As AAPI hate rises, one of our members explores their personal reflections and the broader-reaching implications.
Written By: Connie Gao, Diversity Co-Chair
Here are the facts.
On March 16, eight individuals were killed at three spas in the Atlanta area.
Soon Chung Park, 74
Hyun Jung Grant, 51
Suncha Kim, 69
Yong Ae Yue, 63
Delaina Ashley Yuan, 33
Xiaojie Tan, 49
Daoyou Feng, 44
Paul Andre Michels, 54
A single gunman shot and killed seven women — six of whom were from Asian descent. Since then, we’ve witnessed a surge of support for the Asian-American community. For many, this uproar seems sudden — a righteous response to a horrific incident that spurred the nations slumbering activism. Yet, like many other Asian-Americans, I knew that this movement has been quietly building for the last few decades. Without historical context, the Atlanta shooting seems like a one-off. A crazy individual embarked on a crazy frenzy — yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anti- Asian racism has remained a constant throughout western history and it has only become increasingly easier for the media and greater population to ignore.
The weaponization of COVID-19 as a political tool has created a rampant, yet unfounded rhetoric towards Asian Americans. The terms “China virus” and ‘Kung Flu’ to describe COVID-19 gave individuals with Anti-Asian tendencies the reinforcement they needed to act out their racist beliefs. In April 2020, a 19-year-old man stabbed three members of an Asian-American family — including two children (ages 2 and 6). He stated that he did it because he believed the individuals were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus”. In February 2021, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man was fatally attacked while on a morning walk. The brutality of his attack was captured on a neighbor’s security camera. In March 2021, Vilma Kari, a 65-year-old Filipino woman was repeatedly kicked and stomped on. Her attacker yelled “You don’t belong here”. Her attack was not only seen by security camera’s but also observed by indifferent bystanders in a nearby building (Cai, 2021). These attacks sent cascading waves of fear, anger, and despair within the Asian-American community. Our communities grieved, cried, and felt the pain of these families and individuals. And yet, while we continually voiced the need for pressing change and our growing concerns, the media publications and the greater population seemed silent and complacent in their efforts to quiet Asian voices. The consistency of Anti-Asian racism on the underbelly of American history had made attacks like these tolerable and acceptable to ignore.
The reality remains that the recent influx of xenophobia and Anti-Asian sentiments are not a reaction from COVID-19, but rather a reflection of hundreds of years of grown hate and racism. In 1871, in a cruel lashing out towards Chinese immigrants, rioters lynched and killed over a dozen Chinese men and boys (Marinolich, McCall-Mazza, & Kamini, 2021). In 1854, the Supreme Court overturned a conviction where Chinese witnesses testified against a white man who killed another Asian immigrant. The case, People v. Hall, ruled that individuals of Chinese descent could not testify against a white individual in court — beginning a long practice of the American justice system pardoning Asian-American hate crimes.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Restricting the ability of Chinese individuals from entering the country. This was the first major law that restricted immigration into the US, eventually leading to legislation that would affect immigrants from Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia and many more (Marinolich, McCall-Mazza, & Kamini, 2021). In 1942, mere decades ago, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcefully relocated to internment camps as a reaction to the Pearl Harbor Bombing. Even beyond the internment camps, a distinct and widespread Anti-Japanese sentiment continued to take a deep hold on the general American population. In 2001, the aftermath of 9/11 started a slew of incidents involving racial profiling, racism, and intolerance against South Asians, Muslims, Sikh’s, and others (Kasinitz, Mollenkopf, et al, 2008). Their hate crimes have been ignored, unpublished, and unseen.
These are a small collection of blatantly racist acts against Asians among thousands of accounts. I encourage you to continue in your own research, there is much more that could be uncovered. But I hope my point is clear. The silencing of recent Anti-Asian hate crimes is a practice that America has perfected over the last two hundred years. Our media and population have grown so used to hate crimes that events like Atlanta are only worth two weeks of attention — a fleeting acknowledgement to appease the unsatisfied calls of those who were unjustly affected.
There is a palpable fear in the Asian American community. The history and continual nature of these attacks’ rests heavily on our minds. Each additional incident only continues to terrorize the entire community of minorities whose well-being seems increasingly at risk.
My family is no different.
My father works in China, leaving my mother to spend most her days alone in an empty house — once lively with children and parents. I’m sure many of you recognize that an older woman living alone is terrifying in its own right. Add on the skyrocketing rate of Asian Hate incidents — she is left with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.
These Anti-Asian racism incidents seemingly come from nowhere. There is no way to easily identify the perpetrator. The young man riding his bike across the street could circle back with ill intents. The woman in the car next to ours could choose to lash out at us. The cashier at the grocery store could enact undue pain while my mother unknowingly proceeds to shop.
