A project mapping racial justice history in Orange County, California
In 2020, UMM commissioned research and writing from high school and college age students who grew up in the neighborhood to begin developing a driving guide to sites related to histories of racial justice and struggle in Orange County, California. An important aspect of the project was to carefully rewrite these important stories omitted from official OC history, allowing young writers to understand the violence of this erasure and their role in correcting these omissions. The guide below will continue to expand with additional entries and authors.
Writing and research: Luna Moore Delgado, Sonia Kelly, Leo Krapp, Liam Matthew
Project director: Mariángeles Soto-Díaz
Special thanks to Gustavo Arellano for his fearless work documenting Orange County history. Thanks also to Laura S. Kelly.
UPDATE: Just out on UC Press: A People’s Guide to Orange County, by Elaine Lewinnek, Gustavo Arellano, and Thuy Vo Dang, is a wonderful resource by a team of experts in oral history, urban history, archives and journalism. It offers hundreds of entries to provide you with an alternate history of OC. Buy your copy from Libromobile in Santa Ana!
List of sites
Méndez v. Westminster School District, by Sonia Kelly
Reitman v. Mulkey, by Sonia Kelly
Injustice against Indigenous Americans in Orange County, by Sonia Kelly
The Housing Segregation Hero Lost to History, by Leo Krapp
Santa Ana Lynching, by Luna Moore Delgado
The Citrus War, by Luna Moore Delgado
Little People’s Park, by Liam Matthew
The Burning of Santa Ana’s Chinatown, by Liam Matthew
Hate Gone Viral, by Leo Krapp
Anti-Semitic House Party, by Leo Krapp
Méndez v. Westminster School District of Orange County
By Sonia Kelly
Location suggestion: Historic Cypress Street Schoolhouse, 544 N. Cypress St., Orange, California. Owned by Chapman University, this structure is the last standing “Mexican school” from the era of segregated schools in Southern California.
In the 1920s, Gonzalo Méndez attended Westminster Main School through the fifth grade, when he left school to help support his family. For years, he worked as a field hand in the “citrus society” that defined Orange County. He lived in Santa Ana with his wife, Felícitas, until 1943 when Méndez was told about the Munemitsu family, a Japanese-American family who had been “relocated” to an internment camp as a result of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The Munemitsus were worried that they would lose possession of their family farm while interned, and asked the Méndezes if they would lease the farm for the duration of their internment. The Méndez family agreed and relocated to Westminster.
Méndez planned to send his children to the same school he attended – Westminster Main School. But, two decades later, the educational system in California looked very different. “Mexican” schools, where students were taught vocational skills like gardening, carpentry, and sewing, existed in 80% of California school districts with significant Mexican-American populations. These schools were typically wooden fire hazards, equipped with the leftovers from “white” schools, and staffed with teachers who would tell students they deemed “dirty” to leave class, shower, and change clothes. Rightfully outraged, Méndez found families in three other school districts – El Modena, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana – to join a lawsuit against the school districts. They took the case to federal court, with the intent of challenging not only the inferior quality in “Mexican” schools but the entire “separate but equal” doctrine.
A key witness for the school districts was James Kent, superintendent of Garden Grove’s school district. Kent had written a master’s thesis in 1941 where he referred to Mexican-Americans as “an alien race”, basing his opinions on “investigation of the mental ability and moral characteristics of the average Mexican school child”. In court, he made his views clear once again. The school districts also tried to argue that the reason for segregation was linguistic rather than racial, when in fact, some of the Mexican-American students in Orange County spoke only English. Paul McCormick, the judge presiding over the case, disagreed with Kent and the school districts, writing that “segregation […] suggests inferiority where none exists.” When the school districts appealed McCormick’s decision, Méndez and the other families received support in the form of amicus briefs from the NAACP, the American Jewish Congress, the Japanese-American Citizens League, the ACLU, the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and California Attorney General Robert Kenney.
Gonzalo Méndez won the case not only for his children, or for Mexican-Americans in Orange County. The case inspired the state legislature in California to pass a bill to end segregated education for all races in the state. Perhaps most important, as the first time that the doctrine of “separate but equal” was challenged successfully in court, Méndez v. Westminster School District of Orange County set the stage for the more widely known Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court a decade later.
