As violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has spiked since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, two Harvard affiliates said they experienced verbal and physical attacks in Cambridge earlier this spring.
A March report by the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate identified nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans in the past year, 96 of which took place in Massachusetts.
Mary Heather C. “Kiwi” Florido, a Ph.D. candidate in the Biological Sciences in Public Health program who identifies as Filipino-American, said she was walking toward Harvard’s Sherman Fairchild Biochemistry Building, located at 7 Divinity Ave., on March 25 when she witnessed a man yell racial slurs.
To avoid a maskless man walking toward her, Florido said she crossed Kirkland Street, just ahead of another Asian person walking down the street. Per Florido, the maskless man then followed her across the street and began to yell racial slurs at the Asian man walking behind her.
Incoming traffic caused the man to turn back to the other side of the road, according to Florido, who reported that she and the Asian man were not physically harmed.
Despite reports of anti-Asian violence across the country, Florido said she was shocked that the incident occurred in Cambridge adjacent to Harvard.
“It just hit me that, ‘Oh right, we’re suffering from all the anti-Asian hate,’ but it sort of took time to process that this is happening in the streets of Cambridge, literally right next to campus, which is very — I don’t know, it was unexpected,” Florido said.
Pedestrians stopped to watch the incident but did not intervene, per Florido, who said it was “crazy to see the bystander effect in person.”
Less than a month after that incident, an Asian American Harvard College student said he was returning a Bluebike in Porter Square on April 10 when a white man physically assaulted him.
The student, whom The Crimson granted anonymity due to privacy concerns, said in an interview that the aggressor shouted in his direction asking if he wanted to fight. The man then approached the student and hit him, grazing his shoulder. The student ran away from the man, who briefly chased after him.
The student also said that no bystanders intervened.
Though he said he felt lucky he did not sustain serious injuries, he said the incident was traumatizing.
One week after the incident took place, he reported it to the Harvard University Police Department. He said he did not report the incident immediately because he doubted any action would come of it.
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an emailed statement that the department is committed to supporting affiliates who are victims of bias-related crimes.
“Any acts or threats of violence, property damage, harassment, intimidation, or other crimes designed to infringe upon a person’s civil rights will be treated seriously and given the highest priority,” Catalano wrote.
Beyond Harvard affiliates, other Cambridge residents have also reported being the victims of racially-motivated hate crimes and violence.
According to a report on hate crimes in Cambridge published by the Cambridge Police Department, there were 15 hate crimes reported in Cambridge in 2020, 10 of which were racially-motivated. In 2019, CPD took 18 reports of hate crimes, nine of which were caused by racial bias.
On April 9, Cambridge resident Calla M. Walsh tweeted that she and her friend, who is Asian, were in Harvard Square when they were called two homophobic and anti-Asian slurs within a period of five minutes.
Separately, on April 14, an employee of a Central Square pharmacy was the victim of a physical and verbal assault, according to a police incident report. CPD charged the perpetrator with “Interference With Civil Rights,” according to the report.
The employee was stocking an aisle when a man approached him and repeatedly called him anti-Asian slurs, per the report. The aggressor chest bumped the man and threatened to return with a gun, stating, “I’m gonna get you after work.”
Ryan D. Nguyen ’25, who helped organize a rally in Boston in March condemning hate against Asians, called racially-motivated crimes against Asians “incredibly infuriating.”
“[Universities] have to do a deep dive, brainstorm, reflection, and introspection and make sure they educate themselves on what has happened throughout the country,” Nguyen said. “They need to take it upon themselves to elevate Asian American voices and stories to a point where we feel like we are humanized.”
Nguyen said he believes non-Asian students should “never be silent” and that they should use their various skills — whether they are in photography, journalism, or data science — to support Asian Americans.
“Apathy is the most dangerous thing,” he said. “We can’t afford to have that in the moment.”
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.