“You (expletive) need to leave… You Asian piece of (expletive).”
What follows that phrase leaves our mouths hanging open when we see the video of a tech company CEO berating an Asian family in a restaurant.
Search “Asian hate crimes” and you’ll find numerous articles vividly describing what has been happening lately across the country. The numbers vary depending on source, but the conclusion is indisputable – Asian hate crimes in the US have spiked during this pandemic period. The problem has become so prevalent that several celebrities have tried to raise awareness through campaigns using the hashtags, #stopasianhate and #aapi. I recently posted some links on my social media accounts on this topic, and while most friends reacted as I did and wanted to know how they can help, several acquaintances posted that they didn’t think that this was “real.”
In order to understand that this is indeed a real trend and not just an anomaly, it’s important to understand the history of Asians in America. Although Asians have been part of the US identity since before the 1800s and many current Asian American families are multiple generations deep, Asians have always been perceived as “forever foreigners.” This has resulted in a long history of exclusionary racism in the US – starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act, “Yellow Peril” movement, numerous Asian Exclusion Leagues, school segregation, Japanese Internment Camps, and more recently the verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans.
Ask any Asian American adult that you know whether they’ve ever experienced comments relating to the fact that they are Asian – I’d bet that most, if not all, would say yes. When I was growing up, kids would say “Ching Chong,” pull the ends of their eyes to make them narrower, or ask if I could see through my “slit eyes”.
In my adult life, I’ve heard, “you speak English so well,” been asked how old I was when I moved to the States, and have had people say “Konichiwa” (Japanese) or “Ni-Hao” (Chinese), expecting me to be tickled about the fact that they know how to say hello in a language that has nothing to do with my own racial background (Korean). Effectively, I and other Asian Americans have been singled out because of how we look despite the fact that we’re as American as “the next guy.”
Racism and hatred are two related but different things and it wasn’t until I moved to the Heartland – Kansas – that I saw how scary racism manifested as hatred could be. In Kansas, I was harassed more than once by the Fred Phelps/Westboro Baptist Church clan (look them up). On one occasion, a supermarket cashier refused to scan my groceries because I was Asian. To these people, I was an outsider who had invaded their country and was unwelcome even though it was my country too. It’s this outward hatred and notion of Asians being “outsiders” that is being acted upon and voiced suddenly in recent events.
For the most part, in the 30-plus years that I’ve been connected to Wilton, I haven’t experienced targeted racism directly in town – Wilton is a fairly inclusive community. As an adult here, I can count on two hands the direct instances where people have said questionable things, most of which were foot-in-mouth comments.
Only one instance really sticks with me when at a local company I worked for, a coworker describing client dissatisfaction pulled out her best “Chinese accent” in a meeting. She said, “You no likee? Ahhhhh so soh-ree. No tickee, no washee…” while she put her hands together and bowed. However, the worst part was not that she made the comment; it was that everyone at that meeting laughed because they didn’t know what else to do, and nobody spoke up suggesting it was inappropriate. In that moment, I learned that inaction to stop despicable acts means acceptance, and that is as damaging as the despicable act itself.
My children have likewise never experienced direct racism because they’re sheltered by the bubble formed around our close-knit Wilton community. They’re openly accepted by their peers, but the reality is that they’re lucky to live in this land of unicorns and rainbows. When they recently saw a television newscast describing the attacks on Asians, they didn’t make the connection that this could be them or a friend – they were only worried about their own grandparents who independently spend time in the communities where this is happening to elderly Asians. It’s time for me to shatter their safe bubbles so that they are not surprised when they enter the real world.
So, to the question of what people can do to show their support and solidarity for the Asian community, my response is this: while there are programs that you can and should donate to support anti-hate initiatives, the best thing you can do is spread awareness by not remaining silent. Be willing to break your own children’s bubbles and teach them to recognize hate even if they don’t see it close to home. Tell them that silence equals acceptance, and that it’s their responsibility to not only stick up for those that are being targeted but also be brave enough to speak out and step in against those doing the targeting. Only once the bullies feel that they are outnumbered will they be silenced.
Vivian Lee-Shiue has long-time connections to Wilton – she first came to Wilton in the early 80s as a student at Cider Mill School, and graduated from Wilton High School. After leaving Connecticut to attend college and to start her career, she returned to Wilton in 2005 with her husband, Peter Shiue, to start her own family. Her twins are now in Cider Mill School, and her elderly parents still live in town.
Hi Vivian, are there any statistics out there that point to who is committing these attacks?
I haven’t seen any definitive statistics readily available; although, that doesn’t mean they aren’t tracked somewhere. You can probably look at a few of the sources quoted when you search “Asian hate” and they might have some statistics available at the aggregate level. If they do, I’m unsure if they’re able to make any distinct correlations.
The other thing is that many of the incidents are reported before a suspect is identified and therefore aside from the demographics of the victim, and location, in many cases only unconfirmed data is available.
Thank you, Vivian. Being honest, raising awareness (along with two amazing kiddos). and being authentic about the many issues that feed racism continues to be some of the most important work that we can do. Thank you to GMW for publishing.
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