Arriola, Christopher. “A Landmark Little Noted – Until Today.” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1997.
Blanco, Maria. “The Lasting Impact of Mendez v. Westminster in the Struggle for Desegregation.” American Immigration Council, March 25, 2010.
Strum, Philippa. “We Always Tell our Children they are Americans: Mendez v. Westminster and the Beginning of the End of School Segregation.” Journal of Supreme Court History 39, no. 3 (November 2014): 307-328. United States Courts.
Westminster School Dist. of Orange County v. Mendez, 161 F. 2d 774 – Circuit Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 1947.
Reitman v. Mulkey
By Sonia Kelly
Location suggestion: Orange County Superior Court, 700 Civic Center Drive West, Santa Ana, CA 92701. The Orange County Superior Court was the first stop for the Mulkeys in their case that took them all the way to the Supreme Court. Although the Orange County Superior Court upheld Article 1, Section 26, the California and US Supreme Courts reversed this decision, to the benefit of the Mulkeys and countless others around the country.
Between 1959 and 1963, the California State Legislature passed a number of laws restricting housing discrimination. But in 1964, the real estate industry, under the Committee for Home Protection, campaigned to get Proposition 14 on the ballot in California. Proposition 14 gave landlords the right to discriminate on the basis of race or any other characteristics, and saw a resounding victory statewide; there was a 2 million vote margin, and nearly 2 people voted in favor of the proposition for every person who voted against it. In Orange County, that margin was even higher. All of the progress made by the Fair Employment and Housing Act and other laws was cut short by the passing of Proposition 14, which became Article 1, Section 26 of the state constitution.
That same year, Dorothy Mulkey and her husband, Lincoln, both US Navy veterans, were looking to rent an apartment in Santa Ana. At a beauty parlor, Scottie Biddle, then a stranger to Dottie Mulkey, told her about an apartment for rent. Mulkey visited the apartment, but was told by Neil Reitman, the landlord, that they could not rent the apartment. The reason was simple: Mulkey and her husband were both Black. This was not uncommon in Orange County, especially with recent constitutional protections for landlords who chose to discriminate. However, when recounting the experience to Scottie Biddle, Dottie Mulkey learned that Biddle was involved in the local NAACP chapter, and Biddle encouraged Mulkey to attend a meeting. Eventually, the NAACP helped Mulkey bring this issue from Santa Ana to the US Supreme Court.
Both the California Supreme Court and, subsequently, the US Supreme Court, held that Article 1, Section 26 of California’s constitution violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by involving the state in racial discrimination. Justice Byron White’s opinion made clear that a state cannot claim neutrality and, at the same time, actively grant its citizens the right to discriminate. Of course, this did not dismantle segregation in Orange County; our neighborhoods are still products of decades of housing discrimination ranging from the prevalence of ‘sundown towns’ (where Black people were not allowed after sundown), to parking fees, to gated communities and homeowner associations. Mulkey’s victory was an important step in Orange County history, but people in this county still suffer from discriminatory practices in housing, even if not as blatant as the ones Dottie Mulkey faced.
“California’s Proposition 14 And The “State Action” Concept – Reitman v. Mulkey.” Md. L. Rev. 27 (1967).
Carroll, Rory. “They just don’t fit in: UCLA study links racism and segregation in Orange County.” The Guardian, September 19, 2016.
Johnson, Robert and Charlene Riggins. A Different Shade of Orange: Voices of Orange County, California, Black Pioneers. Fullerton, CA: Center for Oral and Public History, 2009.
Justia. “Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369 (1967)”.
Oppenheimer, David B. “California’s Anti-Discrimination Legislation, Proposition 14, and the Constitutional Protection of Minority Rights: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.” Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 40 (2010).
Parsons, Dana. “Dottie Mulkey: A Profile in Courage and Humility.” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005.
Injustice against Indigenous Americans in Orange County
By Sonia Kelly
Location suggestion: Northwest Open Space Park, San Juan Capistrano, CA. This land was set aside by the city as a cultural resource project, and is the location of the Putuidem village, the mother village of the Acjachemen people. Some of the Putuidem village’s land was taken over by JSerra High School, a private Catholic high school, which drives home the point about the prioritization of “white” education. It is public land, but is also rented out for private ceremonies by indigenous people and groups.
