ATLANTA: For Asian Americans, 2020 was a year of political success and newfound influence. But it was also a time of vulnerability to racist assaults.
That painful dichotomy will be on display Friday when President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first person of South Asian descent to hold national office, visit Atlanta just days after a white gunman killed eight people, most of them Asian American women, in three metro-area massage businesses.
The killings come after a spike of anti-Asian violence nationally. The presidential trip was planned before the shooting, as part of a victory lap aimed at selling the benefits of pandemic relief legislation. But Biden and Harris will instead spend their visit consoling a community whose growing voting power helped secure their victory in Georgia and beyond.
Biden and Harris departed Washington on Friday morning for Atlanta, but not before the president expressed support for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bill that would strengthen the government's reporting and response to hate crimes and provide resources to Asian American communities.
"While we do not yet know motive, as I said last week, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing crisis of gender-based and anti-Asian violence that has long plagued our nation," Biden said in a statement.
As the fastest-growing racial demographic in the US electorate, Asian Americans are gaining political influence across the country. In California, two Korean American Republican women made history with their congressional victories.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, typically dominated by Democrats, has its largest roster ever, including Asian American and Pacific Islander members and others who represent significant numbers of Asian Americans. "We're becoming increasingly more visible and active in the political ecosystem," said Georgia state Sen.
Michelle Au, a Democrat who represents part of the growing, diversifying suburbs north of Atlanta. Yet, Au said, "What I've heard personally, and what I have felt, is that people sometimes don't tend to listen to us."
Au said a White House spotlight, especially amid tragedy, is welcomed by a community whose influence - and struggles - are often overshadowed in national conversations about diversity. She notes President Donald Trump and other Republicans merely brushed off charges of racism when they dubbed the coronavirus the "China virus" because of its origins.
Activists have seen a rise of racist attacks. Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, since March 2020.
In his first primetime address to the nation as president, Biden last Thursday - five days before the Atlanta killings - called attacks on Asian Americans "un-American". "To have them talk about it in this way, so publicly, and to say AAPI, or to note that our communities are going through difficult times, is huge," Au said.
The White House said Biden and Harris will meet Friday with Asian American state legislators and other community leaders about racist rhetoric and actions against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Biden also will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's main campus in Atlanta. As he boarded Air Force One on Friday morning, Biden, who was wearing a mask, stumbled several times up the stairs to the aircraft, before saluting the military officer who greeted him on the tarmac.
The originally planned political event to tout the USD 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill has been scrapped.
The White House confirmed that the president also will meet with Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, Democrats' likely 2022 candidate for governor, as Republicans in the state legislature push several proposals to make it harder to vote in the state.
He will also meet with newly minted Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Black and Latino voters far outnumber Asian American voters nationally and in Georgia, but the Asian American and Pacific Islander population is growing at a faster rate.
Out of Georgia's 7.3 million-plus registered voters, more than 300,000 identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander, according to data from the Asian American Advocacy Fund. Democrats' coordinated 2020 campaign in Georgia - the joint effort of Biden's campaign and state Democrats - tailored a turnout effort specifically to Asian American and Pacific Islanders.