MCALLEN, Texas (KVEO) — The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, introduced amid the rise in violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, is now law.  

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation to curtail a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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The House approved the bill 364-62 this week, following the Senate’s 94-1 vote in April.

KVEO spoke with members of the Rio Grande Valley’s Filipino community to learn about their experiences and thoughts on the bill.  

Pastor Joe Ramientos and his family moved to McAllen from Los Angeles in 2005 and were not at first met with a warm welcome.  

“I thought, if this is the kind of Valley I will have to face, I told myself, ‘be ready; you might have to leave,’” said Ramientos.  

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He has since made friends in the community and now proudly calls it his home. He’s a part-time pastor at Praise Christian Fellowship Church and serves as a board member on the RGV chapter of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce (PACC).  

“The Valley needs to know there are Asian Americans, Filipino Americans, that would like to participate in the activities of the RGV,” Pastor Ramientos said. 

He has not experienced physical violence, but across the country attacks against the Asian and Pacific Islander community have skyrocketed, according to Stop AAPI Hate’s annual report, as a result of the pandemic.  

“It hurt to hear people who I felt a community with label me and ostracize me in a way like that,” Church Member Nethaniella Guasa said. 

Guasa used to work at a local Asian restaurant and says customers would call to ask if the Asian staff had gone “home” to China recently in order to determine whether it was safe to eat there. 

“Rarely do you see Asians, so there’s not a lot of Asian awareness,” she said. “I would just like to (tell people to) have an open mind and do not label any Asian you see as a terror.”  

Pastor Ramientos said his faith has allowed him to have a forgiving heart toward people who are hostile toward him as an Asian American. While he’s thankful and supportive of the bill, he says it’s not the full solution.  

“Whether there is a virus or not, hate has always existed in the lives of people,” he said.  

Pastor Ramientos encourages people to combat any prejudice they may have by making the effort to get to know minorities in the community and invites the public to partake in the chamber of commerce’s events.  

The House approved the bill 364-62 this week, following the Senate’s 94-1 vote in April.

The new law will expedite Justice Department reviews of hate crimes by putting an official in charge of the effort. Federal grants will be available to help local law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification, and reporting of bias-driven incidents, which often go underreported.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is Black and Indian, discussed reports of stabbings, shootings, and other attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals and their businesses since the start of the pandemic a little over a year ago.

To keep up with the happenings of the chamber, follow the Rio Grande Valley community on Facebook