Firstly, I want to thank nunchi for allowing me to use their platform to share my thoughts. I strongly urge everyone to read through Cetel's timeline of AAPI history. I especially urge everyone to read People Vs. Hall and to soak in how not only Asians, but all people of color were described - that since we were anything other than white, nature itself had already marked us as inferior and even incapable of progress past a certain point. This was regardless of the fact that in the same year, 1854, the first Chinese student graduated from Yale with a bachelor's degree.
What recently horrified me was the news story about CNN producer, Carolyn Sung in Minneapolis where she stated in English that she was a journalist while sharing her credentials and yet she was still met with hostility, a taunt of "do you speak English?", and even further invasive strip searches. The same credentials provided by her colleague allowed him to be released within minutes whereas she endured humiliation and forceful antics for 2 hours. Although the situation is of course, vile and revolting, it is also very reminiscent of an incident during the Chinese Massacre of 1871 where Dr. Gene Tong, a man beloved amongst the entire community, was still dragged through the street. According to reports, he had begged in English AND in Spanish to be released, that he had nothing to do with either of the gangs that were involved with the initial "war", and even offered to pay his captors off with money and his diamond wedding band. As he pleaded for his life, he was still shot point blank in the mouth, had his finger cut off so the captor can take the aforementioned ring, and then hung. In many accounts, it was listed that the city's elite and leaders were seen cheering these killers on as they performed unspeakable acts towards many other men and young boys - only one of which was actually affiliated with the gangs that started the whole ordeal.
Covid-19 being dubbed the "China Virus" is not the first time an entire race/ethnicity has been blamed/judged for a virus - the Bubonic Plague scare in San Francisco in the early 1900's resulted in the sectioning off and burning of Chinatown amongst many other mass attacks to the Asian community in other states at the same time. The pitting of different ethnic groups is nothing new either. Take a look at the 1992 LA Riots. Longstanding stereotypes were used to pit us against each other. This is only a brief overview of major events in the AAPI history and do not even begin to scratch of the surface of all of the injustices and racism that has infiltrated our society and government.
On a smaller scale, I myself, have run into my own fair share of what seemed like random acts of verbal and physical violence. I always assumed I just had a "weirdo beacon", constantly signaling people to come and mess with me but as I started to discuss these assaults openly with my other friends and family, EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON, had very similar experiences. General themes included:
-Being able to recall the first time you realized you were different.
-Being picked on for something you could not control: the shape of your eyes, color of your skin, texture of your hair.
-Feeling that we had to push down anything that would give us away: our food, the way we speak, even the way we dress.
Just to name a few.
After going through all of this, we still tried to pretend that we didn't inherently feel "less than" because no matter what we did, we weren't white (or white-facing).
In an effort to disassociate, you lose touch with what is every human's right: to be authentically you.
Iam a Korean-American woman. As a way to guarantee assimilation, my parents stopped speaking Korean to me in the house and only focused on English. I'm naturally tan and I have curves, all attributes that would mark me as "ugly" in Korean society today (think everything opposite of a K-pop star: stick-thin, milky white). So when people say "go back to where you come from", I obviously know that that person truly believes I'm not American. But then where am I from? Where am I supposed to feel my home is? If Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York, the three places I've spent my ENTIRE 32 years of life, is not my home...then what is? Korea? I don't know how to speak Korean past basic conversational use, and that's being generous with myself. That's strictly focusing on language alone, but what about social norms and mores that differ to America? I would not even know where to begin the assimilation process. My parents met here in the states, in Philadelphia...in a Catholic Church. My father has his own business and my mother works on the financial infrastructure of major children's Hospitals. My elders on both sides of my family have fought HARD: put their lives on the line to fight against injustices and communism/dictatorship in Korea. My grandfather, a journalist, ended up losing his brother and sister to North Koreans who were trying to capture him for writing about the truth of the status of the government at that time. My family motto is "Live in Harmony" and yet we are being told, by our own government and neighbors, that we do not belong here.
"No, where are you FROM?" - It's a line EVERY single Asian person has run into--and I'm so sick of having the annoying back and forth dialogue until I eventually give them what they were looking for: my Ethnicity. Usually there's a tell-tale sign that the question is coming up--compliments to your English--weird stares until they finally ask. One of my personal favorites that I have received, by total strangers and on multiple occasions, is "Are you Chinese...or Asian?" I won't even get into THAT one. I've been propositioned by gross men who walked up to me, a total stranger, in a public place, and asked if I would be their personal masseuse. But don't worry, they promised to pay me handsomely as long as I gave them their happy ending. I've been grabbed, groped and even bitten by complete strangers, most times while standing on the train going to/from work. I’ve also been treated as the submissive Asian girl who is into all the kinks. Everyone has the right to live and love however the hell they want, but don't force it on someone you just met, especially when your assumptions are based on a hyper sexualized stereotype.
I'm not saying any of these things to get pity; these are actual accounts from my own experiences being told to illustrate how common it is. It's not just the horrendous acid-throwing attacks. It's not the random attacks on our elders in the street and in their homes. It’s not just a chain of spa-shootings. It's our everyday life...Any day is another day we have to be hyper vigilant, hyper aware that we're the other. People vs. Hall took place in 1854 and although 170 years sounds like a long time, it's really not. When you look at your own family, 170 years is 1-2 generations back. Someone can easily say their father or grandfather was present at that Supreme Court Ruling. Now multiply that to every attendee who voted against having any Asian person testify in court (for/against) a White person. Imagine the familial lines that were raised with those teachings and beliefs. Think of all the unlearning it would take…I'm not giving a pass to anyone but I am highlighting that it's going to take much more than one conversation to make a true change.
Hating those who hate us, has NEVER worked.
Swinging the pendulum the other way will never solve anything and may actually feed into the pre-existing hate. What we need is understanding and education. History is written by the victors and just like every story, there are multiple sides. There's so much more I need to learn about the history of my own people in America, but it also shouldn't be so hard to dig through the misinformation. Being informed on real history is essential for progress.
We need to do better: learn and educate. Even if we feel uncomfortable, we need to confront our own biases and educate ourselves before we go tell someone else that their beliefs are wrong. In order to help others, we NEED to come from a place of true understanding and insight. I'm extremely grateful for our allies in the public forum who are finally getting the word out to the public. Journalists, public figures, even social media users are banding together to condemn misinformation and racism in its tracks but also to spread awareness and resources.
This isn't going to get resolved overnight, but we are at the cusp of true change my friends...
"There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem."
-Eldridge Cleaver, a political activist and one of the early leaders of the Black Panthers
This quote has become an instant part of my ethos. Social media posts are a start, but if we are not actively participating in the movement, then your post is just a bunch of 1's and 0's on a digital photo album. Email politicians, donate your time or monetary resources when you can. Reach out to a friend who may be affected. See if your company has any opportunities to help the communities around you. Read a quick article on cultural history or even talk to friends and family and start that uncomfortable process of unlearning harmful biases and how to better ourselves. It's all progress and those of us who start those conversations may inspire others to do so as well.
My one and only goal, for writing this, talking about it and/or presenting to people, is to inspire just one person. One. One person to get started, to learn and to challenge themselves to do better and hope that they then inspire just one person more.