A year ago, as the pandemic started, we all watched how another story began to unfold; the former president kept referring to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” and the “China virus.” Ever since then, the racist acts and harassment against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community surged, and the xenophobic rhetoric used by Trump put an instant target on the Asian community.
By late April 2020, a coalition of Asian-American groups that created a reporting center called STOP AAPI HATE said it had received almost 1,500 reports of incidents of racism, hate speech, discrimination and physical attacks against these communities and 3,800 incidents since then.
On March 16, Robert Long walked into three different massage parlors in the Atlanta area, killing eight people, six of the victims were of Asian descent. Authorities in Georgia have refused to call this attack a hate crime since the shooter declared he has a sex addiction and sees these locations as places of temptation.
It was heart-wrenching to learn and watch the news about the victims, but hearing the Georgia sheriff’s spokesperson describe the state of the suspect as “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope” and that Tuesday “was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did” was a slap in the face for Asian Americans.
We cannot ignore the long history of hate against Asian Americans, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1880s to the Japanese internment camps in 1942. The AAPI community is small in Iowa, yet their contributions to our state are great.
The murders cause fear and concern among Asians all over the country, including close to home in Iowa.
Nu Huynh, executive director of the Iowa Asian Alliance and of Vietnamese descent herself, told me that racism has always been part of our society and what we need to do is create an environment where such behavior is condemned, mitigated and not tolerated.
“In the current environment, the coronavirus put a target on the AAPI backs and it fueled that hate against us, the virus has given an excuse to put blame on somebody,” Huynh said.
“Through this past year as violence has escalated and with the Atlanta mass shooting, our community has been forced to wake up and realize that this is not going away. Sometimes it is like it’s always been there, but it doesn’t impact you directly or if it’s not violent, it’s more like micro-aggressions, it’s easier to look the other way. But it is getting to the point now and especially the attacks on our elders, is very different, and our elders are fearful for their lives and the kids are fearful for their parents.”
Huynh said that you cannot drive change and cannot have influence and make a difference until you have a larger voice, have the right partners and allies.
“If we don’t speak up now, we don’t come together, we don’t shout louder, we will continue to be statistically insignificant,” she said.
The Iowa Asian Alliance, in partnership with other organizations, held an event on Friday as a healing day, a day of action where they asked for everyone to show support in solidarity with the Asian community and to post anything on social media with #StopAsianHate.
Last Sunday, the Iowa Asian Alliance along with EMBARC held a memorial at the Asian Garden in downtown Des Moines to honor and remember the Atlanta victims.
Luisita Dona Thompson, founder of the Filipino-American Society of Iowa and the treasurer of the Unity Coalition, said, “Since the pandemic started, the Asian hate crimes have been going up by 150% and our former president kept insisting that the virus came from China. That put in people’s minds that when they see Asians, they see that we are a virus, and we are not a disease, we are human beings.”
Luisita shared that even before the shooting in Atlanta, her community has been in fear because of the hate crimes committed against them. She added that even when she knows there is discrimination against her community, people do not report it because of language barriers and lack of knowledge of the system.
For more than a century, Asian women have been sexualized and objectified, which has resulted in a culture of violence, and it makes it almost impossible to separate race from the latest shooting.
“People think that we Asian women are quiet, and we are going to follow what they told us and that we are a sex toy,” said Luisita.
To change that perception and to put a stop on the discrimination against the Asian community, Thompson said that “antiracist people need to acknowledge the Asian-American experience if they care about diversity — they must include us at the table.”
She also said that there is a lot of work to be done within her own community in order to build more unity and trust. For starters, the Filipino American Society will hold a seminar incorporating a self defense training, with information on how members of the community can report any kind of discrimination and crimes against them.
Luisita added that no authorities have reached out to her, but she appreciates that many others from different communities have reached out to ask about their well-being and inquired about how they can help.
“It is a good place to start, that people know that we are here, that we are not invisible,” she said.
As we witness such racial violence, I believe is important to ask ourselves what our definition is of being an American. Does it have to do with our place of birth, what we look like, when or how did we become citizens? Maybe a personal inventory of our definitions is what we need, a reflection on our beliefs and the values we hold dear. If respect and solidarity for one another is not included, then we are doomed.
by Claudia Thrane
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