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A Chopsticks Alley Chat: The Future of AAPI Identity in the Wake of Rising Asian Hate Crimes

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

Welcome to the first Chopsticks Alley Group Chat!

For clarity, this transcript has been lightly edited.

Zachary FR Anderson (contributor at Chopsticks Alley Pinoy):

Since March, 2020, over 3,700 Asian hate incidents have been reported to the organization Stop AAPI Hate. However, Stop AAPI Hate clarified that that number is limited only to incidents reported directly to the organization, meaning that it is still unclear how dramatic the rise in Anti-Asian crimes actually is, how many of them have taken place since the beginning of the pandemic, and whether or not they are truly racially motivated. Regardless, the data demonstrates the vulnerability of AAPIs at the current moment in time.

Many outlets credit these acts to rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, it is important to note that Anti-Asian sentiment is not a novel horror of the modern age and in fact stretches back deep into US History.

Anti-Asian sentiment has fueled a plethora of attacks on Asian communities. In 1871 Los Angeles, a mob raided the city’s Chinatown and killed nineteen Chinese Americans–– fifteen of whom were murdered by lynching. White rioters also targeted Filipinos during the 1930 Watsonville Riots. Los Angeles’ Asian community was targeted again during the 1992 Rodney King Riots when rioters looted and burnt down Korean-owned businesses in Koreatown.

The most notable of evidence of a state-sponsored Anti-Asian agenda are the Chinese Exclusion of 1882 which banned immigration to the US from China; Executive Order 9066 which issued the mandatory internment of Americans of Japanese descent; and the Supreme Court Case which concurred with the Executive Order, Korematsu v. United States.

Most recently, Anti-Asian fervor has been accused of being a driving factor of the March 16th Shooting in Atlanta–– six of the eight victims were Asian women.

On March 30th in New York City, a viral video caught an assault of a 65-year-old Filipino woman which was ignored by nearby bystanders.

In what should be a moment for solidarity among the Asian American and Pacific diasporas, there is still a generational divide in how the community should react to these attacks. An accepted lexicon for how to refer to these attacks also does not exist since some scholars do not think Asians fit into traditional discourse surrounding race.

In this group chat, the Chopsticks Alley team will discuss these issues as well as what we think are potential solutions and strategies for dealing with them.

Asela Lee Kemper (co-editor at Chopsticks Alley Pinoy | Twitter: @AselaLeeK and IG: @thesakuraink):

I have a lot of thoughts surrounding this topic since the pandemic began last year. With the rampant rise of Asian hate crimes, more and more people—white and non-Asians alike— are slowly realizing that racism against Asians exist. But for us, this is nothing new. From the attacks against the elderly to the horrific Atlanta shooting— on that same day of the shooting, a company called Topps announced their yearly collection of satirical Cabbage Patch drawings of artists at the Grammys, one of them included popular Korean boy group BTS drawn as being brutally beaten by a Grammy award in a game of whack-a-mole. The company quickly apologized and canceled distribution of the drawing after facing backlash—to me, it has become emotionally exhausting to even exist.

Since the beginning of March, it opened up memories and past micro aggression that I had bottled up as early as elementary school. From hearing comments by friends about how Asians can’t do anything after William Huang’s notorious audition on American Idol and dismissing events like Japanese internment camps in Manzanar as “not as bad as concentration camps in Auschwitz” (in class, my English teacher pointed at a photo of one Japanese man smiling while holding cabbages as he made a distasteful joke, “See, he was happy to be there!”) to the media’s depiction of Asians where there is little to no representation of our stories unless it was set in Ancient China or Japan. Looking back, I internalized so much racism and anti-Asian rhetoric despite how I tried to show my Asian pride. I am still overwhelmed and am processing this new wave of Asian solidarity where people are slowly understanding that racism does affect our community. However, there are folks who try to dismiss anti-Asian hate crimes as if people view us as the Model Minority Myth.

Recently, Eugene Lee Yang, one of four members from the popular YouTube channel The Try Guys, uploaded an hour documentary on Asian American history and how it leads to current events. In the documentary, there were a couple of key points that we can use as a basis moving forward: opening conversations in our homes whether it is with family or with friends and not get looped into the “oppressed Olympics”— meaning dismissing the current struggles with other communities’ trauma and hardships.

We, as a community, need to not only acknowledge our history and how it impacts us. Unite each other with every BIPOC community and allies to stand together as we cannot let white supremacy and racism keep us divided any longer. We need each other more than ever.

Trami Nguyen Cron (chief editor at Chopsticks Alley):

First, we have to ask ourselves to what extent are we as guilty as the others? As I sit and watch as Vietnamese American elders and younger generations alike call Covid-19 the “Wuhan” Virus and continue to chime hate rhetorics against Chinese Americans, am I just as guilty as them?

I am further disheartened at what I see on social media with Vietnamese Americans calling out crimes committed by criminals of Black and Latino descent against Asian people, yet barely even mention the multiple shootings and crimes committed by white people against Asian Americans. Why is this?

