Paul Tabayoyon with the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Yakima County holds a Freedom from Fear card Thursday, May 27, 2021, during a vaccination clinic at the Filipino Community Hall in Wapato, Wash. The card includes steps to take if you or someone you know has been a victim of a hate crime.

You don’t have to go too far to see the Yakima Valley’s greatest strength. It’s everywhere.

Take our world-famous apples, for instance: Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp. And they’re always working to develop new varieties.

Wines and microbrew beers? With about 120 wineries and at least a dozen breweries, you’ll probably never fully appreciate the number of reds, whites, blushes or IPAs, lagers and porters produced in the Valley.

Maybe it comes from the setting itself: From the magnificent Cascade Range to the shrub-steppe and back through the forested foothills, we enjoy some of the most striking and varied landscapes in the world. And those hills, canyons, rivers and lakes support a dizzying array of wildlife, trees, flowers and crops.

What’s a good word to describe it all?

Oh, yeah: diversity.

It’s a word that generally relates to something desirable — lots of choices, varieties and viewpoints — but can somehow raise hateful hackles when we apply it to people.

We bring this up now because of the shameful surge of anti-Asian American sentiment that’s seeped across the country in the past year or so, fed by cruel people who have no excuse for not doing better.

It’s a surge, sadly, that’s being felt in our own community. It’s been aimed at our neighbors, many of whom have spent generations here as they’ve helped build the Yakima Valley into what it is. Some of them still carry the pain of the forced incarceration of more than 1,000 local Asian Americans during World War II — an unjust governmental overreaction that took away the homes and possessions of people guilty of absolutely nothing.

This latest surge has been hostile enough that it’s led the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of the Yakima Valley to take defensive action.

As part of their Freedom from Fear project, they’re passing out whistles that people — seniors, in particular — can use to summon help in case they’re attacked or feel they’re in danger. They’re also working to educate people on how to report hate crimes.

Yes, it’s come to that. And if you don’t feel a burning sense of embarrassment and outrage that anyone feels compelled to take such steps, there’s something wrong with you.

The fact that some members of our community don’t feel safe walking down a street, simply because of who they are, is unacceptable.

They’re not just being paranoid, either. Their concerns are based on harsh truths.

Nationwide, hate crimes have skyrocketed in the past year. In the Yakima Valley, several incidents involving racist vandalism have been confirmed, but numerous others have likely gone unreported. People under attack often don’t like to make waves.

So just in case you didn’t learn this as a child, let’s make it clear and simple: Racism is morally wrong. But it’s also counterproductive. If we’re trying to build strong communities, rejecting diversity limits us. It weakens us.

Who wants to live somewhere that has only one kind of tree? Just one variety of flower? Deer, but no elk?

If we can appreciate the benefit of thousands of different species, varieties and landscapes, why can’t we see the value of diversity when we’re talking about races and ethnicities?

If you can’t honor diversity — in the land or in your neighbors — then maybe you don’t belong here, either.