On October 9, Michael Luo, the deputy metro editor for the New York Times, was leaving church with his family. But an altercation during a trip to a Korean restaurant shortly thereafter soon turned into a rallying cry for the casual microaggressions Asian Americans face today.
That day, Luo tweeted the hashtag #thisis2016 when a woman told him to "go back to China" because she was upset by his stroller.
Well dressed woman on Upper East Side, annoyed by our stroller, yells: "Go back to China...go back to your f---ing country." #thisis2016— Michael Luo (@michaelluo) October 9, 2016
Luo went on to write an open letter to the anonymous woman on the Upper East Side.
"Maybe you don’t know this, but the insults you hurled at my family get to the heart of the Asian-American experience," Luo wrote. "It’s this persistent sense of otherness that a lot of us struggle with every day. That no matter what we do, how successful we are, what friends we make, we don’t belong. We’re foreign. We’re not American."
But as others joined in on the conversation, it was clear Luo wasn’t alone. And a new New York Times video details how common these kinds of experiences are even though "this is 2016."
K. Marc Choi recounts being asked if his peripheral vision was as good or better "you know, because of your eyes." Filmmaker and comedian Kate Moron discusses being asked, "is it true Asian women have slanted vaginas?"
Even after hearing military officers boast that the only color they saw was "army green," journalist Cefaan Kim described having "to fight to convince them that we were as American as they were" when he and other Asian-American service members were called "Private Ching Chong" or threatened to "kick [their] butt back to China" even though they were from California.
Meanwhile, several others described threats of deportation, or backhanded compliments of their impeccable English speaking skills — despite, for instance, being born in Georgia.
Luo noted in the open-letter that the woman’s verbal attack "probably has to do with the political climate right now." But history shows these types of insults reflect the outsider status Asian Americans have always endured despite their presence since America’s inception.
The 18th-century "Louisiana Manila men," a group of Filipino sailors, founded one of the earliest Asian-American settler communities in the country. Nonetheless, policies like the 1870 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese Internment camps during World War II demonstrated just how easily America could turn its back on people of Asian descent. The flagrant racism in the age of Trump isn’t really different. It’s just a dangerous reminder of history repeating itself.
So even though Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the country, the video reminds us that America still has a long way to go in recognizing Asian Americans as, simply, Americans.