Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
“GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY! CHINESE TRASH!”
I was shocked. “Is she yelling at me?” I wondered in disbelief. I was walking my dog when my attacker approached. In seconds, a hot wave of anger, fear, and shame washed over me. I picked up my pup and ran. She followed me, hurling more racist slurs. A few blocks later, I hurried through the lobby and punched the elevator button, hands shaking. Upon entering my apartment, I collapsed on the couch, held my dog, and sobbed.
My mind raced. Should I call the cops? I wish I filmed her for proof! Was that illegal? What’s the use? No one cares. I have been a victim of racial discrimination many times in the past, often in the presence of others. No one helped me then, and I did not expect anything to change now.
In the wake of the recent and numerous attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), I realized I needed to speak up. My silence was complicity in this nation-wide acceptance and ignorance of violence against AAPIs.
Although these past weeks have been especially severe, anti-Asian sentiment in America is not new. The U.S. has a deep history of legitimized violence against AAPIs. The mid to late 1800s was a period of intense animosity and legal discrimination against Asian — especially Chinese — immigrants. The first federal anti-immigration law was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Along with this legislative attack on Asians in the U.S., American citizens themselves targeted and killed large numbers of AAPIs. In The Chinese Massacre of 1871 a lynch mob, hung, shot, and pillaged Asians in Los Angeles. White miners robbed, stabbed, burned, and starved Asian laborers during The Rock Springs Massacre of 1885 and The Hells Canyon Massacre of 1887. After each of these atrocities — and many others — few were held accountable. All of this senseless slaughter was encouraged and legalized in the name of white nationalism.
As the U.S. fought to liberate concentration camps abroad, at home, the government stripped hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens’ rights and forced them into American internment camps. In one of its most repugnant opinions, Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld and protected this government-sponsored military detention of Americans based on their race. Justice Murphy in his dissent blasted these discriminatory actions as “abhorrent and despicable,” the kind of treatment seen in “dictatorial tyrannies” that the U.S. had pledged to fight against. In our ongoing battle against tyranny, we Americans often disregard the oppression occurring within our own borders. While this history is nowhere near exhaustive, it is more relevant than ever.
I grew up in an affluent, white, suburb of New York City. As I stepped onto the school bus on the first day of kindergarten, the second graders in the back started chanting “fried rice and egg rolls!” When I looked to the bus monitor for help, they did not even understand what was wrong. I remember sinking into my seat, curling up next to the window, and hiding my face as burning tears streamed down my cheeks. In the classroom, the harassment continued without acknowledgment. My teachers failed to notice when the boys called me “Ch**k” or pulled the corners of their eyes back and squealed “Ching, Chang, Chong!” I learned to live with this humiliating treatment because no one ever stood up for me to make me realize just how wrong it was.
Anti-AAPI racism is engrained and accepted even in America’s most progressive counties. In the last year, violent hate crimes against Asian-Americans have surged. The racist rhetoric invoked by our nation’s leaders undoubtedly fuels this animosity. Pak Ho was assaulted and left brain dead and died in Oakland, CA; Nancy Toh was spit on and knocked unconscious in White Plains, NY; and a man in Queens, NY spit on a woman and her baby and called her “Chinese virus.” The list goes on. I only learned of these atrocities through AAPI social media (@nextshark, @amandangocnguyen, and @asianswithattitudes). National news outlets ignored these stories. Once again, Americans turn a blind eye to Anti-Asian violence in this country.
To end this cycle, we all must acknowledge and take a stand against the recurrent violence against Asians in America. You can start today by raising awareness of these attacks; educating yourself on the past and current injustice against AAPIs; demanding that your legislative representatives take substantive actions to protect vulnerable communities; reporting instances of discrimination; and donating to victims and AAPI community safety groups.
About the Author: Alyssa Huang is a first-year student at Harvard Law School.
Feature Image via Getty