NEW YORK—Eighteen-year-old Chen Tsu was waiting on a Brooklyn subway platform after school when four high school classmates approached him and demanded cash. He showed them his empty pockets, but they attacked him anyway, taking turns pummeling his face.
He was scared and injured bruised and swollen for several days but hardly surprised.
At his school, Lafayette High in Brooklyn, Chinese immigrant students like him are harassed and bullied so routinely that school officials in June agreed to a Department of Justice consent decree to curb alleged “severe and pervasive harassment directed at Asian-American students by their classmates.” Since then, the Justice Department credits Lafayette officials with addressing the problem but the case is far from isolated.
Nationwide, Asian students say they’re often beaten, threatened and called ethnic slurs by other young people, and school safety data suggest that the problem may be worsening. Youth advocates say these Asian teens, stereotyped as high-achieving students who rarely fight back, have for years borne the brunt of ethnic tension as Asian communities expand and neighborhoods become more racially diverse.
“We suspect that in areas that have rapidly growing populations of Asian-Americans, there often times is a sort of culture clashing,” said Aimee Baldillo of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. Youth harassment is “something we see everywhere in different pockets of the U.S. where there’s a large influx of (Asian) people.”
In the last five years, Census data show, Asians mostly Chinese have grown from 5 percent to nearly 10 percent of Brooklyn residents. In the Bensonhurst neighborhood, historically home to Italian and Jewish families, more than 20 percent of residents now are Asian. Those changes have escalated ethnic tension on campuses such as Lafayette High, according to Khin Mai Aung, staff attorney at the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is advocating for Lafayette students.
“The schools are the one place where everyone is forced to come together,” Aung said.
Brooklyn’s changes mirror Asian growth nationally. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of Asians and Pacific Islanders grew from 3.7 million to nearly 12 million. After Latinos, Asians are the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group.
Stories of Asian youth being bullied and worse are common. In recent years:
A Chinese middle schooler in San Francisco was mercilessly taunted until his teacher hid him in her classroom at lunchtime.
Three Korean-American students were beaten so badly near their Queens high school that they skipped school for weeks and begged to be transferred.
A 16-year-old from Vietnam was killed last year in a massive brawl in Boston.
Some lawmakers have responded. The New York City Council, after hearing hours of testimony from Asian youth, last year passed a bill to track bullying and train educators on prevention. Also last year, California Assemblywoman Judy Chu won passage of a new law to allow hate crimes victims more time up to three years to file civil suits; the bill was inspired by a 2003 San Francisco incident in which five Asian teens were attacked by a mob of youth.
At Lafayette High, tension has long been high on campus and in surrounding areas, said Steve Chung, president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, whose group was founded in late 2002 after an earlier student beating. That incident “was like the ignition it started a fire” in the community.
The student, a straight-A senior, was thrashed to unconsciousness while anti-Chinese slurs were yelled at him. Some news reported dubbed the school “Horror High,” and Chinese students began going public about the problem.
“The more we dug into Lafayette High School, the more we found,” Chung said.
Aung’s probing revealed that school administrators seemed reluctant to intervene, translation services for parents and students was spotty and teachers who reported the problems may have been punished.
Today’s AP article, “Asian Youths Suffer Harassment in Schools” was informative but sadly misleading in one important aspect. The article’s author, Erin Texeira, states that Lafayette High School is situated in a neighborhood which is “historically home to Italian and Jewish families.” The impression is thereby intentionally left that it is Italians and Jews who are committing the assaults and harassment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you consult Fafayette High School’s 2003-4 Annual School Report at http://www.nycenet.edu/daa/SchoolReports/04asr/321400.PDF , you will find that Lafayette High School’s current ethnic composition is 11.8% white, 45.8% black, 25.1% Hispanic and 17.3% Asian. My Asian wife works in a building which contains Norman Thomas High School in New York and is a recipient of harassment on a regular basis.
My wife and I know who the true perpetrators are. They are of the same groups who claim to be the victims of intolerance. The impression which Erin Texeira left was disingenuous, and I would appreciate a response.
New York City