In 1982, the Juaneños Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation applied for federal tribal status. In 1994, their petition topped the list, but as of July 2020, they still have not been federally recognized as a tribe. This is not unusual; between 1978, when the Federal Acknowledgement Program was established, and 1994, nine out of 147 petitions have been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Acjachemen people occupied what is presently Orange County before Spanish colonists landed in California and began the long history of exploitation, abuse, and genocide of indigenous Americans in California. When the government settled the Acjachemen’s suit in 1972, they paid them 47 cents per acre of confiscated land. In 2016, 1.3 acres in San Juan Capistrano’s Northwest Open Space was set aside for the use of the Acjachemen people. The 1.3 acres, still owned by the city of San Juan Capistrano, constitute the only piece of land that has been dedicated to the Acjachemen people since the Spanish arrived.
Statewide, legislation has continually deprived indigenous Americans of the rights afforded to white American citizens. In 1850, a state law created a system where white Americans gave payment for any fines an “Indian” had incurred and would, in return, force the “Indian” to work until they had paid off the fine. This law was passed fifteen years before the introduction of the similar “Black Codes” laws passed in Southern states. Soon after, in 1860, a law was passed which overtly excluded “Indians”, along with “Negroes” and “Mongolians”, from attending public schools. Technicalities changed over the years, but until at least the mid-1930s, the effect was the same; even when they did, in fact, attend “white” schools, indigenous Americans were unwelcome. In 1887, any indigenous American in California who moved away from his tribe would become a citizen of the United States, which effectively encouraged indigenous Americans to distance themselves from their culture and heritage. It was not until 1924 that all indigenous Americans were declared to be citizens of the U.S.
Modern legislative history concerning indigenous Americans in California is contradictory, both demanding that indigenous Americans assimilate to white American culture, and simultaneously requiring that they remain segregated from white Americans. It is also important to note that this summary outlines some of the formal actions taken to disenfranchise indigenous Americans in California, but not the informal forms of discrimination and oppression that persist today in Orange County and beyond.
Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Federal Acknowledgement. “Petitions in Process.” Accessed July 5, 2020.
Fernandez, Ferdinand. “Except a California Indian: A Study in Legal Discrimination.” Southern California Quarterly 50, no. 2 (June 1968): 161-175.
Granberry, Michael. “Orange County Tribe Battles for Its Identity: The Juaneño Indians were stripped of a large part of Southern California. They seek U.S. recognition to validate their past and enrich their future.” Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1994.
Luppi, Kathleen. “After having land stolen for generations, Juaneño Indians get a sliver back.” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2016.
Rios, Stephen. “Ties to the Land.” Indigenous Voices of San Juan Capistrano, OC Public Libraries and Cal Humanities, 2017.
The Housing Segregation Hero Lost to History
By Leo Krapp
Location suggestion: Ash Avenue in Fullerton
Alejandro Bernal is often left out of American civil rights history, but in 1943, he reshaped the landscape of American race relations, paving the way for a half-decade of activism and change.
Bernal was born in 1914 in Corona, CA, to a Mexican mother and a father of Spanish descent. Shortly after, his family moved to a Mexican barrio in Fullerton. At the time, Fullerton was not a welcoming place for non-whites, with a great deal of anti-Mexican sentiment brought about by fear that the large populations of Mexican farmworkers in Southern California would “contaminate” white neighborhoods. After graduating from elementary school, working in the fields, and transporting produce in his truck, Bernal married Esther Muñoz de Anda, a Mexican native, and moved with his new family to La Habra’s barrio in 1938.
One day, while visiting his mother in Fullerton, Bernal chanced upon a house for sale in the Sunnyside neighborhood, just a few blocks away from his childhood home. Those few blocks, however, represented the end of the barrio and the start of an exclusively white neighborhood.
The bankers who gave the Bernals their loan mistook Esther for a maid, but three days after they moved in, the Bernals were told that written into all the deeds of the Sunnyside lots was a clause that read, “No portion of said property shall at any time be used, leased, owned or occupied by any Mexicans or person other than of the Caucasian race.”
