These images are from a public art project in New York City entitled “I Still Believe in Our City” by artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. Learn more about the project here.
Written by Will Hoadley-Brill
The Anti-Racism Committee of South Pasadena strongly condemns and is greatly disgusted and disappointed by the rising anti-AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) hate and violence that has dramatically increased since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, and has become tragically salient after a series of eight killings in the Atlanta, Georgia area last night. Six of those killed were of Asian American descent and seven were women. Although motivations of the killer have yet to be made public, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has stated, “Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that the majority of the victims were Asian. We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”
Mayor Bottoms highlights a critical aspect of this horrific hate crime: it is one example of a growing trend of racially motivated attacks and killings of AAPI people in the past year and in the history of the United States. According to Anne Anlin Cheng, professor at Princeton University, “Stop AAPI Hate [an AAPI advocacy organization] received 2,800 reports [of harassment against AAPI Americans] in 2020, around 240 of which were physical assaults, and the AAPI Emergency Response Network has received over 3,000 reports since it started tracking Covid-specific hate incidents last year.”
Many of these incidents have occurred in the state of California, including several in the weeks leading up to Lunar New Year in the Bay Area. These attacks have targeted a diversity of members from the AAPI community, but some specific groups have experienced higher rates of violence than others. Many of the attacks have targeted older members of the AAPI community, one of which led to the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco. AAPI women have also experienced this violence disproportionately, as they constitute the victims of more than two-thirds of the reported attacks. It is worth noting that, like with many violence reporting systems, the numbers reflected by the organizations collecting this data are likely lower than the actual number of racial harassment and violence against the AAPI community as many who experience this kind of trauma do not feel comfortable reporting.
It is critical to understand that this violence is a result of a long history of anti-AAPI sentiment in the United States in addition to the hatred that was stoked by the former president who referred to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” or the “kung flu” which made inappropriate, inaccurate, and racist associations between the pandemic and China. As a historical example, in the 1800s, many elites in the Boston area increased their wealth, which was already exponentially higher than racial minorities due to the ability to amass wealth through slavery, through the sales of Opium to China. The introduction of Opium to China was a British invention that created a dependency among the population and intentionally weakened their society to make a military triumph more feasible.
We do not need to look, however, to the East Coast to find historical incidents of AAPI hatred, exploitation, nor violence. In 1871, at least 17 Chinese Americans were lynched in Los Angeles in an incident of mob violence which included 10% of the city’s non-AAPI population as perpetrators. The deaths constituted about 10% of the Chinese American population in Los Angeles at that time. Although indictments were presented, none of the defendants were punished for this violence. This massacre did not result in a wave of support and acceptance, but rather made anti-AAPI rhetoric and violence acceptable in the public sphere. LA area media continued to denounce Asian immigration in the decades after this massacre. Today, this piece of LA history is buried and forgotten.
On a national scale, the Federal Government prevented the immigration of Chinese individuals (and, really, almost all Asian immigrants) with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which was later fortified in the 1924 Immigration Act. This explicit exclusion was not repealed through policy by Congress until 1943. The 1943 repeal would not end discrimination against the AAPI community in the US, however, as about 120,000 Japanese Americans would remain incarcerated throughout the American West until 1946.
These historical occurrences of anti-AAPI hatred, discrimination, and violence demonstrate that the rising wave of hate crimes against this population is related to the project of historical reconciliation with which we must all engage, even in South Pasadena. Phung Huynh, ARC member, artist, and educator, has been on the receiving end of this hate which is fueled and furthered by historical factors:
When I learned about the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan last year, my heart sank because I knew I had to brace myself for something catastrophic that was about to happen, anti-Asian racism and hate. The cruel, racist rhetoric of the last president during a pandemic further unleashed an exponential rise in hate crimes against Asians, and in places like New York, the rate of increase is over 1000%. As a Vietnamese refugee, I was conditioned to be grateful for resettlement and to keep my head down. I won’t keep my head down. I won’t let my mentor down, a Black artist, activist, and Vietnam War vet from Brooklyn who saw the crippling effects of Jim Crow and lovingly empowered me to use my voice. I will use my voice here in South Pasadena, where I was called a gook (1) last year while crossing the street to pick up my son from afterschool care. I will use my voice to honor the Asian women who were brutally killed in Georgia yesterday and the family and friends who are grieving them. I will use my voice while I link hands with my fellow ARC, BLM, and Care First community members, and we will amplify our collective voice to support and protect our Asian American Pacific Islander siblings. We will never be silenced.(1) Gook is a racial slur often used against individuals of Filipino, Korean, or Vietnamese decent. The word is included here in order to tell a story accurately and capture an incident of hate. Please do not use this word in reference to individuals of Asian descent.
We must listen to Phung’s call to action and understand that hatred is an issue that we must all fight against. We can not tolerate it when it is noticed, regardless of context. Learn, educate, advocate, and support our AAPI community members. We must show that South Pasadena is a safe, welcoming, inclusive place for everyone.
Listen to Self Evident: Asian America’s Stories
Watch “We Are Not a Stereotype” a video series by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Take the training “Bystander Intervention Training to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment” from Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Hollaback
Report an incident of AAPI-hate based harassment or violence here: https://stopaapihate.org/
This article represents the views and opinions of the author solely and does not express the opinions of all ARC members.
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