By Lisa Chin / For The Herald
On March 16, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Julie Park, Park Hyeon Jeong and two others were shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of these victims were Asian women.
While the incident and subsequent reporting stunned many of us, this is not the first time Asian American communities have experienced racially motivated outbursts of violence, both nationwide and in my own community.
Recently, an 84-year-old man was pushed to the ground and killed in San Francisco. He was an Asian American senior citizen, attacked in broad daylight. In New York, a 52-year-old woman was pushed to the ground outside of a store in Queens; she had to get stitches in her forehead. In Oakland, a 91-year-old man landed face-first on the pavement after being shoved.
These attacks were unprovoked. These people were just living their lives.
Stop AAPI Hate received 2,808 nationwide personal reports of hate incidents between March and December 2020. In King County, there were 59 charged hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020 compared to 39 in 2019. Not even three months into 2021, King County has already charged seven more cases.
For far too long, Asian Americans have been looked at as the model minority, a concept created by opponents during the civil rights era who wanted to derail progress toward racial justice. This false narrative perpetuates the myth that Asian Americans are more successful than other people of color, because of their hard work, education and “inherent law-abiding natures,” which negates our struggles and experiences with discrimination.
People don’t think we are the targets of hate. They certainly think that we don’t experience it with the same frequency or intensity as other people of color. Hate crimes, discrimination and bias-based incidents are under-reported and under-investigated. We have been faded into the background and lumped together. This systemic failure has contributed to the rise in violence perpetrated against the Asian American community.
In Seattle, Asian Americans make up the city’s largest People of Color (POC) population. Asian American children make up 22 percent of the school population in Seattle, so an increase in violence aimed at this community has a direct impact on our youth.
As the chief executive of Treehouse, it is my goal to bring people together. And, as a Chinese-American woman, I am compelled to advocate for my community. This issue strikes at the center of my personal and professional lives. AAPI youths make up about 4 percent of the youths affected by foster care that we serve through Treehouse. As we work to better the lives of those who experience the foster care system, it is important we stay true to our values and support those in our community who are being mistreated simply because of the way they look.
The recent rise of xenophobia is a reminder of a painful past, a window into a time in our history when racism toward Asian Americans was rampant. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law it was used to excuse violence in the West, particularly in Washington. In the mid-1880s, Chinese residents in Seattle and Tacoma saw their businesses and homes burned while being forced to leave those cities.
Japanese Americans also faced discrimination when they were forced into internment camps during World War II. In fact, the anniversary of Executive Order 9066 — which allowed Japanese Americans to be relocated to those camps — was just last month. That order led to the incarceration of more than 12,000 Washingtonians. It is an important reminder of the pain caused by those camps. It shows the fragility of our civil liberties. It is up to all of us to speak out and reject injustice and bigotry. This is the only way to preserve freedoms for everyone; especially those furthest from socio-economic, educational and racial justice.
The pandemic has been difficult. Covid-19 has ravaged our communities — particularly the Black, Indignous and People of Color (BIPOC) and Latinx communities — and our nation. People across the country have lost jobs and loved ones. Because of xenophobic vitriol and rhetoric in our national discourse, it has also fueled fear and stoked racial tension.
The events of March 16 are yet another piece of evidence that the historic racism against BIPOC communities is alive. It is also part of a growing pandemic of violence against Asian Americans that we cannot silently observe. This spike of violence and hatred towards Asian Americans is jarring, a signal there is still so much to be done to make our country a more inclusive and just place for everyone.
In addition to the slurs and violence that are on the rise, Asian American businesses are struggling more than most because, in addition to having fewer potential customers, some are boycotting these businesses because of false information about covid-19. We can show solidarity through our patronage. (To find Asian American and other BIPOC-owned businesses in your community, check out intentionalist.com). We can also support our neighbors by interrupting harassment and bigotry when we see it; because silence is also a statement.
We are all partners in our work to heal our community, and as such, it is our duty to stand against hate in all its forms against any group of people.
This is a difficult moment for Asian Americans. We must not allow stereotypes and bias to further fray the fabric of our community. We are determined to work in solidarity with the BIPOC community to advocate for change. We value diversity, equity and inclusion and want to live in a world where we lift each other up instead of tear each other down.
Creating a future where equity and inclusion is the expectation starts today. We must set an example for our children and create a world where all people from all communities can thrive and prosper. It is time for our voices to be heard.
By Dr. Lisa Chin is the chief executive of Treehouse, a Seattle-based advocacy group working to advance equity and justice for children and youths in foster care and education.