“There’s a tendency to not believe that violence against Asian-Americans is real,” Angela Hsu, a lawyer based in Atlanta, recently told the New York Times. “It’s almost like you need something really, really jarring to make people believe that there is discrimination against Asian-Americans.”
That idea — that such severe pain needs to happen before anyone cares — is awful in itself, and it has been underscored by the way Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have often been treated in American society and popular media.
Anti-Asian racism may have surged during the pandemic, but it’s been happening for years, fueled by the idea of Asian Americans as “perpetual foreigners,” or people who aren’t perceived as fully American.
Such discrimination has taken the form of microaggressions, like asking people “where they’re really from,” and includes the conflation of US conflicts with Asian countries with Asian American people. It’s also included racist jokes about Asian people’s accents, eye shape, or foods that have become so normalized that Jay Leno only just apologized after engaging in such humor for years. It’s present, as well, in the longstanding dearth of Asian American representation in pop culture, and the barriers many people face to workplace advancement. And it’s a major factor in violence toward Asian Americans, including the murder of 27-year-old Chinese American engineer Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death in 1982 by two white autoworkers who viewed him as an embodiment of the competition posed by the Japanese auto industry.
Anti-Asian discrimination goes unacknowledged, in part, because of the privilege that some Asian people have compared to other minority groups, including Black and Latino Americans, and the difference in the degree of racism they face. The “model minority” myth, too, has played a significant role in rendering such discrimination invisible — Asians don’t have it so bad, they are doctors and scientists, so the stereotype goes. That misleading framing not only attempts to pit minority groups against one another, it obscures the racism people experience and the immense diversity within Asian American communities.
The events of this last year, though — including the recent attacks on elderly people and the shooting that killed eight people in Atlanta — have been a breaking point for many Asian Americans. Just this week, a 65-year-old Asian American woman was brutally beaten on her way to church in New York City and told “you don’t belong here.”
“I do think a lot of Asians and Asian Americans are reaching a boiling point”: Must-listen @espn podcast today, as @JLin7 talks to @PabloTorre about anti-Asian hate and holding politicians accountable https://t.co/dOIa1Yf7kT— David W. Chen (@davidwchen) March 24, 2021
“For so long, our community has felt invisible and unseen,” says Cynthia Choi, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that’s tracking hate incidents. “That’s a reason we started Stop AAPI Hate. We did not want this to be minimized, we wanted to have the numbers. We didn’t want there to be denialism.”
Attacks documented by the organization and by media outlets have varied: Last year, an Asian American man and his two children were stabbed at a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas, by a suspect who believed they were carrying coronavirus. In February, a Los Angeles man was punched in the face as his attackers yelled racial slurs. And two weeks ago, a ramen shop in San Antonio, Texas, was graffitied with racist terms.
To provide some context for the range of discrimination that’s been experienced — and show what Asian Americans have been facing as they walk down the street or make a quick stop at the grocery store in towns and cities across America — here are some accounts that have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, in people’s own words. (Please note that these accounts include language that may be disturbing.)
MARIETTA, Georgia — “I was in line at the pharmacy when a woman approached me and sprayed Lysol all over me. She was yelling, ‘You’re the infection. Go home. We don’t want you here!’ I was in shock and cried as I left the building. No one came to my help.”
LAS VEGAS — “A [ride-hailing service] driver said to me after I got into his car, ‘Damn, another Asian riding with me today, I hope you don’t have any Covid.’ He was leaning as much as he could against the driver’s door with his head tilted toward the window, implying he doesn’t want to be close to me while I am sitting diagonally behind him as a rider. After I told him, ‘Have a good day,’ he replied back, ‘You shouldn’t be requesting any more rides from anybody.’”
SAN FRANCISCO — “I was standing in an aisle at [a hardware store] when suddenly I was struck from behind. Video surveillance verified the incident in which a white male using his bent elbow struck my upper back. Subsequent verbal attacks occurred with him saying, ‘Shut up, you Monkey!’ ‘F--k you, Chinaman,’ ‘Go back to China,’ and ‘...bringing that Chinese virus over here.’”
CUPERTINO, California — “I was shouted [at] and harassed by the cashier, workers, as well as customers to get out of the store. They said, ‘You Chinese bring the virus here and you dare ask people to keep social distance guidelines.’”
LOS ANGELES — “I was at our local park with my mom, taking our daily walk. We both, of course, had our masks on. When we started walking up and down the flight of stairs we always do reps on, this lady that was on the opposite side of us with her husband, she kept making racist remarks to both me and my mom. For example, ‘Get off these steps, do you know about the Chinese disease,’ and she even referred to me as ‘Asian boy.’”
AUSTIN, Texas — “My son (9 years old) was on a summer camp field trip to [a pizza restaurant]. While there, a girl from his camp group told him that all Chinese people have the coronavirus. She said that Asians brought the virus. Then she proceeded to get the other kids to play a game called ‘corona touch’ and said that he had the ‘corona touch.’ The constant insults ended up making him cry. The camp counselors stepped in at that point to stop her.”
CLIFFSIDE, New Jersey — “My elderly grandparents (Korean) were taking our 1-year-old daughter for a walk in her stroller. A group of young men followed them, yelling that they had coronavirus. They were scared to engage (especially since they had a baby with them) and just kept walking until eventually the men lost interest and went away.”
SPRECKELS, California — “Some young men came by in a white pickup, slowed down, and one of them yelled, ‘Hey Ch**k! Take your virus and go back where you came from!’”
SANTA CLARA, California — “A man kicked my dog and told me to shut my dog up and then spat at me, saying, ‘Take your disease that’s ruining our country and go home.’”
FORT WORTH, Texas — “Our next door neighbor yelled, ‘North Korean coronavirus f**ker!’ repeatedly before attempting to run me over with his Jeep. He was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His wife came on to my property after his arrest and threatened me with firearms.”
TRENTON, New Jersey — “As soon as we walked in, there were stares from the other families. Some of them hugged their children closer to shield them away from us. I walked past a family that called us ‘Ling Ling,’ and my brother overheard a woman say, ‘Stay away from those Chinese people, they have corona.’”
QUEENS, New York — “The racist remarks ‘this is now the Wuhan lane,’ and ‘welcome to the Wuhan lane’ was made by an individual over and over again while looking at my family and me. My family and I were the only Chinese on the sidewalk, and it was clearly directed at us.”
ANNADALE, Virginia — “My boyfriend and I were riding the metro into DC. When on the escalator in the transfer station, a man repeatedly punched my back and pushed past us. At the top, he circled back toward us, followed us, repeatedly shouted ‘Chinese b**ch’ at me, fake coughed at and physically threatened us. A few days later, we saw a news story about how the owner of Valley Brook Tea in DC was harassed and pepper sprayed by the same man, calling him ‘Covid-19’ repeatedly.”
DALLAS — “I am a Pacific Islander. I was at the mall with a friend. I was wearing a plumeria clip and was speaking Chamorro when a woman coughed and said, ‘You and your people are the reason why we have corona.’ She then said, ‘Go sail a boat back to your island.’”
AUSTIN, Texas — “While waiting in line to enter a [a warehouse retail] ... I heard a random person behind me shout at me, ‘Get out of line and go back to your own country! We don’t want your ch**k germs!’ Rather than defend me, others in line either turned away or chuckled.”