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Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Asian American Olympians representing the United States are competing for gold in Tokyo as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are targets of violence and bigotry back home.

Why it matters: Advocates say the anti-Asian hate is taking a mental health toll on Asian Americans, and Asian American athletes are entering the games under the added pressure of competing in Asia before a worldwide audience.

  • They're also under restrictions that limit their ability to voice their political views.

Details: At least two Asian American athletes say they experienced episodes of bigotry as they prepared to compete in the Olympics and as other Asian Americans have encountered assaults linked to anti-Asian hate.

  • Karate athlete Sakura Kokumai, a Hawaii-born woman to Japanese immigrants, told a recent USA Today virtual forum that she endured racist slurs and verbal harassment before going for a run in a park.
  • Gymnast Yul Moldauer, born in Seoul and adopted by American parents as an infant, told the same forum he was recently cut off in traffic by a motorist who then yelled at him: go back to China.
  • Snowboarder Chloe Kim, a first-generation Korean American and an Olympic halfpipe gold medalist, said she has received hateful Instagram direct messages that have taken a toll on her mental health.

Driving the news: ESPN's controversial personality Stephen A. Smith apologized last week following harsh criticism for his remarks about Japanese-born Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani's use of an interpreter.

  • Smith said on ESPN's morning talk show "First Take" he found it problematic that "the number one face" of baseball needs an interpreter so Americans can "understand what the hell he’s saying in this country."
  • ESPN colleagues scolded Smith, and Asian American activists attacked his remarks as bigoted.

By the numbers: Anti-Asian hate crimes reported to police in the U.S.'s largest cities jumped 189% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of time in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

The intrigue: "When the rise in anti-Asian discrimination happened, I did start to think: 'Okay, well, the Olympics are gonna be in Tokyo, what's that gonna mean?' We actually are going to be in a clearly Asian country," said American East Conference commissioner Amy Huchthausen, who co-founded the AAPI Athletics Alliance this year.

Between the lines: Like Black athletes, Asian Americans are representing a country that doesn't fully accept them, said Russell Jeung, founder of Stop AAPI Hate.

  • Asian Americans occupy a "conditional status of belonging" due to the perpetual foreigner stereotype, Jeung said. "If they're winners, [Americans will] accept them because America likes to be winners. If they lose, then we'll get vilified and blamed."
  • That puts Asian Americans in an unfair "double bind," according to Jeung. They not only represent themselves and their countries, but also have to represent their race.
Yul Moldauer at the 2021 U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Trials in St Louis, Mo. Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

What they're saying: "There's a segment of the population that is ... always going to be thinking less of Asian Americans," Huchthausen said. "But I hope that Asian American athletes representing Team USA use this moment to speak about it and bring more awareness to it ... There's power in athletes using their platform."

  • Even though they're unlikely to escape racism, especially on social media, resilience is also a part of their experience, noted Yale's athletic director Vicky Chun, who also co-founded the AAPI Athletics Alliance.
  • "My job is to represent this country no matter what ... no matter if an individual feels like they need to say something or harass me," Moldauer said.
  • "I'm just going to put that away because there are so many other great Americans in this country I get to represent."

Don't forget: Stereotypes and barriers to access have long excluded Asians from U.S. sports, where they remain vastly underrepresented.

Go deeper

Attacks rise on houses of worship

Woven Stars of David hang along the fence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on the 1st anniversary of a mass shooting at the synagogue. Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Houses of worship — across a variety of faiths, including Jewish synagogues to Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques and Catholic churches — are experiencing high amounts of vandalism, arson and other property damage.

The big picture: 2021 is on track to exceed last year's spike in hate crimes in the U.S., many of them linked to religious bigotry. The number of hate crimes reported in FY 2020 was the highest since 2001, when a wave of Islamophobia followed the 9/11 attacks, according to updated FBI data released yesterday.

FBI says it undercounted hate crimes in 2020

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The number of hate crimes reported in the 2020 fiscal year soared to the highest recorded in nearly two decades, according to updated FBI data released Monday.

Context: The FBI said a technical submission error had excluded some data from Ohio in the agency's previous count, which was published in August. The error has since been addressed, with the updated data including over 500 previously excluded hate crime incidents.

Oct 26, 2021 - Podcasts

Crimes against houses of worship are on the rise

From Jewish synagogues and Buddhist temples to Catholic churches and Muslim mosques, houses of worship this year are experiencing high levels of vandalism, arson and other property damage. According to early numbers, 2021 is on track to be a record year for hate crimes in the U.S., and many of those are linked to religious bigotry.

  • Plus, global leaders prepare for the climate summit in Glasgow.
  • And, your future home could be 3D-printed.

Guests: Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University; Axios' Andrew Freedman and Joann Muller.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper: