Han Kim was in the fourth grade when his mother unexpectedly picked him up from Hancock Park Elementary School on April 30, 1992. The UCLA alumnus would soon realize the Los Angeles riots, or Sa-I-Gu, that consumed Koreatown was only the beginning.

Four LAPD officers were acquitted for the beating of a black man, Rodney King, on April 29. Riots quickly spread across what was South Central LA and into Koreatown, lasting for three days. The riots came with tremendous loss: 55 deaths, 12,000 arrested, and over $1 billion in property damage, $400 million of which was to Koreatown shops.

Once the riots subsided, the Korean American community quickly rallied and marched through Koreatown, calling for peace and condemning the injustices that occurred.

“This [was] something right to do. … We want people to be heard. [We want] justice, equality, reparations for this riot,” said UCLA alumnus Kevin La when he participated in the demonstration as a first-year student.

Simultaneously, the riots forced the community to self-reflect on its social and political positions in relation to American society. The riots made them realize their invisibility.

“At that time, in ordinary Angelenos’ mindsets, Koreatown didn’t exist as a public space, as if it didn’t belong to the U.S.,” said Kyeyoung Park, an associate professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at UCLA. “We had a Korean American community, but it was not read as really an American community.”

Being a part of American society required more than selling goods, as noted by Angela Oh, a prominent spokesperson for the Korean American community following the riots, in a 1993 New York Times article. Korean Americans needed to engage in American politics and with other communities.

“[Many Koreans] did not want to become American citizens. No one claimed Korean American-ness. They were very proud of being patriotic Koreans. [But] when Sa-I-Gu happened, it really became a turning a point, a wakeup call, a watershed event. … Economic success alone is not [good enough],” said Edward Chang, professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside.

Korean American historian and activist Philip Ahn Cuddy expressed, “Let’s say with voting – ‘We’re Koreans. We’re voting as Koreans’ versus saying, ‘We’re Korean Americans. We’re part of the political system. We need representation. We need community leaders and government leaders.’ The younger [generations] are the ones that said we need [the latter] to become empowered. … To become recognized, we need to have a platform that’s American.”

Many 1.5- and 2nd-generation Korean Americans established new organizations immediately following the riots. Organizations such as the Koreatown Youth and Community Center and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance attempted to address post-riot needs and build connections to acquire resources. Others began establishing partisan organizations such as the Korean American Democratic Committee.

Koreatown still has a ways to go in terms of politics, according to Chang. The neighborhood is part of multiple city council districts, which has very few Korean Americans in council seats.

“In terms of political profile, Koreatown is still divided into four city council districts. It hasn’t changed. … There’s a great need for the Korean American community to organize and make Koreatown run city council district. Therefore, we can elect Korean American representatives as city council members,” added Chang.

However, socially and ethnically, Koreatown changed. It has become a popular location for socializing and food, filled with English signs and people of different backgrounds. It is far from invisible for any visitor.

“Koreatown is really a place to go for a lot of young people, regardless of your ethnic and racial background – all you can eat barbecue, K-pop, Korean wave. It’s becoming a mecca for younger folks to spend the night life,” Chang said.

Park said, “Koreatown became a really multiethnic and multiracial neighborhood. I think [the riots] really changed everything, politically and then also socially.”

Pacific Arts Movement (PacArts) is presenting its 7th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase from April 20 to April 27, 2017. This year’s showcase will be PacArt’s largest Spring Showcase yet, screening over 20 films from 10 countries over the eight-day festival at UltraStar Mission Valley in San Diego.

In Los Angeles, Visual Communications will be presenting the 33rd edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival the following week, April 27 to May 4, 2017. The festival will open with a rare Sundance cut of the 2002 coming-of-age drama “Better Luck Tomorrow” on Thursday, April 27, 2017 and close with the Narrative winner on Wednesday, May 10.