The Bernals chose to stay. Less than a month later, and after a number of break-ins and threats, they received a summons to appear in Orange County Superior Court. The lawsuit, filed by Sunnyside residents, claimed the Bernals caused “irreparable injury” to the neighborhood by “lowering . . . the class of persons” and “social living standard,” and asked that the Bernals be banned from living in their own house. In response, the Bernals hired a lawyer who also represented the Mexican consul in LA, and who argued that this was discrimination and in violation of both the Fourteenth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Such an argument had never stood up in court before.
Four days later, Judge Ross ruled that housing covenants were “injurious to public good and society; violative of the fundamental form and concepts of democratic principles” and were in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. He denied the plaintiff’s attempts to overturn his ruling, stating that actions like these violated the underlying principles of the US and California by establishing “a restriction on occupancy based solely on nationality of the persons against whom the restrictions are sought.” Local news expressed horror, but the LA-based African American weekly, the California Eagle, celebrated the decision and informed large parts of the national community about what had transpired.
Despite being under-recognized today, the Bernal ruling set an important precedent for ending housing covenants, and would be followed by later cases that were critical to advancing civil rights such as Fairchild v. Raines, Lopez v. Seccombe, the Sugar Hill case, Shelley v. Kraemer, and ultimately Mendez et al. v. Westminster. In 2020, a Fullerton City Council member took the first step towards giving historical recognition to the Bernal house.
Arellano, Gustavo. “Alex Bernal Made Civil Rights History by Fighting Housing Covenants in Fullerton.” OC Weekly, May 6, 2010.
Little, Emerson. “Recognizing the History Behind the Bernal House.” Fullerton Observer, June 11, 2020.
Santa Ana Lynching
By Luna Moore Delgado
Location suggestion: Corner of 4th Street and Sycamore, Santa Ana, CA
Erased Lynchings, a photography series by artist Ken Gonzales Day, focuses on “the lynchings of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Jews, in the American West and nationwide” (Gonzales Day). Using digital editing techniques to manipulate historical photographs, the artist removed the victim from each photo to allow the viewer to focus instead on the white crowd and on the force of white supremacy behind the victim’s murder. As the artist writes, the intention was to “raise awareness and to help viewers visualize whiteness by drawing attention to what is missing, absent, erased.”
One photo in Gonzalez Day’s series focuses on the 1892 lynching of Francisco Torres in Santa Ana, California. Torres was a twenty-five-year-old Mexican laborer whose pay was deducted by his white boss, William McKelvey, to pay for poll taxes. The language barrier between the two men made it impossible for Torres to understand why his pay decreased, which led to Torres confronting McKelvey, who was later found dead and with visible ax wounds to the head and heart. When Torres was later found, he claimed that he acted in self-defense and that McKelvey had first tried to shoot him. Yet Torres was never given an opportunity to defend himself and present his claims of innocence in a trial. Instead, “in the early morning of August 2, 1892, a mob of white men with covered faces dragged Torres from his jail cell while calling him racial epithets and carried him to a telephone pole at Fourth and Sycamore Streets in Santa Ana and hanged him” (OC Human Relations). Although we will never know whether or not Torres acted in self-defense, he was certainly murdered without a fair trial because he was a Mexican who killed a white man.
Erased Lynchings first appeared in Los Angeles in 2005 and has since traveled around the world, reaching audiences in Tokyo and Paris. The project is available online to the public and is currently located at the Luis de Jesus art gallery in Los Angeles, California.
Martinez, Gebe. “Rights Lessons Read in Century-Old Hanging : Ethnicity: Better understanding between various groups continues to be needed in the county where a Mexican laborer accused of murdering a ranch foreman died in California’s last lynching.” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 31, 1992.
“Francisco Torres Lynched in Santa Ana (1892).” OC Human Relations, August 2, 2020.
Gonzalez-Day, Ken. Erased Lynchings, artist website page.
