Let’s Talk About Asian Americans
May 28, 2021
Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, was shoved into the ground on January 28 while he was going out for his morning walk in San Francisco. Noel Quintana, 61, was slashed across the face on a Manhattan subway on February 3. Six women by the names of Daoyou Feng, 44, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Suncha Kim, 69, Soon Chung Park, 74, Xinjie Tan, 49, Delaina Yaun, 33 and Yong Ae Yue, 63, were murdered at a series of spa shootings in Atlanta on March 16. The commonality between these innocent people? They are all Asian Americans. The cause of their murders? Anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia.
According to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism of California State University in San Bernardino, crimes targeted at people of Asian descent rose by almost 150 percent in 2020. In New York, hate crimes increased by 833 percent.
Anti Asian sentiment has risen due to blame set on Asian American people for the coronavirus. The use of racial rhetoric by prominent political figures can be attributed to this increase of hate. Conservative politicians, such as Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have all espoused biased language when they referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan Virus” and the “China Virus,” specifically. Perhaps the most drastic of them all is the speech of former President Donald Trump, who tweeted using the word “Chinese Virus” on March 16, 2020. Since then, a study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that anti-Asian hashtags such as #chinesevirus have risen.
However, hashtags are not the sole consequence of this use of biased and hateful rhetoric. Associating a racial group with a pandemic can have harmful effects, including a belief that Asian Americans are foreigners. According to a study titled “After ‘The China Virus’ Went Viral,” researchers found that many Americans associated Asian people with being “foreigners.” This means that Americans are “more likely to express hostility toward them and engage in acts of violence and discrimination” against Asian Americans, according to a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the study, Rucker Johnson. Unfortunately, this association of Asian Americans being “outsiders” and “non-American” can be seen throughout history.
Yellow Peril was the idea that Asian people were a threat towards Western values, and in America, Asians were seen as undeserving of American citizenship. When there was an increase in Chinese immigration to San Francisco in the late 19th century, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed to ban Chinese immigrants from coming to the United States for 10 years. This was because white nativists spread the idea of the Chinese being “unclean,” and advocated for their removal. Similarly, America colonized the Philippines in the 19th century due to their belief that the people were “uncivilized.” The American government has consistently associated Asian people with being exotic, and thus, unwelcome in this country.
One of the most prominent examples of disastrous treatment towards Asian Americans was on February 19, 1942. This was the day former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 for Japanese Internment. Many of the incarcerated people were American citizens for generations.
The United States has robbed Asian Americans of their true American citizenship for centuries, and this treatment has continued into the modern-day. Much like the increase in violence among Asian Americans during the coronavirus, Southeast Asian and Chinese people in Canada were discriminated against in the early 2000s, as many people believed that the Chinese were dirty and responsible for creating and spreading Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Model Minority Myth
“Today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?”- Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine
Sullivan’s passage sums up a key belief of the model minority myth, a claim created by white America as an attempt to divide Asian Americans from African Americans and other underrepresented groups in this country. The label of Asian Americans as prosperous and more successful than other minorities has led to inaccurate claims about the Asian experience.
It also fails to acknowledge the diversity within the Asian American population. Japanese Americans, for example, tend to have higher incomes on average than Bhutanese Americans. Furthermore, this stereotype pits minorities against each other, such as Black Americans against Asian Americans, chastising them for not “succeeding” enough despite the systematic oppression they face.
While the media labels Asian Americans as unclean and unfit for citizenship during laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, they raise them as “hard-working” and “diligent” when it fits their agenda: to eliminate Asian American struggle. Frank Chin’s words in “The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth” of 1974 hold true; “Whites love us because we’re not Black.”
A key turning point in Asian American activism was the murder of Vincent Chin, a crime still unknown to a majority of the American public. On June 19, 1982, a Chinese American man by the name of Vincent Chin was murdered by two white male auto workers in Detroit. During this time period, the United States auto industry was suffering, and many attributed this murder to the success of Japanese car companies.
While Chin was out with his friends at a club, former auto workers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz chased Chin around and beat him to death with a baseball bat, simply because they thought he was Japanese and was the cause for their loss of employment.
The Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman did not sentence any of these men to prison and instead charged them with fines and three years of probation. Kaufman defended his sentence by saying that “these aren’t the kind of men you send to jail…You don’t make the punishment fit the crime, you make the punishment fit the criminal.”
