NAPLES, Fla. — As president of the Asian Professional Association of Southwest Florida, Pearl Cruz says she tries to keep the focus on its stated mission of education and promoting cultural understanding.
But with racially motivated attacks on Asian-Americans dominating the headlines and a nearly 130% increase in such crimes reported in major cities, she says reality dictates acknowledging it.
"As much as we try to avoid politics and region or anything," she says.
"It's inevitable to have these discussions."
She says she's grateful she's not aware of any such violent crimes in Southwest Florida.
But she says more subtle forms of anti-Asian sentiment are still part of life in our region.
"We have one of our members," she says.
"She works in one of the more exclusive spas in Naples."
"And she said that people - their clients - are requesting, 'I don't want to have a Chinese service person doing my facials."
"She could hear that."
"It's very difficult for her to say 'I'm not Chinese. I'm Taiwanese.''"
"Unfortunately, being Asian - you kind of all put into the realm which is unfortunate," says Cruz who adds it wouldn't be appropriate to say such a thing to said even if the worker were of Chinese descent.
She also says the group was mindful of security as their Asia Fest held at Mercato in North Naples last month.
"We were very fortunate to have the Collier county sheriff's office have a booth and be present at our event," she says.
"We believe that actually made a big difference."
"You know, in the back of our minds, we're still thinking, 'I hope nobody throws a tomato at us or a cabbage - during Asia Fest.'"
"We were very fortunate it was such a wonderful crowd."
National civil rights organizations have long said Donald Trump and other politicians have been stoking violence against Asian-Americans by blaming China for a variety of problems in America - even going so far as to blame the pandemic on Asians.
Whatever the reason, says Cruz, her organization - like so many others - has been forced to adjust so as not to become a target.
Now the group brands itself as "APA of SWFL" instead of the "Asian Professional Association of Southwest Florida."
"It's like Kentucky Fried Chicken going by KFC," says Cruz.
"I'm sure it won't last forever."
"We have to be mindful about it," she says.
"Prevention is always key."
Cruz says a recent incident with their scholarship program also raised questions within the community.
"We awarded 15 checks to qualified awardees." says Cruz.
"And those checks said 'Asian Professional Association.'"
"They were all identical and they all have the value (on them.)"
"And we do this year after year," she says.
"This is probably the 15th scholarship that we've done."
"But somehow six of those checks were returned," says Cruz who says the funds were always available in the banks.
"And we approached the bank, we asked them, "Why did these checks bounce back because it was embarrassing because the parents, as well as the students, were saying the checks bounced.'"
"I said, 'Bounced? How can that bounce? We have funds there,'" says Cruz.
"To make the long story short," she says,
"It was a struggle to get our meeting with our banks to have that straightened out."
"And they couldn't explain why that happened."
"So, the only conclusion we were coming up with is more like a 'conspiracy.'"
"Is it because it's Asian Professional Association?"
"That's the only way we can explain it," she says.
"That they just didn't like the name."
She said they wondered if, "Somebody just decided, 'Oh no, let's give them a hard time. We don't like Asians.' Or 'Here's one way to give them grief.'"
"It cost hours of extra work to get this rectified," she says.
"The bank was nice enough to compensate for the all extra fees that were charged."
"However, how do you rectify the reputation?"