The Citrus War
By Luna Moore Delgado
Location suggestion: Corner of S Helena St. & W Santa Ana St., Anaheim, CA, 92805
Orange County historian Gustavo Arellano describes this as “the most important event in Orange County history you’ve never heard of.” Nearly ninety years ago in 1936, 2,500 Mexican American naranjeros (citrus workers) went on strike in southern California to demand higher wages, better working conditions, and the right to unionize. At the time, these laborers were only paid five cents to pick and pack an entire box of oranges. Days after the strike began, in one of the first of many such conflicts, police confronted a group of striking women who refused to disperse, and one woman, Virginia Torres, bit a white police officer’s arm and was thrown in jail for sixty days. This event took place on the corner of S. Helena St. & W Santa Ana St., in Anaheim.
In response to the strike, white growers not only refused the workers’ demands and spread misinformation about the workers in the press, but also colluded with police. Sheriff Logan Jackson, who himself was a citrus farmer, deputized hundreds of men who then worked as private guards for the growers, and arrested striking workers on minor or fabricated charges. The escalating conflict eventually led to the arrest of over 200 workers, some of whom were beaten by police while in jail. Historians estimate that the strikes affected over 178,000 workers and that there were 125 separate strikes in the span of two months. Strikers were brutally repressed by the police, who used tear gas, beat them with clubs, and attacked them with bricks, and were also attacked by vigilante mobs. Many Mexican workers who weren’t even involved with the protests were racially profiled and arrested at the orange groves. Sheriff Logan Jackson rounded up 115 naranjeros and arrested them for rioting, but the judge later determined that there was only proof of rioting from five of them. In his closing statement, prosecutor James L. Davis referred to the naranjeros as “aliens from another land coming to violate our laws,” and said that “Orange County is a good county, and prosperous. We want to keep it that way.”
The strike was eventually resolved with an agreement that included a wage increase and other benefits, but not a recognition of the workers’ right to a union for collective bargaining, one of their most important demands.
Arellano, Gustavo. “The Citrus War of 1936 Changed Orange County Forever and Cemented Our Mistrust of Mexicans.” OC Weekly, June 8, 2006.
“Blood Orange: The 1936 Citrus Strike in Orange County.” UFCW 324 website, July 1, 2008.
“A citrus ‘war’ in the OC.” The Tribune, July 23, 2014.
Little People’s Park
By Liam Matthew
Location suggestion: Little People’s Park on West Elm Street in Anaheim, between South Lemon Street and South Clementine Street (opposite the Sohan American Market)
The Black Lives Matter movement has focused national attention on pervasive flaws in our criminal justice system, including racial profiling, the excessive use of force by police, and the frequent killing of people in positions of extreme vulnerability, including those running away or already subdued. These flaws have deep roots, including in Anaheim, California, which has seen decades of tension between police and residents. Those animosities were exposed – but ultimately not resolved – in the wake of an ugly confrontation on July 30, 1978 at Little People’s Park.
The evening began in a celebratory mood, as youth from Penguin City barrio, a Mexican American neighborhood, gathered in the park after returning from a football game in Westminster. Then a car drove by – allegedly from a rival gang – and someone inside fired shots into the crowd. The car disappeared, returned, with shots fired again, and someone called the police. But when the police arrived, instead of seeking information about the car and shooting, the officers confronted the teens themselves. Tensions quickly escalated, and more officers were immediately called in from the police headquarters just down the street. Police officers chased the youth, handcuffing and beating them, and invaded homes without warrants, making several arrests. Local residents were furious at what they saw as a gross dereliction of duty, though they were not surprised. From their perspective, the response was an all too familiar expression of pervasive racism.
The unusual scale of violence that night triggered a series of investigations and meetings with Anaheim’s City Council. In the weeks following the incident, the Mayor and City Council expressed concerns that police were overstepping their authority and using excessive force, holding meetings with residents and promising to make changes. But by September, the Orange County District Attorneys Office made clear that they would not prosecute any of the officers involved, reporting that while police behavior might have been less than ideal, it was not technically illegal. With the police exonerated, the processes of change ground to a halt, and tension and animosity returned. As today’s BLM movement has made clear, this pattern – violence against people of color followed by outrage, promises of reform, and then exoneration and dismissal – is a familiar one. Today, many Anaheim residents do not even know about this tragic chapter, a fact brought out by Gustavo Arellano who connected this history with the tragic, officer-involved shootings of Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo in 2012. Perhaps a visit to Little People’s Park and knowledge of its history will help to us better understand current animosities, and help create real change.