The opening weekend of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival will also converge with the seventh edition of the Conference for Creative Content (C3) on Saturday, April 29, 2017 and Sunday, April 30, 2017. This year’s C3 has the theme “Future Forward” and will include panels and discussions on the media industry with presenters from the Directors Guild of America, Korean Film Council, and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Still from “Sunday Beauty Queen” (Baby Ruth Villarama, 2016)

Back in San Diego, the 7th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase will screen a range of films from documentaries such as the North American premiere of “Sunday Beauty Queen” (Baby Ruth Villarama, 2016), about the community of Pilipina migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, to special features such as “Gook” (Justin Chon, 2017), about the Korean American perspective during the 1992 uprisings in Los Angeles.

Chon’s “Gook”will not only close out the 7th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase, but will also be the Centerpiece film at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

The films selected for the Spring Showcase are timely and relevant, seeking to “bring audiences together with stories that remind us to consider both our history as well as the world around us today,” said PacArt’s Executive Director Kent Lee.

For instance, the festival’s presentation of “Gook” and “Resistance at Tule Lake” (Konrad Aderer, 2017) aligns with this year’s 25th anniversary of the LA uprisings and the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066.

Still from “Resistance at Tule Lake” (Konrad Aderer, 2017)

Konrad Aderer’s documentary, “Resistance at Tule Lake,”on Japanese American incarceration at Tule Lake during World War II, is presented within a larger program at the Spring Showcase: “Right to Resist: From 9066 to 2017.” This day-long program on April 23, 2017 features “documentaries and short films that chronicle resistance” with issues ranging from Japanese American redress to the Muslim immigrant experience after 9/11. “Resistance at Tule Lake” will also be screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

When Asian international and Asian Pacific Desi American populations continue to be subject to whitewashing and misrepresentation in mainstream media, both the San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival are vital events that enable Asian international and Asian Pacific Desi American experiences to be visible and better represented on the screen.

If you are interested in attending either film festival, the digital program booklet for Pacific Arts Movement’s 7th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival can be found here and the schedule for Visual Communications’ 33rd edition of the Los Angeles Pacific Film Festival can be found here.


Photos by May Zeng

Trigger Warning: This article contains the use of a racial slur as quoted in some of the exhibit pieces and brief mention of violence.

On January 18, an exhibit titled “American Concentration Camps” went up in the Powell Library Rotunda at UCLA. The exhibit consists of collections chosen from the UCLA Library Special Collections.

It is significant that the exhibit refers to the camps as “concentration camps” instead of the commonly used term “internment camps” because “internment” describes the imprisonment of foreign nationals, yet almost two-thirds of those incarcerated were natural born US citizens.

UCLA Library Special Collections states that their purpose is to preserve cultural heritage through primary sources that “tell the story of our collective past.” Rather than relegating Japanese internment to a few pages in a textbook, the “American Concentration Camps” exhibit is a display of what Japanese internment, and the attitudes and beliefs driving it, really looked like.


Doug Johnson is a Special Collections staff member and curator of the “American Concentration Camps” exhibit at Powell Library. Including Johnson, four staff members in Library Special Collections and two scholars in the Center for Primary Research and Training put the exhibit together in just under two months.

Doug Johnson: After the election, a meeting was convened in our department to talk about what we as librarians and archivists could do to respond to the incoming administration, and a lot of ideas were floated at that meeting, and my personal idea was to have this exhibit because I knew we had tons of material on Japanese internment, and I had heard surrogates of the administration talking about that as instructed precedent for the Muslim registry and I found that very alarming and wanted to push back against that in whatever way we could.

May Zeng: What do you hope for people to get out of this exhibit?

DJ: Well, knowledge, first of all, because the tactic of the current administration to try to dismiss facts and elide history and twist historical record to their own end and I think we have to assert the truth about what really happened. And I hope with that knowledge, will come compassion and energy and a desire to both resist any injustices that may be visited on vulnerable populations.

MZ: Have you worked much with this subject matter before?

DJ: No, I haven’t. I’m Japanese American, and I hadn’t heard about this at all until I was a kid during the Reagan years when the redress movement was going on; that was the first I heard of it. My family was never affected by this because my mother was from Japan, but it was startling to me to learn about that in the 80s. And though I had some passing familiarity with it over the years, I never really studied the topic until taking on this project.

MZ: What did you learn from working on this exhibit?

