I am an Asian American immigrant. I came to the US with my sister and her family when I was nine. We escaped war-torn Vietnam and were sponsored to live in Kansas by a kind family.

I consider myself an American through and through. California has been home to me since fifth grade. I grew up in Southern California, started my family in Northern California, and now have planted roots here in Santa Barbara. I love our country and value the rich diversity and wonderful traditions and history in every community I have ever visited or lived in.

Thus, I am both outraged and saddened by the tragic murders of eight people in the Atlanta community last week. Of those killed, six were Asian American immigrant women, like me. This is too close to home. They were hard-working women who strived to provide for their families. They too chased the American dream so their families can have better opportunities. Yet, their lives were stolen by a young man who targeted them because he was “having a bad day”.

What an intolerable response that, unfortunately, says so much. And our legal system is still struggling to define this atrocity as what it truly is, a hate crime.

These tragic murders are the most recent in a year of increased, hate-fueled violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) here in California and across the nation. In some communities, our elders and women are afraid to take walks in their neighborhood or even go to the local market.

I have read that hate crimes towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased by 150% during these past 12 months. Unfortunately, this shocking statistic is likely higher because of individual reluctance to draw attention or feeling fearful of reporting incidents.

Violence against AAPI community members and members of our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities throughout our country is not new. Undergirding these violent attacks are racism, discrimination, and xenophobia, which has fueled the flames of divisive policies and hate since our nation’s inception.

The racist rhetoric used to target and scapegoat our AAPI community members throughout this pandemic has been a manifestation of that history. Attacks on members of our AAPI community threaten the health and safety of all members of our community.

We must recognize that racism — individual, institutional and systemic — is truly a public health crisis.

The tragic events of last week are a call to action. Each of us need to speak up when we witness racism or bias in action or speech. We need to listen and create a safe space for community members who are being targeted. We all need to grow in our understanding of equity in race, gender, sexual orientation, and all aspects of life.

Enough is enough. There have been too many lives cut short in our communities of color. We need to unite in our efforts to develop strategies to address and dismantle the racism that is fueling these attacks. Join me in denouncing racism, violence, and hate crimes as we work to build a more just and equitable community for all. Our health depends on it.

Van Do-Reynoso, PhD, MPH, is the Santa Barbara County Public Health Director.

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