OC neighbors protect Chinese family facing harassment, students push for action against racism

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In Orange County’s wealthy community of Ladera Ranch, one family has routinely woken up to loud thuds. “They ring the bell, they punch the door, even the glass window. They continue to harass my family,” says Haijun Si. 

Si and his family moved from China to California four years ago and settled in Ladera Ranch last fall. Since then, they’ve become the victims of ongoing harassment by a group of local teenagers.

As anti-Asian hate crimes are up, Si’s neighbors have kept watch outside the house at night. 

Meanwhile, a group of high school students and alumni are trying to address the root cause of anti-Asian sentiment, and put a stop to it among their peers.

“If you're being taught in the home to hate or fear a certain group, especially during this really divisive political climate, maybe these kids have not been taught by their parents that it's inappropriate to do this,” says Solei Sarmiento, a graduate of San Juan Hills High School who co-founded Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Against Racism after the killing of George Floyd.

Members of CUSD against racism speak at the Ladera Ranch Lantern of Hope Festival in February. Photo by Chenin Boutwell.

She says her school district has not done enough to adequately prevent and address racism and hate on campus, and the harassment of the Si family is an example of it spilling out into the nearby community.

CUSD Against Racism published an open letter asking the district to acknowledge incidents of racism nationwide and share an action plan.

“When we published our open letter to the district, we asked students to share testimonies regarding their experiences with racism within our schools,” she says.

They collected 850 testimonies from students.

“It goes to show that this is a very prevalent issue in South Orange County. If we're not addressing racism and locally in our own communities, then how are we going to be able to respond nationally?”

Solei Sarmiento and other members of Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Against Racism. Formed after the killing of George Floyd, the group is made up of high school students and alumni pressuring the school district to adequately prevent and address racism and hate on campus and within the community. Photo courtesy of Solei Sarmiento.

Si and his family are thankful that their neighbors who’ve stood watch outside their home, and that community organizations like CUSD Against Racism are shedding light on the issue.

“To my neighbors, I'm very grateful. To the adolescents and their parents, please teach your sons. Please discipline your sons. To my native people, the Asian Americans, particularly the Chinese Americans, we must stand up, we must speak out. When we try our best, more and more people will help us. We are not alone,” he says.