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Anti-Asian Attacks Take a Toll on Mental Health

The first big wave of Asian immigration to the U.S. was in the mid-1800s, and with it came hate and racism. Laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted immigration to the U.S. Decades later, during World War II, Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 peeled back restrictions on immigration, though hate and racism against Asian Americans persisted.

Attacks against Asian Americans in New York have risen dramatically since the start of the pandemic. In 2019, the New York City Police Department recorded three anti-Asian hate crimes. In 2020, it recorded 28. And so far this year, NYPD has logged more than 40 anti-Asian hate crimes. One of them was against 37-year-old Katie Hou, who was attacked while protesting anti-Asian hate crimes.

These incidents have taken a toll on the mental health of many city residents. Hou said she has talked with friends and family about the attack. But some, especially those who are older, have been hesitant to discuss their concerns or seek counseling or other professional help, a reluctance rooted in tradition. They might keep quiet out of a desire to preserve harmony or a fear of “losing your face,” according to Dr. Junhong Cao, a psychologist who moved to the U.S. from China after college.

Cao and other therapists and community organizations in New York have been offering mental health support amid the rise in anti-Asian hate. Meanwhile, lawmakers like Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) are working on hate crimes legislation. Meng, the first Asian American member of Congress from New York, introduced the House version of a bill fighting hate crimes against Asian Americans. The Senate’s anti-Asian hate crimes bill passed overwhelmingly on April 22.

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Kayla Steinberg is a master’s student at Columbia Journalism School. She previously wrote for the Jerusalem Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, among other papers. Steinberg earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy-neuroscience-psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. There, she served in leadership roles in several organizations including the WashU Figure Skating Team and Hillel. She is training in print and video journalism at Columbia and loves writing about a variety of topics, particularly religion, culture and education. Steinberg serves on the board for Columbia’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter. She speaks English and some Hebrew. Reach her by email at kayla.steinberg@columbia.edu.