How do we call out others when we continue to fail to call out our prejudices? The history of these behaviors continue to go unchecked go as far back as the first wave of Asian immigration in the 1800’s when Sugar plantations in Hawaii needed cheap laborers. To control the native workers, they introduced the Chinese workers. To control the Chinese workers, they introduced Japanese workers, then the Portuguese, and so on. The plantation owners wanted to "employ as many different nationalities as possible to offset the power of any one nationality of workers." (Source: Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki.)

What we see here is history repeating itself. We have been taught to pitch against each other. Stop! Just Stop! Remember that no matter what color we are or where we come frome, including those of European descent, we must unite to fight against the unfairness and cruelty against any form of racism in our homes, clubs, workplace, policies, and in every aspect of our lives. Until we can own up to our own prejudices, is it fair to expect others to do the same?

Wish Ronquillo Peacocke (contributor at Chopsticks Alley Pinoy | Twitter and IG: @wishblizz):

The wake of this spotlight on Asian Hate Crimes is not much of a surprise. As a Filipina global citizen, I have seen this anti-Asian vileness all over the world. I grew up training how to defend myself since I was a kid. As an adult, I have a deeper understanding of why we were taught how to protect ourselves and how to behave outside our homes: our parents thought this was the best chance to protect us from the world. They were built deep within the worries from the prejudices in this world with us as Asians.

I agree with Zach about the prevalent generational divide upon how we have to move forward to these recent Asian hate crimes. I am observing that the difference now is that as much as we obey and respect our elders with their wisdom and grace, the younger generations cannot just sit and do nothing any longer because these senseless attacks are already happening in broad daylight to our elders. It is our turn to act and change that lexicon of our Asian race’s significance. There is no other way. The old formula of keeping our heads down does not protect us any longer.

I honestly cannot fully fathom the magnitude of work for us to face this Risorgimento—where do we begin together? We are all exhausted and weary; what do we do from this time on, apart from speaking out? It is overwhelming, but we’re all survivors. We will fight a good fight. This awakening should not just stop history repeating itself for centuries but write a better narrative for Asians globally.

Harleen Kaur (copy editor-intern at Chopsticks Alley):

It saddens to me to see that there is still so much hate and negative energy going around, after the entire world just had the roughest year in our existence in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since I was a child, I have learned about racism against the AAPI community in the past, but actually living through this time where rampant attacks would happen everyday is so hard to digest and process.

In a time like this with the pandemic, not contracting and spreading the virus should be our main concern. I am not only afraid that my elderly Asian neighbors could contract COVID and experience health complications, but also that they could get attacked and harassed on the streets for simply being Asian.

I feel guilty sometimes as a South Asian because when people look at me, they do not think of me as “Asian”. Instead they are targeting people who have the “typical” Asian look which is usually East Asians. I know that at a time like this people who look like me are less likely to be targeted. I do not know if I can ever absolve my guilt, but all I want to do right now is amplify the voices of the AAPI community.

It is sad that we have two deadly viruses going around, COVID and racism.

Nathalie De Los Santos (contributor at Chopsticks Alley Pinoy | Twitter and IG: @pilipinxpages):

On June 13, 2020, I received anti-Asian street harassment. My pet had passed away and on that day I went to go deliver the remains to my vet. I was with my husband and we were both feeling blue as we went to go get bubble tea at Marine Drive Station. Across the street, a couple smiled and waved at me, so I smiled back at them. Then they went a full one-eighty and started calling my (white) husband an “Asian lover”. When we chose to walk away and disengaged, they proceeded to scream at me “f—ng c**k!” I didn’t feel angry in the moment it was happening, just shock, then fear that they might follow us as we walk. But as we walked home, I felt this anger I never felt before wash over me. I’ve been a target before, but something hit me hard. I thought of how the negative response to #BLM emboldened these idiots. I thought how we as Canadians should stop saying we’re better than the States, that we are not as racist.

Project 1907 and Elimin8hate released an infographic at the time that reported that 87% of the anti-Asian racism in Canada happened in BC. 57% of them happened in April 2020, not surprisingly when we were in lockdown. 1/4 included derogatory references to China and/or Chinese people. Over 70% of respondents identify as women, 1 in 5 were incidents of assault, and 80% of the incidents included verbal harassment. 53% happened on the public street, 17% at the grocery store and 10% was on public transit.

Some of the responses to my harassment were I should learn self-defence and proceed to break a knee. But I don’t want to have to resort to violence, especially in the likely chance this person has much more of a motive to want to actually physically harm me. We as bystanders have to call things out. I stood in a place full of crowded people at the skytrain station where me and my husband were yelled at. There are many workshops and resources out there on how to be better bystanders, most notably the one offered by Hollaback!.

I think of all the racist things said by my own Filipinx community, and the dismissiveness of Black Lives Matter by some friends and family. The quote from Animal Farm keeps ringing in my head: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” When I spoke at LiterAsian 2020, I read out my short story Beyond the Sea, where a Filipino boy and father come to America for a vacation during segregation. His father ignores a black man who says hello to them on their way to the bathroom, and his father pulls his belongings closer to his person. The father and child enter the white washroom and are more visibly harassed; the father gets spit on for being there. What I wanted to point out in this passage is that the boy understands the hate crime that occurs against his father but not the racism that his father perpetuated on the black man outside. He perceives what his father did as normal and thus upholds the status quo. This is the empathy issue within our community, especially when there was a lack of understanding of why Black Lives Matter was occuring.