DJ: I’ve learned that people are really resilient. And when I started this project, I had the idea that I didn’t want pictures of people smiling because at the time, there was a lot of propaganda by the US government to take pictures of people smiling in the camps, and talk about how nice their homes were and how good the food was and all that kind of stuff. I did not want to do that. I kinda wanted it to show it as a really oppressive, horrible place to live, which it was. I truly believe it was, but I also realized that by not including some of the positive aspects of camp life, I was doing a disservice to the people who lived there because they were incarcerated for an indefinite period of time and they had to live, they had to find some way to live in that condition, some way to make themselves happy, and go to school, and fall in love and play sports and sing songs and do art. So we included one of the cases revealing that aspect of camp life. [It’s] my favorite case now, even though it’s the case I initially didn’t really want to have.

A doll and some other artifacts from the case showing some of the lighter parts of camp life.
A yearbook from the high school at the Manzanar camp, which is now a national park. Students can be seen walking in front of the barracks that they lived in.
Trek was the literary magazine of the Topaz camp in Utah. According to Johnson, every camp had its own literary magazine

We all learned a lot. The interesting thing about working with primary materials like this, you see the small little details, but you don’t really get a sense of the big picture of things…It’s different from your normal historians’ view, which tries to give you a big picture. It’s a little more hands on and personal, and maybe myopic in some ways, but still very rich.

MZ: Do you think that might be a problem, for a lack of a better word, for someone who doesn’t know anything and walks in and doesn’t get the big picture?

DJ: Yeah, I do think that could be a problem. There aren’t a lot of dates and names and numbers, and the things that are commonly associated with a history class. You get these little snapshots and slices of life, but I hope they’re compelling, and if you want to learn the whole story, there are ample resources in our libraries to learn about it. So if your imagination is seized by one particular item or artifact in the exhibit, that could lead you on to discover the greater context, the greater story of the whole episode.


In one of the displayed documents, labeled “Basic Family Face Sheet,” basic information of six members of a Japanese American family’ was listed, including their countries of birth. Of the six, only one had been born in Japan, yet due to their ancestry the whole family was put in a camp.


The Los Angeles Evening Herald Express shared LA mayor Fletcher Bowron’s belief that “All Japanese, native or foreign born, are aliens under a proper construction of the Constitution.” According to Bowron, “the Japs are not a minority group, such as Germans and Italians, but are a completely foreign element.” Behind Executive Order 9066 was the idea that, “if they [the Japanese] never were citizens, nothing could be taken from them.” By denying Japanese Americans their citizenship and “othering” them as foreign aliens, Bowron and others who shared his beliefs were able to justify stripping them of their businesses, their homes, their land, and their basic human rights.

The Los Angeles Times’s “Jap Questionnaire” featured in the display reveals that when asked, “Would you permanently exclude all Japanese from the Pacific Coast States, including California?,” 9,833 Southern Californians answered yes while only 999 answered no.

For another question, “Do you favor a constitutional amendment after the war for the deportation of all Japanese from this country, and forbidding further immigration?,” 10,598 answered yes while 732 answered no. It was not enough that the Japanese were stripped of their land and were forced into concentration camps where they had to complete loyalty oaths. Many still wanted them physically removed from the country.

Japanese Americans were not safe either. The follow-up question, “Would you [accept] American-born Japanese if such a plan as the above were adopted?” saw 1,883 say yes while the answer was still no for 9,018.

A white man and woman smile behind a glass storefront. Written on the glass in all caps, “Choke the Japs with your girdles. We want rubber.”

This poster sits in the center of the display case in the middle of the Powell Library Rotunda.

From caption card: “Ralph Lawrence Carr was the governor of Colorado. A conservative Republican, he advocated that the Japanese in America be treated with respect and compassion. This letter, written by a child, reveals the political backlash Carr faced. He left office in 1943.”

The letter reads:


And I use sir very loosly [sic] because you don’t even deserve to be called to be called [sic] a man.

If you love the Japs so much why don’t you go to Japan and get in good with the dishonorable Emporor [sic]. Because you know he deserves people just like you. People that are yellow-bellied and disloyal that theyd [sic] say anything for money. By the way how much did you get for saying that most of the Marines liked the Japs. I’m writing you this because I think a person like you should be put up against a wall and shot, like your friends the Japs do to the Marines that you say love the Japs so much.

