While I was lucky enough to have some peers that looked like me in middle school, with inky black hair and dark brown eyes, the majority of the students in elementary and middle school didn’t look like me.
When I reminisce about my middle school days, I like to think that I had a relatively enjoyable experience. In truth, I have fallen victim to various stereotypical comments and questions. “Do you know what dog tastes like?” “Do you speak English?” “If you’re Asian, you’re like a human calculator right?”
I laughed off comments like these, as if they were acceptable.
One year, a blonde girl pulled her eyes back in different directions, demonstrating how to distinguish between the different types of Asian eyes. Another time, another student told me that the grade I earned on a test “didn’t count” because I was Asian.
At the time, I thought I was okay with it. I mean, they were my classmates, some of which I considered my friends and I didn’t know any better to stop them. In fact, while I didn’t ever express it, I had always had that feeling that I was “different.” Different from my white peers, but all-too-similar to my Asian peers.
Years later, as a seventeen-year-old in high school, I recognize my blessings of never having to fear racism. Sure, the kids at school might have called me by the wrong name or made an insensitive joke; but they didn’t play traumatic parts of my childhood.
Don’t get me wrong. Their actions were unacceptable, but at the end of the day, they were children -- unaware of the weight of their words -- not adults. I have never feared verbal assault or judgement on the street, by strangers.
The Crimes Against Asian Americans
COVID-19 brought an onslaught of hate crimes targeted towards Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, (Stop AAPI Hate) the nation’s leading coalition documenting and addressing anti-Asian hate crime and discrimination during the pandemic, recieved 3,795 reported incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans in the US from March 19, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021. According to a Pew Research Center survey, three in ten Asian Americans say they have been subjects to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the beginning of the pandemic.
A man shot and killed eight people at three Atlanta spas, most of which were Asian women. Suspect Robert Long, a white man, confessed to the crime and said that he wanted to remove the “temptations,” and said that he was motivated by “sexual addiction.” Authorities said it was still too early to declare the attacks a hate crime. The Sheriff’s office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker also did not consider the killing of the six Asian women a hate crime and said that “yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”
Parker had previously posted an image of T-shirts that said
“COVID 19 IMPORTED FROM CHY-NA.”
This makes me wonder: how fair will these investigations by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office be? Further, by saying that these acts of violence were not racially motivated, it brings to light the racism and white supremacy rooted in American history.
Asian Women: Marginalized, Fetishized, and Stereotyped
According to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men, between March 19, 2020 to Feb. 18, 2021. Asian women have been objectified, sexualized and fetishized. They have been stereotyped as “submissive” and “exotic.”
This stereotype truly began in the mid 1800s, when a small number of Asian women immigrated, along with a larger number of men rushing into California in search of gold. This group of women included some sex workers; from there, white Americans began the stereotype that Asian women were submissive. The Page Act passed in 1875, restricting prostitution and forced labor. However, at its core, the Act was a strategic restriction on Chinese immigration.
Further perpetuated on American media, these stereotypes have persisted, and have only added on to the racism that Asian American women already face. Long’s motives to remove the “temptation” is evidence of that.
Xenophobia: The Fear of Foreigners
Just this year, an 84-year-old Thai American died from injuries after being pushed to the sidewalk. A man violently attacked a 91-year-old man in Oakland Chinatown before assaulting a 60-year-old man and 55-year-old woman. Keep in mind, these are just a couple of well-known, documented cases.
It breaks my heart.
Asian-American xenophobia has dated back to the late 19th century. From the time Asians began immigrating to America, nativists feared that Asians would gain voting rights and political power and establish strong communities. White laborers feared competition with Asian immigrants despite the often “undesirable” cheap labor that Asian Americans took; immigrants were typically more willing to work for low wages and poor working conditions. Regardless, white Americans blamed Asian immigrants for the economic downturn in the 1870s.
A result of a nativist sentiment, when Chinese people were labelled as “dirty,” the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 explicitly barred Chinese laborers from entering the country. It wasn’t appealed until 1943. The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 imposed restrictions on Japanese-American immigration. During World War II, thousands of Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to detention camps. The struggles of Asian immigrants and European “white” immigrants are not the same.
These were just a couple of the blatant, inexcusable acts of xenophobia, and I encourage you to learn more about other cases of discrimination.
Adding on to the legal restrictions Asians faced, AAPI discrimination is evident in various regards within society. American media lacks Asian American media representation (unless they are the token second lead fitting Asian-American stereotype that is, thus perpetuating stereotypes); worse, East Asian characters have been portrayed by white actors, a representation called yellowface. Not to mention, AAPI are still targets of racial slurs.
No matter how many decades an AAPI has lived in America for, no matter their level of education, no matter where they were born or their national identity, no matter how perfect their English, Asian Americans will always be labelled “foreigners.”
The “Chinese Virus”
In 2015, the World Health Organization outlined a guide for naming new Human Infectious Diseases “with an aim to minimize unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
During a press conference on March 18, 2020, President Trump used the term “Chinese virus” to describe the COVID-19 pandemic which originated in China. Given his responsibility to set the climate of what is and what is not acceptable of this nation, Trump knew the implications of his wording, especially in a time of uncertainty and COVID-19 exhaustion; yet he continued to use this term.
Asian Americans in Society
Asians are Not The Same.
I once heard a story about a teen who went out shopping with his mom. His mom had told him to speak Vietnamese, so the other people in the story would know that they were not Chinese, and avoid targeting them.
He told this story with a laugh, chuckling at the naivety of his mother.
“As if non-Asians could tell the difference between Vietnamese and Chinese,” he remarked.
This story is sad, but it is true. Asian Americans are often lumped together as one and the same, ignoring the diversity of Asia. Asian Americans come from the Middle East as well as south and southeast Asian countries. We are not all light-skinned with black hair, and we don’t all come from East Asian countries like China, Korea, or Japan.