AACI: Bringing inclusiveness to Santa Clara County


Last year, hate crimes in California leaped up by 31 percent — the highest reported level in more than a decade. Crimes motivated by racial bias drove much of that rise, increasing by 67.3 percent.

Sarita Kohli, the first Indian-American woman President and CEO of AACI (Asian Americans for Community Involvement), told indica anti-Asian hate crimes have been happening over the decades but had escalated at the beginning of the pandemic, perhaps also fueled by the last president of the United States calling COVID-19 the China virus.

Founded in 1973, AACI serves individuals and families with cultural humility, sensitivity and respect, advocating for and serving the marginalized and ethnic communities in Santa Clara County.

“So far, more than 10,000 incidents have been reported nationally, and many of them have been in the South Bay itself targeting seniors and others,” Kohli said. “So, that’s a cause for real concern, because, we know, today the aging population are targeted and tomorrow, it could be somebody else. Overall, we have to work with our communities to get along better, respect our differences and celebrate our differences and not point fingers at each other.”

Kohli cited an organization called Stop AAPI Hate which has been collecting statistics of reported incidents, adding that the number of cases are under-reported. As a result, she said, the impact of hate crimes is visible “on the people that we serve in our various programs.”

She said that many seniors in her group’s senior program were already feeling isolated due to the pandemic, but were more anxious now because of the increase in hate crimes.

“They’re afraid to go out because they might get targeted,” Kohli said. |We have done training for our seniors. We also gave them some safety equipment, like whistles, so they can attract attention. We have done a number of bystander training for youth as well. Young people are afraid to go to school because they might get bullied.”

Kohli said besides intervening, not always an effective strategy in all situations, bystanders could call the police, make a noise to distract the attackers or scare them away. AACI also supports parents of children and middle-schoolers who are afraid of being bullied at school.

“We did the training and listening sessions separately with the kids,” Kohli said, pointing out that the children targeted may not only be Chinese but could be Black or Sikhs or anyone perceived to be different.

“We have relationships with many, many schools in the area. So we spread awareness throughout Santa Clara County,” she said.

She said the organization is bracing for the arrival of refugees from Afghanistan.

“In the next year Santa Clara County is expecting 800 or 900 families… arriving in our county,” Kohli said, adding that while there is a large Afghan diaspora population in Fremont, they will also go to Santa Clara County, where the AACI is already serving refugees.

Kohli said local residents should be tolerant, consider the accomplishments and contributions of refugees, and not spew hate at them.

AACI recently accepted a proclamation from the San Jose City Council on behalf of the Silicon Valley API Justice Coalition in recognition of United Against Hate Week [https://unitedagainsthateweek.org/] — a Bay Area-wide campaign calling for local civic action to stop hate, discrimination, and implicit biases in our communities. Last month, AACI received a $2.5 million grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund to help end homelessness for families in California’s Santa Clara County.

Kohli said the funds would go to help survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and other AACI clients facing homelessness.

“If somebody is at the risk of becoming homeless and having to go to a shelter, we would intervene and help find them some kind of a placement or support with rent,” Kohli said. “Maybe, the first month’s rent.” She said the group could also help them go to another city where the family may have relatives.