I admit there are people that call themselves Americans like you who are yellow-bellied traitors. Well I think I had better stop before I say something I’ll be sorry for, you traitor.

Sincerely, a patriotc [sic] American who is twelve years old but still hate people like you”

Letter from a young girl (age unknown) interned in Arkansas writing back to her teacher in California.A young girl tries to keep a brave face and be optimistic despite how bad things are at the camp as she writes to her teacher back home. The letter reads:

“Dear Miss Tailyor

Are you all right? I am alright. I am in arkansa [sic] now. It is good here but it is hot here. It rains here hard little bet [sic]. It rain on Sunday October 4th. It is a swampy land. We could go fishing in the Mississippi river. In the mountain there are snake. They DO NOT let people go in the mountain when it is summer. There are [sicknesses spreading] out now at ark. by ice water now. I did not get sick yet but I will get sick pretty soon.

There are lot of trees here. They have a porch here. [Arkansas] is better than Santa Anita [Racetrack] at lese [sic]. Is it hot at California? There is a canteen here. But there isn’t so much thing at the canteen. At lese [sic] we brought some from Santa Anita. When we take a bath it is cold water and we freeze to defe [sic]. There are not so much mosquitoes here than Santa Anita. The train ride was good. We pass [Arizona], Texas, New Mexico, and came to Rohwer Arkansa [sic].

Write soon.

Sinecerely [sic]

Hiteko K”

(Top) An article from a newspaper published at the Tule Lake Relocation Center established by the War Location Authority. The headline reads, “Okamoto Dies From Gunshot Wound Induced by Sentry” (Middle) Interview with another man shot by a sentry (Bottom) Medical report showing where he was shot
Close-up of interview with Takeuchi after he was shot

Johnson found many examples of people being shot by guards and sometimes killed as a result of those gunshots. For example, Okamoto was “gathering wood just outside the gates and a guard shot him. There are multiple eyewitness accounts confirming that. If you follow the story, you find that the guard never suffered any kind of disciplinary action, much less criminal prosecution for what he did.”

List of people in the riot at Manzanar on December 6, 1942.

Similarly, two teenagers, 17 and 18 years old, were killed at a riot at Manzanar around the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor. No guard or soldier faced any disciplinary action for the killings.

A man and a young girl paint outside
A watercolor painting of a sentry tower
Garment workers from one of the camps
Kitchen workers from one of the camps
Young boy and cat

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, but it is clear that the same type of justification behind Japanese internment is present almost a century later.

The “American Concentration Camps” Exhibit is on display in the Powell Rotunda until March 24.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to a study conducted by the American Cancer Society.

Compared to other ethnic groups, cigarette smoking is at the lowest rate for AAPIs, yet over 75 percent of lung cancer deaths can be linked to cigarette smoking, per a study.

Smoking prevalence varies among AAPI subgroups. Based on a 2016 CDC mortality report, 20 percent of Korean Americans surveyed smoked. Following were Vietnamese Americans at 16.3 percent, and, the lowest, Chinese Americans at 7.6 percent.

Similar results were shown in 2006 data collected by the National Latino and Asian American Study: About 1 in 3 Korean and Vietnamese Americans smoke.

The percentages indicate about less than a quarter of each subgroup is affected by smoking, but many behind-the-scenes activities suggest these numbers are much lower than reported.

Kevin Trieu, a program coordinator at Asian Health Coalition based in Chicago, expressed fear in a Medill News Service report, saying Asian Americans are not well represented in these cancer or smoking studies.

Most of the smoking rate surveys are in English, and many AAPIs, especially those of older generations, only speak their non-English native language, said Trieu. Easily, this leads to inaccurate data, which, although unintentional, does not take into account the smoking issues of certain generations.

Elaine Ishihara, director of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition Against Tobacco, expressed similar concerns in a Northwest Asian Weekly report.

“Many studies use phone surveys as a measuring tool, and they are only done in English and Spanish. They don’t desegregate that data — not [showing a different rate for] youths, not reflective of different communities. It’s very misleading,” said Ishihara.

