First published in the May 21 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Martial Arts History Museum passed out stun guns to visitors on Thursday, an effort aimed at addressing hate incidents against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
While the local nonprofit made its miniature stun guns, which are shaped roughly like rings for an easier carry, available to anyone who was interested, organizers emphasized the event’s importance to Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. Each recipient had to attend a five-minute lesson on how to use the device, 1,000 boxes of which were donated anonymously.
Michael Matsuda, who founded the museum in 1999 and serves as its president, said he wanted to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence, which has been on the rise. Recent high-profile attacks of Asian Americans include numerous assaults on elders, a 2021 shooting at three Atlanta-area spas and a May shooting at a Dallas Koreatown hair salon.
“It’s not violence against violence,” Matsuda said of the stun guns. “It’s having some self-defense, just in case something happens. Hopefully, they’ll never use it, but it’s better to have something.”
Though anti-Asian attacks are nothing new in the United States, they’ve received renewed attention during the pandemic. With incidents fueled in part by xenophobic associations of COVID-19 with people of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, many members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander — or AAPI — community have reported a surge in racist insults, harassment and assaults.
Roger Lowe, a Santa Clarita martial artist who attended Thursday’s event, called the stun gun “an equalizer” that could also be used to deter potential attackers. Though he’s never been attacked physically because of his race, he added, someone once called him a derogatory term for a person of Japanese descent — even though he has Chinese ancestry. When Lowe confronted him, he said, the other person claimed he was “only joking.”
“[The stun gun] gives you a little more confidence, and it [puts] you a little more at ease when you’re walking around, especially at night,” Lowe said. “Anything to give you that edge.”
Tomoko Blanks, who attended the event with her 13-year-old daughter, Angelika, said she would feel safer carrying the stun gun, noting that its smaller size makes it more likely that she’d carry it with her.
But Angelika was quick to point out the reality that makes having a self-defense device necessary.
“I think this [stun gun is] really smart, but I also think it’s kind of dumb, the fact that Asian people have to hold this to protect themselves,” said Angelika, whose mother is Japanese. “I feel like we should all be civilized and understand that we’re just people. We’re not going to hurt you or anything — unless you mess with us, then we’ll hurt you, too.
“I don’t know, I think people just need to grow up.”
Matsuda believes the Asian American community doesn’t just need self-defense options, however — it needs the support of public officials. He expressed disappointment that Burbank doesn’t host cultural events for Asian American residents, and said he wishes the city would pay more attention to the community’s needs. He also hopes the museum, which is attempting to raise $5 million for a larger space, could host such events, something he feels would showcase the contributions of Asians and Asian Americans.
“Asian hate is going to grow unless we stop it, and by putting our foot down now, especially here in Burbank, I think that’s very important,” Matsuda said.