Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Medium. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
CW: murder, racism, xenophobia, violence
Dear Asian American community,
From the bottom of my heart: happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!
APAHM was established in 1978. It was in May 1845 that the first Japanese American set foot on American shores, and in 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the essential labor — and in many cases, lives — of Chinese immigrants. This month is not only a time to celebrate our history, our culture and our achievements, but also to remember the suffering and injustice we have faced — and to fight for a future where they never happen again.
I just want to say: I love you all. I love us. I love my family who worked their asses off to bring me here so I could have a better future. I love the auntie who cuts my hair while she tells me about the teaching career she gave up to come to the States. I love the parents who organize Chinese plaza dances in the hallways of the local elementary school to stay healthy. I love the Third World activists who fought for ethnic studies and established free clinics so our people could get the healthcare they deserved; I love our siblings who reclaim the cultural queer gender identities and histories that colonizers tried to erase; I love the Chinatown volunteers who’re keeping our restaurant doors open and delivering meals to our elders as they shelter in place. This love is why I want a world for all of us where we can be safe, happy, and healthy — where we and all our children can reach our fullest potential.
That’s been said a million times in a million ways, but maybe today we’ll listen because it’s never been made clearer to Asian Americans that our belonging here is conditional. That in the blink of an eye, we return again to being the disease-ridden yellow peril, the bat-eating savages, the perpetual foreigners.
But the belonging that we do have — that some of us can become citizens who can vote, that we can attend schools, share public spaces, that we can even call out discrimination and expect to get some kind of recognition or justice — that belonging is the same belonging we owe to Black folks for leading the fight for civil rights. That belonging is what we owe to them for carrying us all in the search for equality, even today, as Black leaders stand with us against coronavirus racism.
So when we post about stopping hate, we have to mean all hate. If we share stories of Asian Americans getting assaulted on trains and in convenience stores, then we have to share the story of Ahmaud and how it took three months to arrest his killers; the story of Sean Reed and how the policemen who shot him 10 times joked about a “closed casket funeral.”
And we must recognize that while Stop AAPI Hate has recorded over a thousand hate crimes in the past few months, not a single one of the victims was killed. That our community can even be surprised or shocked by this wave of racism and xenophobia demonstrates it isn’t our normal, that it’s very clearly related to the virus. But Black people deal with this all day, every day, 365 days of the year, pandemic or not. (And they still get bonus racism with pandemics! Hate incidents against African immigrants went up during the Ebola outbreak.)
And because this is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we have to remember that both Yuri Kochiyama and Peter Liang are a part of our heritage. That our people have fought for both language inclusion in schools and against affirmative action. That while we have fought for justice, we have also pushed down Black folks to get ourselves closer to whiteness, and more than that, have senselessly ended Black lives with our own hands. That by doing this, we dismantle the future we hope to achieve.
I’m not saying our pain and fear aren’t valid or important. I’m not saying that we have to swallow our anger when our parents are kicked out of convenience stores or our grandparents get beat up or our siblings are called names at school. When we get blamed for 9/11, when ICE terrorizes our families, when we’ve overcome so much to get here only to face more violence and poverty.
I’m saying this is not a zero-sum game where talking about someone else’s suffering means forgetting our own. I’m saying that we can call out the ways we are wronged and take responsibility for the ways we wrong others. I’m saying the pain we’re feeling right now must bind us tighter together in solidarity with others who experience pain and fear from the same place, else we are all left vulnerable to this system that sees anyone non-White as disposable.
I’m saying that I believe that our imaginations are not so small, our fear so great, that we can’t fight for and protect our own people while extending that protection to others. I’m saying that I believe that we can mourn both Vincent Chin and Willie Turks — two men, one Asian and one Black, murdered on June 22 and June 23, 1982, for the color of their skin. I’m saying that I know our community is capable of great love, and the time for that love is now and every day until we live in a world where Ahmaud didn’t have to die. Where no one has to fear for their safety because of their race, ever again.
P.S. Because I hate essays like this that leave me hanging, here are some actions you can take — from easy things you can do right now to meaningful ways to engage with broader movements. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but I hope it helps you get started:
Share the stories and names of Ahmaud Arbery and Sean Reed. Talk about why it’s important to you that this s**t has got to end.
Definitely welcome more ideas — please share below!
Thank you to Ninad Bhat, Arun Burra and Jo Melville for edits, suggestions and dialogue. 🙂
About the Author: Leena Yin is a Chinese American medical student at the University of California, San Francisco. Her work centers around health justice for underserved Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
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