Arellano, Gustavo. “The Little People’s Park Riot of 1978.” OC Weekly, Aug. 2, 2012.
Arellano, Gustavo. “The Memories Fade Away.” OC Weekly, Sept. 7, 2006.
The Burning of Santa Ana’s Chinatown
By Liam Matthew
Location suggestion: Parking lot on Third and Bush Streets that occupies the Old Santa Ana City Hall
In 1906, a massive earthquake and the raging fires it triggered swept through San Francisco, obliterating its Chinatown. Just a month later, another of California’s Chinatowns was turned to ash, but this time the fire was set deliberately by the citizens of Santa Ana.
As California developed after the Gold Rush, an influx of Chinese labor was encouraged to meet the growing needs of the economy, including in Orange County’s vegetable and railroad industries. But while Chinese migrants were valued for their work ethic, they also faced racism that made their lives miserable. Santa Ana’s Chinatown was no different. In 1882 prejudice trumped the economy, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, making it illegal for Chinese to enter America or become citizens. In Santa Ana, this triggered an intensification of efforts to rid the city of Chinese people. City Council asked downtown property owners not to rent to the Chinese. Some residents of Santa Ana added pressure through a campaign of theft and violence. The local newspaper, the Santa Ana Evening Blade, described Chinatown as an “eyesore” and “a great detriment to all property in the neighborhood.” (OC Weekly) The 1900 Census showed that Santa Ana’s Chinese population had collapsed from 200 to 19; the city redoubled its efforts sending a delegation the following year to a statewide convention in San Francisco to support renewing the Chinese Exclusion Act. Through all this, Chinatown persisted–a handful of shacks in less than a city block of space that was shared with Santa Ana’s City Hall, a structure slated to be rebuilt.
In 1906, the city was made aware of what proved to be a very convenient diagnosis, a case of leprosy in Chinatown. Wong Woh Ye was diagnosed by Dr. Jesse M. Burlew on May 24th, unleashing a new wave of prejudice as health officials warned against buying Chinese produce that they believed was contaminated. City Council determined the disease had to be conquered through fire. The following day a thousand citizens of Santa Ana watched as Chinatown was burned to the ground. In the following weeks, Willie Ching Wing, a prominent member of L.A.’s Chinatown, arrived in Santa Ana with Dr. Ralph Williams and a representative of the L.A. Chinese Chamber of Commerce to look further into the circumstances regarding Ye’s diagnosis and the burning of Chinatown. However, Ye died before they reached him. Dr. Burlew’s autopsy concluded that Ye died of leprosy, a statement he later modified, revealing that Ye in fact had died of pneumonia. Did he even have leprosy? No one knows for sure–but it provided a rationale for burning down Chinatown, and driving the remaining the Chinese out of Santa Ana. It would be several decades before Chinese people began to return.
Arellano, Gustavo. “Santa Ana Deliberately Burned Down Its Chinatown in 1906–And Let a Man Die to Do It.” OC Weekly, Dec. 30, 2014.
“Santa Ana: Chinatown Torched in Ugly ’06 Incident.” Los Angeles Times, May 31, 1993.
Hate Gone Viral
By Leo Krapp
Location suggestion: Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove
The Coronavirus pandemic has torn at the fabric of our society, often revealing the corroded and morally compromised reality that lies underneath the thin embroidery of American exceptionalism.
From the highest levels of government to the smallest businesses, people across the country have the felt the political, economic, and social effects of the virus. One of the most infuriating results has been the wave of anti-Asian racism that has swept the country, galvanized by bigoted statements from the President and a fear of science, but more importantly, a fear of the Other. These incidents have occurred all across the country, and Orange County is no exception.
Home to a variety of Asian communities and ethnicities, Orange County is the county with the third-largest population of Asian American residents in the US. On March 6, 2020, two high school girls at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove filmed themselves yelling slurs and “Coronavirus!” at students who showed off their traditional Vietnamese dress at a school assembly. Later that day, they hit the masked face of another Asian American female student. On March 21, an Asian American family from Huntington Beach reported to the Anti-Defamation League that they received multiple fliers reading “You guys are Chinese Viruses” and “Get out of our country.”
