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Local advocates take action in push to end attacks against Asian Americans

'This is an opportunity to really say something about what's going on,' Traver McLaughlin says
Stop Asian Hate sign
Posted at 3:37 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 18:20:07-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the many contributions and influences the AAPI community has brought to America.

However, discrimination and violence against Asians have also brought disturbing headlines recently.

MORE: Survey finds one-third of Asian Americans fear threats, attacks

A Pew Research report reveals 81 percent of Asians believe violence against them is climbing, and it's not just a national problem.

Some in South Florida are calling violence against Asians a hidden pandemic that's going underreported.

"You may not see it for me, but my family is a part of [the AAPI community]," said Traver McLaughlin, who works for the United Way of Palm Beach County. "I have been called the All American boy."

Traver McLaughlin with picture of grandmother
Traver McLaughlin shows off a picture of his grandmother, who is of Vietnamese descent.

His maternal grandmother is Vietnamese and his family celebrates American diversity.

But he says for other people, that hasn't been easy.

"(Asian Americans) have been refused service. They've been looked at differently. They've been talked to slowly," McLaughlin said.

He said the increase in anti-Asian violence has only intensified his advocacy.

"This is an issue. This is an opportunity to really say something about what's going on," McLaughlin said.

He took action, helping place a direct link to the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center on the United Way of Palm Beach County's website.

"I'm hearing a lot of stories about patients not wanting Asians nurses. And there's a lot of Asian American nurses and doctors and that makes them nervous," said Boynton Beach Commissioner Ty Penserga.

Penserga, who is currently the only Asian American elected official in Palm Beach County, said he is hearing concerns from members of the Asian community centered on microaggressions happening in restaurants in Palm Beach County.

"They may get up and move a little bit further," Penserga said.

He's also noticed the number of national incidents involving Black perpetrators in many violent attacks making the news.

Boynton Beach commissioner Ty Penserga
Boynton Beach commissioner Ty Penserga speaks about the microaggressions happening against Asian Americans in Palm Beach County.

He said the immigration of Asian engineers, doctors and nurses during the Civil Rights era may be behind deep-rooted animosity along with the model minority myth that exists today.

"This false sense of the successful minority versus the unsuccessful minority," Penserga said.

The commissioner was part of a rally against Asian hate held in Lake Worth last month. He said many Blacks were noticeably absent and believes this is a time to build bridges and coalitions against this hidden pandemic.

Jennifer Tomko, a psychotherapist at Clarity Health Solutions, said confirmation biases could be behind the increase in extremism and violence, regardless of who is on the receiving end.

"We don't have to hold onto the beliefs that were installed in us when we were 14 [years old] if now we're in our 40s, and we're feeling different about that same topic," Tomko said. "It's a loop cycle of thinking, so going to therapy helps you get out of that thought loop. Changing depends on one's motivation and receptivity to change."