My closest living relative outside of my immediate family lives in California — 2,500 miles from me. I have no familial ties to the American soil but rather my identity is rooted in individuals similar to myself. By necessity, Asian Americans bind together creating a makeshift net of comfort. Thanksgiving dinners aren’t served with my grandmother, they are cooked and created with the dozens of hands of my ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ who carry no blood relation to me. We are used to loving family members across an ocean — distance plays no role in our definition of family and community. The young Asian American boys entering high school in New York are equally my brothers as the brother I grew up with. When attacks like Atlanta occur, the effects last a lifetime in the eyes of the affected community. When that individual shot Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yuan, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels, he also made shots at my family. The attack on Vicha Ratanapakdee was an attack on me. There is no distinction between those individuals and me — only differences in location and time.
These conclusions have taken me months to arrive to. Many of them may feel instinctual — in fact, I’m sure many of you have come to these conclusions faster than I have. But, when these attacks initially began, I had naively brushed them off as a blimp on the map. A significant incident — but nothing to indicate a need for me to immediately fear. While I’m sure my nativity has played into my reluctance to recognize the importance of these attacks — it is blatantly indicative of the failures of my own education. The American education system presents racism as an item of its past. It condemns past legislation and societal norms, while intentionally using cut-and-dry language. Children learn that these actions are unacceptable, but never learn the lasting impacts of these widespread and deeply ingrained policies. We learn that racism has been resolved with blank political statements and tweaks in legislation. These notions carry into our beliefs as adults. It makes each hate crime a new issue to tackle, an attack with no proceeding events. Without the hundreds of years of injustice, these attacks are nothing but another unlucky and unlikely incident. My willingness to cast aside overt acts of Anti-Asian racism was based nothing more on the naivety bred by America’s failure to acknowledge its current issues. But the veil on my eyes has been lifted.
The American education system is simply a symptom of a greater cultural indifference towards Asian Americans — continuously perpetuated by myth of the ‘model minority’. The widespread belief that the Asian-American population has reached financial and educational success, is unequivocally false. The term Asian-American encompasses immigrants from an entire continent, including hundreds of ethnicities. The unprompted ‘grouping’ of these ethnicities has masked harsh realities. According to the 2000 census, Cambodians have a per-capita income of $10,215 and less than 10 percent have opportunities to pursue higher education. The 2005 Census shows that Asian Americans poverty rates are disproportionally high (11 percent live below the poverty line). The average Burmese woman makes 50 cents to a white man’s dollar. However, the dangers of the myth lie beyond statistics (Marinolich, McCall-Mazza, & Kamini, 2021).
The model minority imprints an unsolicited stereotype onto a diverse, and growing population. Meant to be taken as a compliment, the model minority paints Asians as success stories to pit against other immigrants. The myth ingrains the erroneous message that hard work is the only precursor to success. Our perceived ‘achievements’ serve as benchmarks to undermine and criticize other individuals of color. The current movement against Anti-Asian hate and the Black Lives Matter movement are inextricably linked to a long-held American history of intolerance. The goals of one movement cannot be achieved without progression in the other. And yet, the myth of the Asian success story is used as a tool to suppress the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement — creating a distinct divide between the two groups. Our ‘success’ is used as justification for America’s history of complacency and uninterest in issues that impact minorities.
There are no random acts of hate. Each of these attacks cannot be separated from their historical implications. The AAPI reported that there were 3,800 reports of Anti-Asian racism this year alone. These attacks are historically underreported and underrepresented.
Recently, my mom has started to learn self-defense.
But what can her hands do in the face of hundreds of years of practiced hate? What can her kicks do to the American indifference and intolerance? What can her punches do in the face of a gun?
If you are interested in continuing learning about anti-Asian racism or the current movement. Click Here.
That will take you to a resource bank with organizations to support, places to volunteer, and mental health resources.
Brockell, G. (2021, March 18). The long, ugly history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/03/18/history-anti-asian-violence-racism/
Cai, W., & Audra. (2021, April 04). Swelling anti-asian Violence: Who is being Attacked Where. Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/04/03/us/anti-asian-attacks.html
Cheng, A A. (2021, March 23). The Dehumanizing Logica of All the ‘Happy Ending” Jokes. Retrieved April 08, 2021. From https://www-theatlantic-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/culture/archive/2021/03/atlanta-shootings-racist-hatred-doesnt-preclude-desire/618361/
Chow, K. (2017, April 19). ‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks. Retrieved April 08, 2021, From https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks
Kasinitz, P., Mollenkopf, J., Waters, M.C., Holdaway, J. (2008) Model Minority. Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://depts.washington.edu/sibl/Publications/Model%20Minority%20Section%20(2011).pdf
Marinolich, M., McCall-Mazza, N., & Kamini R. (2021, March 25). History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.theskimm.com/news/history-of-anti-asian-racism-in-the-united-states-3eBqGfaF6V0gIo76VYXtUZ