But the vicious racism underlying these hate crimes is nothing new. In fact, the past year has retraumatized some with a renewal of the ethnoviolence they endured in both their homeland and in the U.S.
Nolan Zane, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and director of the Asian American Center on Disparities Research, recalled the culture shock of moving to San Francisco at age 8. As a fourth-generation Chinese American who grew up in Asian-majority areas of Hawaii, he learned quickly that on the mainland, race relations were different. It was 1959, and anti-Japanese sentiment in the wake of World War II racked Asian American communities.
“I can remember my brother and I getting into fights at school, getting taunted, getting chased by bigger kids in the neighborhood,” Zane said. “There were times when we were essentially running for our lives.”
“The idea that Asian Americans are not an oppressed minority means that if I yell at this person to go back home or tell them they don’t belong here or spit on them because they brought the virus, then that’s not really racism,” said Karen Suyemoto, a professor of psychology and Asian American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
“People are being attacked. People are dying, but we’re being told we don’t have any problems. That increases a sense of alienation, a sense of questioning our connection and belonging. I’m hearing Asian American students, colleagues and friends around the country asking, ‘Don’t people care about us?’”
Collecting accurate data on racially motivated incidents is another integral step. Zane said underreporting is especially detrimental because it makes the problems of a historically invisible racial group that much easier to dismiss. The importance of documenting these cases is not lost on Jeung, who — recognizing the alarming lack of data on Asian American issues — launched his organization with the express purpose of preventing the erasure of anti-Asian racism during the pandemic.
Reporting centers like Stop AAPI Hate, together with community advocacy groups, play a vital role in filling the gaps left by traditional agencies and providing culturally responsive, multilingual services to people of color. Asian American leaders of these organizations urge the need for more funding, better collaboration with elected officials and stronger solidarity with other groups advancing racial justice to resist oppression of all kinds.
Ester Wells covers health, environment and science at Medill Reports Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @esterwells_.