For all my life, I’ve grappled with putting together the right words to explain the complexity of being an Asian American to myself and others. Since May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) month, it is important to talk about the collective experience many Asian Americans go through from adolescence to adulthood, as well as the pressing issues of xenophobia that have stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. Time and time again, I have questioned my self-worth of being an Asian American growing up in a white America. As crimes against Asians and Asian Americans continue to occur and go unnoticed, I, like many other Asian Americans, have gone through waves of intense emotions, ranging from extreme frustration, sadness, to anger. I worry about my own safety, my parents', my grandparents’, and the rest of the AAPI community.
While I have not personally encountered any racist remarks to my face, the idea that it can still happen to me any time I walk outside frightens me. My friend told me about a man who refused to talk to her and yelled “go back to China” inside a medical clinic just because she is Asian. As an Asian and as a woman, I have been trained to believe my life is less than ––that I do not deserve the right to go outside to a convenience store to grab a drink at night. Hate crimes against Asians have risen by over 164 percent across America with over 6,600 incidents since March 2020, and this number continues to rise. This is just in the United States.
I am so grateful for the small coverage Asian Americans have been getting from the mass media, but it is still deeply concerning that it takes a dramatic increase in attacks for anti-Asian sentiment to be talked about. In reality, racism towards Asians has been pervasive in America since the beginning. There is little to no instruction in schools about the Asian community and how we have also built this country to what it is today.
From the emergence of the Gold Rush in 1849, many immigrants sought the American Dream and thought that it was attainable. After working long laborious hours and being paid less than their American counterparts, over 15,000 Chinese immigrants quietly and graciously helped transform the American economy and helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. Yet, they were still treated as “other.” Always a foreigner. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only law that explicitly prevented people from a certain ethic group from immigrating to the United States. Fast forward to World War II, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. These are just a few of the thousand possible incidents that were not documented.
The most disappointing part is that even I did not know much about this part of American history because I, like most of the country, have been taught to push our narrative aside and try to erase the blatant acts of anti-Asian racism. These sentiments are still prevalent today. Racism against Asians has been so normalized that for the longest time, I could not differentiate what was “just a joke” or not. Racial stereotypes are harmful to young impressionable minds, and it is vital we dismantle this racist ideology. Therefore, dismantling the “model minority myth” is equally important — it was created to pit Asian Americans against other minorities and to show marginalized communities systemic racism did not exist. there was no systemic racism that did not allow them to achieve their rights.
All of the silence and pain our community has suffered over the years needs to be talked about and shared. Therefore, while we take this month to celebrate our historical and cultural heritage, people need to also recognize the agonizing process of getting to where we are. It is not over. Our fight for racial justice is just starting.