Ishihara added, “Community members said that messages weren’t reaching them. We need resources that are [in their] language and culturally appropriate. If it’s not in [their] languages, people are not going to notice it.”

Only mitigating language barriers will not significantly decrease smoking rates, so many organizations, like Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy & Leadership, take multifaceted approaches to prevent smoking.

“[APPEAL] believe[s] that there are these core elements that are important in being able to get a community’s norms changed, to become tobacco-free. … That means raising awareness of the harms of tobacco but also building the expertise at a local community, to become better advocates,” said Rod Lew, executive director of APPEAL, in an interview. “We also believe that there needs to be investment into communities, to eventually engage … in tobacco policy change.”

Tobacco tax is one national policy that effectively curbs smoking rates and generates more funds to further investigate prevention methods, mentioned Lew. And, historically, increases in the prices of cigarettes have led to decreases in smoking rates, according to a study. Every 10 percent price increase was correlated with a 2.5 to 5 percent overall decrease in smoking.

But, the issue of smoking cannot be resolved with just one policy or community member. Each community or individual reacts differently to various methods; smoking prevention and quitting need to be relevant for each smoker.

In one study, foreign-born Asian men were found to smoke more than Asian men born in the States, but, conversely, Asian women born in the States were found to smoke more than foreign-born Asian women.

“How we view race and ethnicity – because it’s really more than that. Just because we find race and ethnic differences doesn’t mean it’s due to that. It’s likely due to other factors,” said Elizabeth D`Amico, an adjunct professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Similarly, on the California Watch, data on smoking disparities revealed that nearly all Vietnamese men surveyed said smoking would harm their health, but less than 80 percent of Koreans surveyed believed the statement. And, the longer an Asian immigrant stayed in America, the less likely they were to smoke.

“Each [community] has a different smoking rate … so it’s really important that each region has data to be able to prioritize how to address tobacco disparity. … [It] is important to be able to have a way of looking at how best to provide cessation and treatment for nicotine and cigarette addiction,” said Lew.

“The key is to really create [smoking cessation] programming that’s inclusive and that resonates, that’s developmentally appropriate. I think that’s a big key from times when people create programs [and] they don’t think about,” said D`Amico.

For more information on smoking and smoking prevention, check out these organizations: APICAT, APPEAL, CDC

UCLA’s Mixed Student Union (MSU) hosted their fourth annual Mixed Heritage Conference on April 30 in the James West Alumni Center. The organization’s goal for hosting the conference on campus, according to the organization’s co-director Ariel Pezner, was to spread awareness of mixed identity among student audiences within UCLA as well as circles of mixed groups outside UCLA.

The reach of the organization’s efforts go well beyond the campus, with its connections to several other student organizations such as those at the University of Southern California. Chelsea Strong, co-director of MSU alongside Pezner, shared that the conference was the biggest event hosted by the organization to attract students, staff, and faculty of all backgrounds “to get a chance to learn critically about mixed heritage.” To manifest the appropriate space for this exchange of ideas and learning, prominent speakers from various mixed backgrounds were invited to speak.

The keynote Speaker Dr. Velina Hasu Houston, who wrote her senior thesis at UCLA and received her doctorate from USC, is recognized locally and internationally for her analytical playwriting on genres of mixed heritage, a topic often overlooked as “too uninteresting” for the arts.

Photo courtesy of UCLA's Mixed Student Union.
Photo courtesy of UCLA’s Mixed Student Union.

The conference brought into projection the importance of using art as a medium to communicate beyond the subjects of the composition itself. Among Dr. Houston’s most renowned works is “Tea, with Music” and “Cinnamon Girl.” She is a leadership force for many organizations such as HapaSC, a mixed heritage organization at USC, and Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC), whose mission statement is “to advocate for and foster multiracial community and identity.”

Her son Kiyoshi Kamehanaokala Houston also spoke at the conference, and stressed the need to bring issues of mixed identity to the public and discussed how to increase accessibility for millennials.

Some of the other organizations’ representatives in attendance included Dr. Chandra Crudup, from One Drop of Love and the co-director of Mixed Roots Stories (MRS), who sponsored the conference. In addition to teaching at Arizona State University, Dr. Crudup is also a social worker. She said, “Race is in the face a lot more than in the past,” and that there needs to be a healthy way to deal with social justice issues. She spoke on what a healthy lifestyle looks like, a survival guide to not getting “jaded out by issues that affect life at work and socially.”

