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Stop Anti-Asian Hate Crimes. This is Our Home Too

Updated: Feb 19

Dear Asian Youth,

Delaina Ashley Yaun. Xiaojie Tan. Daoyou Feng. Paul Andre Michels. Soon C. Park. Hyun J. Grant. Suncha Kim. Yong A. Yue. These are the names of the Atlanta spa shooting victims, the majority of whom were Asian. In the past year, countless other Asians have been called slurs, struck down, beaten senselessly while they were just walking on the street, waiting at a stoplight, passing by a store in Chinatown. Make no mistake, these attacks were fueled by hate and bigotry. There are simply no words to express the rage and grief that the Asian American community is feeling right now.

Even so, these hate crimes are not surprising. While many point to former President Donald Trump’s incendiary remarks about the “kung flu” and the “China virus” as the impetus for these attacks, those remarks are only symptoms of a problem that has long festered in our society. In America, Asians have historically been viewed as “other”; many are either immigrants themselves or are second- or third-generation immigrants. The microaggressions that Asian Americans are so often the target of— “Where are you really from?” “You speak really good English!”— contribute to the sense that we can’t truly be Americans because of the color of our skin.

That “other”ing, which had merely simmered under the surface before, was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a Chinese American whose extended family lives in Shanghai, I remember being terrified in January by the possibility of the virus infecting my relatives. My family, who had heard from abroad about the dangers of the virus, started wearing masks long before CDC guidelines mandated them. It was during this time that people at the supermarket would stare at us, singling us out as the carriers of a foreign sickness that no one wanted to be near. Chinatowns across the country were deserted, in a way that Italian and Spanish restaurants never were when the virus surged particularly badly there. Asians, especially those of Chinese descent, were viewed not as Americans but as foreigners whose diseases did not belong in this country.

I have been lucky enough not to have experienced the countless harassments and aggressions related to the pandemic that my fellow Asians have: “We don’t want your coronavirus in this country.” “Go back to Asia.” “You don’t belong here.” These are all examples of the perpetual foreigner stereotype of Asian Americans, created by decades of division and discrimination that date back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Japanese internment camps during World War II. The former was the first time that America had barred immigration from a country on the basis of race, and the latter treated Japanese Americans, many of whom were American citizens and had repeatedly proved their patriotism, as enemy spies while leaving German and Italian Americans alone.

Despite all of these examples of institutional racism that questioned how American Asian immigrants could be, there hasn’t been a unified push to bring attention to them, resulting in very little talk about how Asians fit into America’s complex history with race. Last summer’s reckoning with Black Lives Matter protests sparked conversations across the country about how to address the effects of white supremacy and systemic racism on the Black community, but Asians were excluded and ignored even as they suffer from the very same institutions. For too long, we have been silent, brushing off microaggressions and racist jokes. The recent wave of anti-Asian hate crimes has created a force just as powerful to counteract it: Asian Americans of all ethnicities, all generations, are finally rallying together to be seen, to be hea