The sentences of Ebens and Nitz caused national outrage, which sparked one of the first instances of unity among Asian American communities. Chin was killed because he was mistaken for another Asian ethnicity. It wasn’t until the pan-Asian American civil rights organization American Citizens for Justice protested the US Department of Justice that Chin’s murder was considered a civil rights offense.
Though Chin’s murder ended up being recognized, the perpetrators still did not receive any jail time. Ebens appealed his sentence, and both Ebens and Nitz only had to pay reparations to the Chin family.
Vincent Chin’s murder remains important in American history; it united Asian Americans as a group to combat anti-Asian sentiment and sparked a new wave of civil rights activism.
Featuring AAPI Voices of WHS
Below, AAPI students of WHS reflect upon their experience growing up in Westfield as Asian Americans and expressed their opinions about the recent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“I think part of being a member of the AAPI community really revolves around just being different,” said Senior Cat Valencia. “I remember being in elementary school playing princesses with my friends at the time and always being told I had to be Mulan or Pocahontas or Jasmine, even though I’m none of those ethnicities, and Pocahontas isn’t even Asian. I was always the one who was slightly darker than a lot of my friends, and I would never talk about my grandparents because no one knew what lolo or lola meant (grandfather & grandmother in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, respectively),” she added.
Senior Reva Patel, who is of Indian descent, spoke of similar experiences with feeling left out. “Everyone around me was white and I was the odd one out, so of course I wanted to feel included. I would tell my classmates I was just tan and had a European background instead of telling the truth that I was Indian [in fourth grade],” she said. “I would never really know when to embrace American culture or my Indian heritage and I always kept my Indian heritage hidden to fit in.”
Junior Kimberly Su said that she’s had her “fair share of facing stereotypes.” “In elementary school specifically, I remember other kids calling me ‘ching chong’ or pulling back their eyelids or expecting me to have the right answers to everything because ‘Asians are smarter,’” she said. “The thing that had the biggest impact on me was the way that other kids made fun of the food I ate. I remember in third grade, I was eating a fried pork sandwich, and someone came up to me and said to my face that what I was eating was gross and that they no longer wanted to be friends with me after they saw the food that I ate. That was the day I really became aware of my race and how different it made me. I went home that day and asked my parents to start packing me ‘regular’ lunches.”
Valencia also spoke of her opinions about the model minority myth. As someone of Filipina and European descent, she said, that she’s remained “relatively untouched by harmful stereotypes and things like the model minority myth” and believes that “a part of that is because people forget Asian doesn’t just mean East Asian, so they don’t even know what stereotype to give me because they can’t tell what I am.”
“It’s scary how we can associate a certain race with higher expectations,” added Patel when speaking about the model minority myth. “I’ve experienced it in my own family and it’s something I can say for sure impacts your mental health. You feel like you never have a chance to just breathe and give yourself a break.”
Students have also expressed their distaste for the increase of Asian hate crimes.
“I don’t think Chinese people should be held responsible or get attacked for [the coronavirus]” said junior Jason Zheng when speaking of his disappointment at phrases such as the “China Virus.” Valencia also mentioned how she is “scared for her father and grandmother.” “I remember hearing about a Filipino man having his face slashed in New York City and instantly thinking about my dad, a Filipino man. Reading articles about Asian elders being pushed and beaten made me think about my grandmother, an Asian elder,” she said.
“The recent rise in Asian hate crimes is really concerning to me because I have some relatives living in New York, and I worry for their safety,” added Su. “I just can’t bring myself to watch [the news] because it genuinely makes me feel sick to my stomach.”
Students suggested helpful organizations to stop the rise in Asian hate crimes. “I recommend AAPI,” said Patel. “I also think when you’re deciding which charities to donate to, make sure to verify their missions so you know where it’s going. I recommend charitywatch.org; it’s a really good indicator of which charities are legit and which ones are scams,” she added. Valencia also recommends organizations such as Nextshark and Dear Asian Youth to stay involved with the AAPI community.
“For years I’ve been posting and talking about hate crimes against Asian Americans and would watch as people clicked by it or brushed it off, so to finally see people caring is really, really great,” added Valencia when talking about the Stop Asian Hate movement.
With Asian & Pacific Islander month ending on May 31, it is important that we continue to amplify AAPI voices and raise awareness about hate going forward. Though it’s difficult to change a country’s history, it’s not impossible; together, we can change America’s perspective on Asian Americans.
Visit https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/ for more resources on how to help AAPI.