As described by Mark Edwards, a member of the community, MRS is a place to share stories, as they have the power to change the mind and to create community. These stories are shared not just through writing, but through creative media such as performing arts. “Language could be so limiting, so art can transcend [these limits],” said Edwards.

The goal of the conference and many of the representatives of the movement present was to reinforce the idea that mixed race and identity issues should be discussed in an open, critical way to challenge assumptions and be acknowledged as important.

The conference continued until 4 p.m. and included several enrichment workshops to create a discursive atmosphere where audience input their own ideas for what interventions to create or what issues to shed light upon. The event was made possible with the help of interns at Mixed Student Union among many others. When asked how she came to be interested in mixed heritage, Barrie Diggs responded that it was the previous year’s conference that provided her with “the biggest exposure to the organization.”

She further elaborated that joining the organization helped her find people like herself who understood her struggles and shared commonalities with her. To be a member of Mixed Student Union, there is no membership fee; Anyone is welcome to drop into their meetings, where they discuss different topics related to mixed identity and mixed heritage. For more information on the organization, please visit their Facebook page.

Like pink is to breast cancer, jade is to hepatitis B.

The color jade holds many symbolic significances to Asians, but perhaps most importantly, it represents hepatitis awareness. May is hepatitis awareness month, but organizations from UCLA, particularly Team HBV, are already preparing events to raise the disease’s awareness on campus. On April 21, Team HBV hosted a benefit concert to raise money for HBV outreach causes. In May, the team will be hosting their Annual Hep. B Awareness Week at UCLA. There will be carnival games, photo-shoots, and other various events. The goal is for students to get engaged, have fun, and learn about hep. B, says Hong Chen, Team HBV’s vice president of community outreach.

There are five types of hepatitis, yet hepatitis B is the most common and, possibly, the deadliest. Hepatitis B is characterized by a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Most often, carriers of HBV will exhibit no symptoms; the virus remains latent, and by the time symptoms are noticeable, the virus has already progressed too far, causing some sort of liver damage, according to a World Health Organization guide to hepatitis B. Based on a WHO fact sheet, one out of four HBV carriers will develop and die from liver damage, mainly liver cancer, or chronic hepatitis.

About 1 in 30 people worldwide are infected with HBV, yet for Asians and Pacific Islanders (APIs) specifically, 1 in 12 people people are infected. In just the United States, APIs “account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic Hepatitis B.”

Asian Pacific Liver Center (APLC) senior nurse practitioner Mimi Chang calls hepatitis B an “Asians’ disease.” She also notes that the risk of developing liver cancer from chronic hepatitis B increases for APIs, jumping to 90 percent from the general 25.

Despite the high prevalence in APIs, hepatitis B is a highly preventable disease. In a 2013 physician’s guide to hepatitis B, the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University says, “The 3-shot hepatitis B vaccine series can provide lifelong protection against HBV, thus eliminating the most common cause of liver cancer … [The] vaccine is so effective at preventing HBV and liver cancer that the World Health Organization had declared it the world’s first ‘anti-cancer vaccine.’”

According to a WHO fact sheet regarding the hepatitis B vaccine, “The vaccine has an excellent record of safety and effectiveness…In many countries where 8–15% of children used to become chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus, vaccination has reduced the rate of chronic infection to less than 1% among immunized children.”

Considering there has been an extremely effective vaccine for hepatitis B since 1982, the prevalence of the disease in APIs is rather mysterious. Richard Liang, an assistant and intern for the Youth Leadership Conference on Asian and Pacific Islander Health, comments on this mystery, saying that cultural behaviors are a possible contributor. Asians typically keep information to themselves when it involves health issues.

There is a shame element to hepatitis B for infected Asians, so they remain silent, says Chang. “Many Asians believe there is a connection between IV drug [use] and hepatitis B. They think they did something wrong.”

