Barrita defines microaggression as “everyday exchanges where blatant forms of racism and bigotry are normalized.” For Barrita, his research is personal and can be emotionally taxing as he is – proudly and openly – an immigrant from Mexico and queer person.While the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold in the U.S. last March, Barrita turned his keenness for observation toward Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, discussing the horrifying rise in hate crimes against AAPI individuals with his advisor, professor Gloria Wong-Padoongpatt.
Barrita said, “I remember very vividly talking to her about what was going on at a national level with the previous administration and the way they were describing and labeling (COVID-19) and promoting xenophobia and racism with different types of labels.”
Barrita felt compelled to use his research skills to collaborate with Wong-Padoongpatt, director of UNLV’s Gambling, Addictions, and the Marginalized Experience Lab, to track and highlight the rise of microaggressions targeting AAPI individuals since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of Wong-Padoongpatt, Barrita said, “She is an amazing scholar who supports her students, so she allowed me to launch that research and we started collecting data immediately.”
Since most of Barrita’s research is “community-oriented and community-serving research,” he had to find new ways to conduct research that abided by social distancing guidelines. He decided to communicate with research subjects online and was initially surprised by the response. Social distancing and the boredom that ensued with Nevada’s lockdown actually increased participation in Barrita’s online research.
“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were more willing to take the surveys because I think people were just stuck at home and looking for things to do,” Barrita said. “Part of me hoped that we wouldn’t find the results that we did. (However) we know that the evidence is still necessary because ... people fail to recognize hate crimes for what they are.”
“It saddens me that it takes events like what happened in Atlanta for people to understand what’s really going on,” Barrita said, referring to the shooting spree weeks ago in which a gunman murdered eight people, including six Asian American women.
Barrita extends condolences to the victims and their families, and he wishes for a world in which projects such as his own, rather than mass violence, educate the public on the seriousness of anti-Asian racism.
When he is not researching or studying, Barrita gives back to the UNLV community by serving as a Grad Rebel Ambassador and as a member of the Graduate College’s Student Advisory Council and the psychology department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Solutions Committee.
A tireless advocate and researcher, Barrita said of his work, “As emotionally hard as it is to collect it and present it, it is necessary.”