Edward Simon Cruz
On January 28th, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was seen pushed to the ground in his San Francisco neighborhood by 19-year-old Antoine Watson. The following week, a 64-year-old Vietnamese grandmother was assaulted and robbed in a San Jose Asian food market. The incident followed a $1,000 withdrawal she had made from the bank across the street minutes earlier, as she and her family were preparing for Lunar New Year. And just last Wednesday, gunman Robert Aaron Long killed eight at an Asian-run aromatherapy spa. Six of the victims were of Asian descent.
Our news feeds have been flooded with stories about hate crimes against Asian Americans. These acts of violence are not new, but they have become more frequent. Since the rise of coronavirus last year, waves of xenophobic tensions have swept across the nation, with many blaming East Asians for bringing the virus to America in the first place. A national reporting system to track East Asian violence, Stop AAPI Hate, was created late last summer to combat the dramatic rise in assaults and has recorded more than 2,800 cases since. Still, with many more going unreported due to language barriers and lack of awareness in reporting methods, the problem persists. According to NBC News, Asian hate crimes in New York alone rose from an average of 3 per year to 27 in the span of months. A recent Harris Poll indicated that “75 percent of Asian Americans are fearful of increased hate and discrimination towards them.”
Racial violence has been a reality that our country seemingly doesn’t want to acknowledge, even though Americans have a history of committing hateful actions and spreading xenophobic rhetoric surrounding different groups of people. But where does xenophobia come from? In what ways have we inadvertently propagated anti-Asian sentiment? And why is it only now that we are talking about it, despite the fact that East Asian racism has existed in the United States since the 1850s?
The history of xenophobia runs long in our country’s history. Yet, virtually no American history textbook features more than a passage about East-Asian struggle. The trend of Eurocentrism refers to the overt omission of and bias towards non-Western civilizations through a disproportionate focus on Caucasian history and achievement. It characterizes a view of the world that turns a blind eye to the successes and struggles of a large majority of the Eastern hemisphere. In school, we learn that immigration has allowed America to become the melting pot of cultures that we know of it today. What books won’t tell you is that the Chinese Massacre of 1871 resulted in the brutal attacks and deaths of 17 innocent Chinese men, women, and children. That Japanese internment in World War II forced more than 112,000 Japanese Americans, half of which were U.S. citizens. That the Chinese Exclusion Act ostracized people of East Asia, naming them aliens that were not worthy of citizenship. Though the latter two measures are no longer in place, understanding this history can help readers to put modern-day events in perspective.
However, racism against East Asians in the United States is not something that has only existed historically. The “Model Minority” myth is one example of racism against East Asians, a stereotype insinuating that all East Asians possess extreme academic prowess, specifically in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic fields. The term arose in the 1950s and 60s to promote the narrative that Asians had achieved success and overcame racism due to assimilation by working hard and being “law-abiding citizens.” The intention of the “Model Minority” myth was to create a rift between minority groups by ranking them, all while inherently forcing all minorities into stereotypes in order to uphold White supremacy. This stereotype has been validated with the ideology that it is “positive” and should be considered as a “compliment.” However, an assumption about academic superiority creates a near impossible standard for East Asians, especially in secondary and post-secondary education. An Asian American student at the USC Asian Pacific American Student Assembly stated, “I learned self-hatred through the model minority myth. I couldn’t understand why all my effort to be the perfect student in school ultimately couldn’t stop my neighbor from calling my parents ‘Chinese virus’ at the first opportunity for socially acceptable racism.” The model minority can cause East Asians to feel pressured to uphold the model minority myth, creating a sense of self-depreciation when said myth is not perfectly upheld.
These recent developments have renewed anger toward the use of anti-Asian rhetoric in the last year, including rhetoric that links Chinese people to COVID-19. At a congressional hearing on March 18, one representative gave a lengthy criticism of the Chinese government and made a comment that was interpreted as defending lynching. Later in that hearing, New York representative Grace Meng responded, “Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want. But you don’t have to do it by putting a bullseye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids. This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community to find solutions, and we will not let you take our voice away from us.”
East-Asian racism has always existed in America. It’s rooted in our nation’s history, memorialized in bustling towns, chronicled in stories passed down from generation to generation. COVID-19, Trump, they just painted it in brighter colors for the world to see. It’s about time we begin candid conversations and take tangible steps towards change. It’s about time we realize that this country, in its full form, actively works against people of color. It’s about time we Stop Asian Hate.
For news updates and other Anti-Asian violence resources, visit https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/