Historically, these sentiments and fears towards Asians are not new. The Unparalled Invasion written by American author Jack London is still relevant today. Published in 1910, the story shows the extermination of the Chinese with biological warfare and then China being colonized by Western powers, thus opening the way to a joyous epoch of enlightenment. If you want to understand the West’s fears about China’s ambitions or any Eastern power, this story is a perfect example and still very relevant to what’s going on today. Contagious Divides by Nayan Shah shows insights into the interplay between race and public health in San Francisco from the late nineteenth century to the post World War II era. What we’re witnessing is an updated yellow peril, fit to this pandemic.

My father often follows me outside when I go to catch my ride home or find a mode of transportation. “They’re attacking Asians,” he says, “let me come with you.” My father is very informed, but not a political person. I see now in his fear that the conversation has changed. We need to speak up. Even if our experiences aren’t violent, we also need to show commonplace this is and really, most of it is daily, casual cruelty.

Esther Young (co-editor at Chopsticks Alley | IG: @eestarrious):

For me, violence begins inside, and no one is completely blameless from--or unharmed by--its permission to manifest. All of us have been born into this imperfect, aching world and its unsatisfactory methods of filling the gap, spiritually and materially. Racially, pain is closer than I used to think. Growing up, I was fed by Eurocentric media catered to little “American” girls: Barbie movies, Disney romances, Nancy Drew and other universes that centered white protagonists. I loved that shit, and I didn’t know it wasn’t loving me back. Instead, I wanted blonde hair and a slender body. I took pride in speaking English just like the teens on TV, so no one would know I wasn’t white if they didn’t see my face. I judged my immigrant parents for their accents, even though my mom’s annunciation was elegant and elongated by British education in Hong Kong.

I didn’t address the anti-Asian hate inside my own mind until I got to college. Yes, it took that long. It only happened when I started to undo all of the ideas I was conditioned with--not just the disempowering narratives but the beautiful philosophies, too, like one of a loving Heavenly Father I once penned prayers to in my journal. All of it had to be deconstructed, and chased back to its source.

I grew up in a bubble I didn’t understand or appreciate. Every weekend my family attended and served our church in the heart of Oakland Chinatown. This community is the larger home that my parents pour their love into. One day, in broad daylight, my dad was robbed by three young men. They struck him on the face with a hard object, grabbed cash out of his wallet, and ran. They were Black. The cops arrived quickly and now, one of the three young men is facing likely incarceration in an out-of-state penitentiary. My dad keeps saying, “It’s too harsh.” This young man’s punishment is too harsh.

This was just a few years ago, between waves of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s all wrong, the ongoing cycle of violence. My universal wish is to abolish this system of punishment and replace it with one of restoration, run by compassion. I’ve been given so much, but even I am tired of asking what perfect justice looks like among us finite humans. It’s taken me so long to realize that racism is hurting all of us. Whether we run a successful business or start over in our middle age, pinning hope on our children; whether we have the strength to punch back or can only hope to land when shoved hard from behind; the lie that we are unequal poisons us from the inside out until we teach it a new truth: I, like you, are wholly deserving of love.

Ashley Hin (artist and student intern at Chopsticks Alley | IG: @spiscesart):

While the increase in hate crimes towards the AAPI community upsets me as much as the next person, it is unfortunately nothing new. It’s important to understand that these crimes must not be seen as individual incidents, but part of a much larger problem of white supremacy. Our country is founded on xenophobia, and these are the deadly side effects.

I thought my family, friends, and I would be safe here in the Bay Area, one of the most diverse places in one of the most “progressive” states. I was proven wrong. In the beginning of the pandemic, I remember taking a walk around my neighborhood with a mask on, of course practicing social distancing. A white man in a truck drove by, screaming and hollering various insults at everyone wearing masks. The man yelled to me, “Why the fuck do YOU have a mask on? YOU’RE the one who made the fucking virus!” then sped off shouting “FREEDOM! FREEDOM! FREEDOM!” Despite seeing several other Asian people and families on the street that day, I felt threatened by that single white man. I wasn’t physically hurt, but it pains me to know that not everyone was as lucky as I was.

When I think about that man in the truck, I think about how he has no idea what my name is. He probably thinks “Asian” is just one race. He doesn’t know that I’m a college student with a passion for the arts, social justice, and environmental sustainability. He doesn’t know what my favorite foods are, my favorite hobbies, my favorite anime, or my interests. I was reduced to nothing but my race, which he then wrongly associated with “creating the virus.” This ignorant mentality doesn’t just manifest in people randomly - it is taught. But punishing that one man alone will not end the hate crimes towards the AAPI/BIPOC communities. There needs to be more conversation and action taken against the actual issue: white supremacy.

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