In response, more than 200 people signed a letter to the Orange County Board of Supervisors asking for a resolution to be passed “denouncing the discrimination and hate crimes directed against Asian Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The signatures came from elected officials from multiple cities in Orange County, and include Congresswoman Katie Porter and state Assemblyman Steven Choi. In addition, a change.org petition calling for the expulsion of the students reached more than 85,000 signatures.
From March to April 2020 alone, more than 1,400 anti-Asian incidents were reported to the Stop AAPI Hate tracker, more of third of them located in California. In June, 2020,120 hate crimes were reported to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action website, and more than 40% of those are also from California.
In times like these, we need to remember that our community is made stronger and more vibrant by the diversity of the people who call it home. It is more important than ever to fight for racial justice and to defend our communities from violence and hate. This chapter of the fight against racism is just beginning. We are all responsible for writing its conclusion.
Donaghue, Erin. “2,120 hate incidents against Asian Americans reported during coronavirus pandemic.” CBS News, July 2, 2020.
Huang, Josie. “In OC, Coronavirus-Related Racism Toward Asians Leads To Calls For Action.” LAist, April 23, 2020.
Tessler, Hannah et al. “The Anxiety of Being Asian American: Hate Crimes and Negative Biases During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” American journal of criminal justice : AJCJ, 1-11. 10 Jun. 2020.
“Viral,” a video by Year of the Ox. Trigger warning: This video contains disturbing content. March 16, 2020.
Anti-Semitic House Party
by Leo Krapp
Suggested location: Newport Harbor High School
Early in March of 2019, a party was thrown at a Newport Beach house, attended by a number of students from Newport Harbor High School. In itself, this was not unusual, but this party made national headlines, and Newport Beach school officials and local law enforcement announced that they were going to be conducting a full investigation of the events of that night.
The reason for this reaction was the circulation of photos showing party-goers raising the Nazi salute in front of a swastika made out of red Polo cups on a plastic white table. All of the students are smiling. One of the captions of the social media posts read “Jews vs. Nazis,” and showed the image of another table of red Polo cups, this time displaying the star of David.
This kind of flippant use of anti-Semitic symbols is reprehensible, but it is not the first time something like this has happened at Newport Harbor High School. In 2010, NHHS was vandalized with graffiti of swastikas, “666 white,” “WP,” and “88,” a code for HH, or Heil Hitler.
Graffiti is a subcultural and highly localized activity, with an ephemeral presence that reaches a limited audience. These kinds of large social gatherings and social media posts, however, are mainstream events that implicate a network of friends and acquaintances from across the country.
It is likely that the students involved do not believe in Nazi ideology, and would condemn this kind of anti-semitic hate. Some of their NHHS peers, as well as some of the participants of the party themselves, explained the actions as jokes not intended to be taken seriously. Obviously, these kind of jokes are as ignorant as they are in bad taste, but the damage goes further than a few kids not caring about the implications of their actions. When we joke about the events of World War II and the years leading up to it, we risk erasing events that, today more than ever, desperately need to be remembered.
Data from the Anti-Defamation league has showed a significant year-to-year increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in America. In 2017, a year after Donald Trump was elected president, incidents surged by more than 60 percent. When we begin to disregard history, we fail to learn from horrors such as the Holocaust, which reveal the danger of focusing on what makes others different from “us,” and how quickly “different” becomes “inferior.”
Roughly a week after the party, police responded to another report from NHHS officials, this time reporting that a number of fliers bearing Nazi symbols were distributed around campus. These events, occurring in the schools in our community, are disheartening. However, school is also the perfect place to combat these incidents and stop them from happening again. Education is the most powerful weapon in fighting racial injustice, discrimination, and hate, and the only way forward is ensuring that students are given the historical perspective and the moral guidance to understand the damaging implications of incidents like these.
Chiu, Allyson. “Nazi salutes and a swastika made of red cups: Newport Beach students condemned for ‘abhorrent anti-Semitic activity’.” The Washington Post, March 5, 2019.
Mai-Duc, Christine et al. “With Nazi salutes around a makeshift swastika, Newport Beach students spark outrage.” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2019.
“Anti-Semitic Incidents Surged Nearly 60% in 2017, According to New ADL Report.” Anti-defamation League, February 27, 2018.