Chen finds the silence over hepatitis B partly a result of historical discriminatory hiring practices in China, during which a job applicant that tested positive for hepatitis B could be rejected. In the 80s, the Chinese government required employers to conduct medical tests on job applicants, and based on the regulations and standards at the time, applicants with chronic hepatitis could not be hired. In the 90s, employment discrimination reached a point in which “provincial-level governments barred HBV-positive people from the civil service,” according to a study conducted by Yirenping, an anti-discrimination group that focuses on employment equality.

Despite current changes in hiring policies and lifts on restrictions, such discrimination remains. Yirenping discovered in a 2011 survey that of 180 state-owned enterprises, 61 percent still conducted HBV screenings and 35 percent would reject job candidates with HBV.

Because of these historical practices, the stigma of hepatitis B lingers intensely within Asian communities. Unwilling to risk becoming a weaker job applicant due to some illness, many Asians resort to lying or even cheating on the medical exams.

Mere unawareness and misinformation also play a part in the prevalence of the disease in Asian communities. Seven out of 10 people have hepatitis B but do not know about it, says Chang. “They may know about [HBV] but not the right thing. [There’s a] lot of misinformation.”

Many APIs incorrectly believe that HBV is spread by “sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing or sneezing.” All in the while, they may continue to participate in activities that cause HBV transmission: contact with bodily fluids, which includes blood and semen; through sex; contact with infected blood on objects and during birth from mother to child.

“Out of ignorance, people don’t realize how people get hepatitis B. So [people living with hepatitis B] get that stigma that they got it because of their behavior choices. Rather, they were just born with it because those were just the conditions that their parents came from. Education needs to be out there,” says James Arima, a Japanese American Citizens League Seattle Chapter member.

The easiest way to resolve the health disparity is to get people talking about HBV, says Liang.

APLC is one organization that focuses on public education of and screenings for HBV. Typically, APLC organizes one to three health fairs a month at local churches in LA, targeting Asian communities. When people come, the volunteers try to grab them and get their attention to talk about hepatitis B.

Education comes first and then screening, says Chang.

Screening usually comes in the form of a blood draw. The blood sample is sent to a lab and the results are sent to the patients’ homes. However, the steps do not end there. APLC goes further.

“Not only [do we] screen, [but we] hold and navigate [patients] to care,” says Chang.

If any of the patients turn out to be positive for hepatitis B, APLC calls them, explains their situation, and recommends doctors for them. If the patients are susceptible to hepatitis B, APLC would encourage the patients to get vaccinated.

Chang expresses that APLC is very eager to help patients with or susceptible to hepatitis B and especially those who are financially troubled. “We offer one time or twice [without charge to check HBV] viral load, liver function and liver cancer.”

Team HBV does similar outreach and screening as APLC. At a typical health fair, Team HBV would first paper screen the patients by having them fill out a questionnaire to assess their risk for HBV. The information is entered into a database connected to the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University. If the patient is determined to be at risk for hepatitis B, they are screened via blood draw. The samples are sent to a lab, and the results are shipped to the patients’ homes.

Though the outreach programs are relatively localized, the expected results are still met. Patients come in believing they do not have HBV, but once they leave, their confidence changes, says Liang.

“I can see that people are more, more aware of hepatitis B. People call [APLC] to screen for hepatitis B,” says Chang.

Liang says people keep coming back to these outreach events to say “thank you.”

Every November, Team HBV volunteers at a health fair in the Monterey city hall. Chen notes that fewer and fewer people come for screening, not because the outreach program is failing but because much of the community has already been screened. “Once people are screened once, they do not need to be screened [again],” Chen adds.

Chang urges any Asians, especially from HBV-endemic countries — like Indonesia or China —, to screen for hepatitis B, even if they were vaccinated and screened in their homeland. Recollecting a patient case, Chang tells of a 20-year-old Vietnamese student who came to APLC with abdominal pain. She tested positive for liver cancer and hepatitis B. Though the student was vaccinated back in Vietnam, her HBV-positive mother was never screened or tested. The virus had already transmitted from the mother to the student at birth.

Liang recommends college students to get tested, have their parents get tested and have their friends get tested.

“It’s a big deal … Better to have checked than nothing at all,” says Chen.

For more information on the disease or for screenings, check Stanford’s Liver Center and APLC

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