. “I want them to see that there’s someone in the business who looks like me, who’s got a little bit more experience, who gets this,” he said. “I want to be a resource for them.”
Her is the first Hmong anchorman in the country. Before he joined the We Are Iowa team in September of last year, he was a reporter in Atlanta.
“I covered the spa shootings a lot in Atlanta, and I think I was one of the first reporters to really get on that story,” Her said.
His coverage of the incident made him “really visible” to those following the story. Although he did not encounter anyone who was outwardly racist to him during his coverage of the shootings, he received many comments questioning whether he was the right journalist to cover the issue.
“They were questioning my credibility as a journalist and my ability to remain unbiased while covering it,” Her said. “I thought that was unfair.”
Her said that covering the Atlanta spa shootings was probably one of the hardest experiences of his career. While his co-workers were incredibly supportive of him, there weren’t any Asian reporters in his newsroom at the time or many Asian reporters in Atlanta at all.
“It was tough at times. I kind of took it upon myself to really be thorough with our coverage,” he said. “And I was really thankful that my station really trusted me to help lead the coverage.”
But reporting on these issues has been difficult for Her.
“Seeing these victims that look like my grandma, or my mom, my dad, my brothers, my sisters — it’s very sad for me as a journalist,” he said. “But at the same time, I have a platform and the ability to spread awareness about this, to give people a voice, and that was really important for me.”
He said he’s proud of the Asian American community for using their platforms to spread awareness over the last two years.
“Being the first Hmong male anchor in the country, there was a lot of attention on me for a little bit,” he said. “And I think they [We Are Iowa] were very aware of how monumental that was for my community, and they recognize that. They helped me advocate for stories that matter.”
Her said that he’s very fortunate because he’s never felt alienated or unwanted in a newsroom. He has never felt like he was hired because of a quota.
“That, to me, has been very encouraging, and I’ve been lucky in that sense,” he said.
Dion Lim, ABC7 San Francisco anchor
When Dion Lim began working as a Kansas City reporter at 23 years old, some viewers of her news station would call out “Hey, Connie Chung!” to her in the street.
“I was confused why anyone would compare me to someone more than twice my age!” she wrote in an email to NextShark.
Later in her now decade-long career, Lim began working as an anchor for a station in Florida. After one of her first appearances on screen, a viewer asked if the newscast was “Made in China” since she replaced the white woman who held the seat before her.
Although these experiences occurred early in her career, Lim remembers how hurtful they were.
She said she moved to the Bay Area four years ago because she specifically wanted to feel a connection through culture and heritage to a community.
But soon after she settled in, she began to see a rise in xenophobia and racism across the community. She pushed for coverage of the issues that San Franciscans had been talking about for decades.
“Nobody championed their stories into the light or cared,” Lim wrote.
She recalled one of the first times she felt like she was under attack while she was reporting about hate crimes. She was covering a story in which an elderly man collecting cans in Bayview went viral for getting pelted with slurs, assaulted and humiliated on camera.
“I felt physically ill watching [that] incident unfold,” Lim wrote. “That man could have been my own father! When my cameraperson and I went out to the neighborhood to check it out, our van was surrounded by angry residents who said we didn’t belong. That was my first taste of feeling under attack in real life.”
But working through the pandemic also empowered Lim. For the first time, she felt like she had a voice. Her identity as an Asian American and her skills as a journalist gave her a purpose: to amplify the voices of her community.
In the past she has reported on entertainment news, and she was afraid of being seen as “one-dimensional.”
“A recruiter once said I was a good bubbly morning anchor and would have a hard time being taken seriously,” she wrote.
During the pandemic, Lim broke some of the nation’s biggest stories about anti-Asian hate incidents. She was the first to report when Rong Xin Liao was violently kicked while seated in his walker and when elderly women were stabbed along San Francisco’s Market Street.
“I’ve proven my abilities and my drive to bring these stories into the light,” Lim wrote. “There’s now a purpose to what I do, and people take it seriously. With so much happening daily I also don’t have time to deal with BS, so I am much more unapologetic than I was before.”
Social media helped Lim connect with the victims of anti-Asian hate and their families, but her coverage also made her unpopular online. Other people of color who aren’t AAPI told her they felt underrepresented and were angry with her for reporting on so many Asian American issues. Even some Asian Americans said they felt she was not reporting issues within the community accurately.
“There have been plenty of users who send me death threats,” she wrote. “One put out a call for online users to find where I lived.”
Over time, Lim grew thick skin. Now, she brushes off the threats and the comments she receives. She’s used to them, and she knows they won’t go away anytime soon; however, she also admits they have been mentally exhausting.
“Nobody prepares you for this kind of secondary trauma, internalizing people’s grief and fear on a regular basis,” she wrote.
One day, while logging an interview with Kelvin Chew’s mother, Lim says she started to hyperventilate.
The woman had lost her son after he was robbed and killed walking down the street. She has heart problems, and her son’s death was deteriorating her health. Lim watched the woman pull down her sweater to show the heart monitor on her chest, and Lim began to sob.
“I couldn’t take it anymore and started hyperventilating in my office,” she said. “Thank goodness our assistant news director helped me get my breathing under control. There are many days when I watch a video of someone get stabbed or pistol-whipped and can’t get the image of it out of my head for days. Health experts and colleagues encourage me to ‘take some time for yourself,’ but that’s hard to do when the tips and leads are coming at you 24/7.”
She thinks that while time will soften some of the most horrific things she’s seen over the last two years, it won’t erase the fact that they happened and will probably continue happening for the foreseeable future.
“It might get better, but if 2022 is any indication [of what’s to come], we’ll be carrying the anxiety and trauma with us for a long time,” Lim said. “It’s just a matter of managing it better.”
These seasoned reporters have had successful careers in journalism and have made an impact in the communities they work in. They report the news the same way other reporters do, yet they are often “othered” by those who are not used to seeing Asian Americans in the journalism field.
Besides the local stories they report daily for their general local communities, the work of AAPI journalists is also essential to minority communities across the nation. They make sure the media reports issues within those communities accurately, and they provide AAPI representation in a field where there is still a lack of diversity.
The footage they’ve seen and the trauma they’ve induced from the last two years could have halted their careers, but they pushed forward through these hard times to amplify other people’s stories.
It’s time to thank these reporters for the work that they do.