Lange, D., photographer. (1942) Oakland, Calif., Mar. A large sign reading "I am an American" placed in the window of a store on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The owner was housed in internment camps with hundreds of evacuees of Japanese descent. Library of Congress.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a time to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Americans who have enriched our history and are instrumental to its future success. As we honor the past, we must also ensure an empowering legacy for all Iowans as we respond to the current public health crisis.

Across the country, API Americans of all immigration statuses are being harassed and attacked due to racial stereotypes related to the coronavirus. In one incident, a woman was punched in the face and yelled at. In another, a family of four was stabbed while grocery shopping.

Iowa is no exception. Many organizations that work closely with the API community in our state have received reports of xenophobic harassment.

Our elected representatives, and every one of us, can and should make clear that harassment and discrimination have no place in Iowa. Everyone deserves to feel safe, without fear of violence and discrimination, even during these extraordinary times. To that end, we joined with 32 human rights agencies, commissions, and civil rights organizations and sent a letter to Gov. Reynolds to speak out. The letter urges the governor to send a public message condemning harassment and attacks against API populations in Iowa.

This is not the first time that API Americans have faced increasing harassment and violence in the face of a national emergency. During World War II, the U.S. government actively fabricated smears against Japanese people in the United States, including in filings before the Supreme Court. Eventually, people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, were incarcerated in internment camps.

We should learn from our country’s ugly past. Local and state elected officials, like Gov. Reynolds, must denounce this spread of racism and xenophobia against API community members. It won’t help us get through this crisis.

We encourage anyone who experiences discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin to file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and/or with their local Human & Civil Rights Commission.

A person doesn’t have to have an attorney to file a complaint, but we encourage you to talk to an attorney before filing if you are able to. The Iowa State Bar Association lists Iowa lawyers here.

People can also contact the ACLU of Iowa Legal Program at