Since the mid-1800s, at the start of the Gold Rush, most Asian immigrants have never felt welcome in the US. They had laws put in place to exclude them from entering the United States, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. After arriving in the US, Asians were met with xenophobia, inequality, and racism. Asian Americans and Asians living in the US today still face those same issues and it has led to ideas that Asian Americans can never assimilate into American society, that their culture is not welcome, and that Asians do not and will not ever have a place in America. These harmful ideas have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the US has seen a rise in not only attacks and violence towards the Asian community but also microaggressions that will leave a thousand scars. Today, Asian Americans’ voices are invisible in the media and their struggles often go unnoticed which is why I wanted to focus on this prevalent topic.
I originally wanted to focus my project on Asian Immigration in the United States because I wanted to learn more about Angel Island and Asian American history but I decided to shift my project to the injustices faced by Asians already living in America. My mother is an immigrant and of Chinese descent which also prompted me to want to learn more about the Asian immigrant experience after settling in America. My beautiful question entails: Why is violence towards Asians and Asian Americans everyone’s issue? I often feel like Asian struggles with racism and xenophobia go unnoticed, especially in the media, and through this project, I wanted to learn about and bring attention to some of the injustices that Asian American individuals face, which I talk more about on my webpage. Reading the news in the past couple of weeks, I have heard about the rise of attacks against the Asian community, partly because of the pandemic, and it prompted me to explore more about the racism Asians face. This certain way Asians are viewed in America intrigued me as someone who is half Asian because, before the past year, I never heard it addressed on a large scale. Looking back on what I learned through my research for this project, I think I was able to explore some of the Asian experiences in America, with issues such as xenophobia and racism.
The mid-1800s saw the Gold Rush, with 300,000 excited people moving to California in hopes of finding gold and striking rich. Included in those hopeful gold-seekers were Chinese migrants searching for a better life. Their life in their homeland was filled with economic disorder due to the Opium war, major unemployment, a shortage of agricultural land needed to feed China’s large population, and natural disasters, leading to widespread famine (Sinn 47). Like most immigrants, those Chinese people in the mid to late 1800s were searching for a new, more stable life for themselves and their families. After arriving in California, Chinese laborers became exploited workers, working at many low-paying menial jobs such as clearing swampland, developing fisheries and hatcheries, and building railroads that were crisscrossing the country (“Angel Island”). By 1880, roughly 100,000 Chinese immigrants lived in the United States. Soon after, a growing anti-Chinese sentiment led to a series of local, state, and national laws restricting Asian immigration, particularly Chinese immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 became the first law ever passed by Congress that denied entry to the United States on the basis of race or ethnicity (“Chinese Exclusion Act”).
Current Status of the Problem
In the United States, a rise in anti-Asian discrimination was seen in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Asian hate and violence in America. A national report found at least a 150% spike in reported hate crimes against Asians in the past year, for more than 3,800 incidents since March of 2020 (Lindstrom). Asian Americans are regularly not seen as Americans but rather as perpetual foreigners, regardless of their time spent within the US, and are excluded from cultural norms and civil rights. Those Asian immigrants or those of Asian descent often feel as though they will never able to assimilate into American life and that they are not welcome in the US. This notion of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) people being forever foreigners is harmful because it reinstates Asian Americans as an isolated community that is not worthy of the media’s attention.
The rise in violence towards Asians during the pandemic is partly because of the media’s portrayal of the origins of the Coronavirus. People began to blame Asians, mostly Chinese, for the lockdowns and the change of lifestyle we all faced. Some people continue to see Asians are a monolithic group, categorizing Asian Americans as from one country. We can see this, in the past year, through the rise in discrimination towards Asians. Individuals who are not Chinese have been discriminated against because they might “look” Chinese when in reality they might be of Japanese or Korean descent, or from any other Asian country.
I remember reading this article in the San Francisco times last year in March. The article described the rise in racism in the workplace, particularly in the healthcare industry, during the pandemic. Julia Palarca, a Filipino American nurse, told one encounter of a patient who was more direct in asking her where she was from. This was before masks became available and necessary to healthcare workers so the patient could see Palarca’s face fully and as a front-line worker, Palaraca was also at a very high risk of catching the Coronavirus. The patient asked “Wait, you’re not Chinese are you?” (Sanchez and Bitker). Palarca tried not to react and she simply responded “No, I am Filipino American” (Sanchez and Bitker). This patient automatically assumed that Palarca was Chinese and made another racist remark talking about public transportation “If any of y’all coughed on me, I’d just get off the bus” (Sanchez and Bitker). The “y’all” the patient was referring to is the big group they had categorized all Asians into. This encounter was not the only instance where Asian Americans have been shunned and harassed in the workplace during the pandemic. US and foreign-born Filipino nurses make up 20% of the Bay Area’s licensed nurses. Within the abnormal past year, these Filipino healthcare workers have put their lives on the line to care for and treat American lives while also combating the rise in racist remarks they face in their workplace (Sanchez and Bitker).
We need to push for systemic change, call on your local governments and politicians to create legislation that will help and support Asian communities. One organization I would like to highlight is STOP AAPI HATE, they are based in San Francisco, California in the US. This center tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Stop AAPI Hate has raised national awareness about the issue of Anti-Asian hate and is a source for victims of hate crimes to report their incidents of hate. This is just one of my local organizations that help the AAPI community.
Current US President, Joe Biden, has laid out plans to address the rising racism Asian Americans face. He plans to increase accessibility to hate crime data, require new training for local police, and establish nearly $50 million in grants to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who face language barriers (Kanno-Youngs). While these are good first steps, we need to follow up on those plans to make sure they turn into actions.
- Check-in on your AAPI friends and reaching out to them
- If you are able, consider donating to your local organizations working to help with Asian communities
- Local Asian churches
- STOP AAPI HATE
- If you have a Chinatown near you and if you are able, consider joining a group to patrol the streets of your local Chinatown. These kinds of watch groups help elderly Asians feel more comfortable in their communities.
- Learn and educate yourself on the everyday racism Asian Americans face, including the microaggressions, and how you can be more aware in helping and supporting Asians in America.
- Talk about these issues to your friends and family.
- Use your voice to spread awareness
- Utilize social media
- Taking care to spread information that is true and helpful
- Make a sign to hang on your house
- Utilize social media
- For those who identify as part of the AAPI community: take care of yourself and if needed take a break from social media. This can be a very stressful time but I hope you remember that your voice deserves to be heard and your story no matter how big or small matters.
Call to Action
Why is it important to understand the Asian American community’s perspective when it comes to the everyday racism that they face? Take a moment and think about a time you felt like your voice has been silenced. Whether that be in school or at the dinner table, how did that make you feel? My intention is not to categorize all silenced voices into one group but to rather highlight an instance that you as the reader might relate to. How you can take a step back and reflect on the chaotic status our society is in? I challenge you to write in the comments ways you can help the Asian community amplify their voices during these troubling, stressful, and overwhelming times.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through my project and I hope you were able to think more about my beautiful question: Why is violence towards Asians and Asian Americans everyone’s issue? Feel free to pose a response to this question in the comments.