The Rage Asian Americans Feel Right Now
By Benny Luo
May 7, 2020
One of the most powerful emotions I see many Asians feel right now is rage — and it’s the deepest and most personal kind.
It’s the feeling I’ve felt when I got in trouble for fighting back and injuring a bully in elementary school. Or the time I heard “f*cking Chinaman!” as I was walking by an older couple at the movie theater with my friends in middle school. Or being the target of racial slurs constantly hurled at me during school lunch time all my life up into high school. Or one time, when I was walking home, a red Camaro pulled up next to me with a group of upperclassmen inside who thew garbage at me while laughing and calling me a “f*cking Chink” before quickly driving off. There were so many incidents throughout my life where I chose to stay silent because I didn’t want to “cause trouble.”
While the choice of inaction doesn’t cause “trouble” at that moment, the cost is years and years of bottled up frustrations from never taking action, which turns into the rage many of us feel right now. Now that we’ve grown into adults, we feel like we HAVE TO take immediate action as we now have the awareness to fight back.
Throughout my life, I’ve avoided talking publicly about Asian American issues pertaining to race and identity. The reason is simply because my own story only makes up a small speckle of the very diverse group that is the Asian American diaspora. I’m not an activist. I am not and do not want to be a voice of AAPIs — there’s simply too many nuances and contexts to acknowledge on so many levels and I don’t feel qualified to speak on them.
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Since the end of February, NextShark has received a record number of news tips involving incidents of alleged hate crimes against our community. We collaborated with Admerasia, A3PCON, and countless other organizations in a campaign to collect data and document hate crimes happening in our country: 1,497 total reports were submitted from March 19 – April 15. From the data, we know that 44% of these incidents took place at a private business, 9% were AAPI seniors (60+), and 69% of those targeted were women.
If you follow our site regularly, you may have seen many of our reports of discrimination and attacks on Asians. Various mainstream media outlets and influencers have also helped amplify our reporting.
My staff and I have also received countless DMs from Asians everywhere. All of them share the common theme of feeling angry, uncertain, frustrated, and scared with everything that’s been going on. It’s clear that many in our community are desperate for answers and want to take action, but are not sure what to do.
I will start off by saying that I, along with the entire staff at NextShark, are just as angry, frustrated, uncertain, and scared as all of you.
Being able to report on the strides in the Asian community has been such a privilege for us. We’ve been able to record some incredible events that have moved the needle for us further than ever before.
Like during the golden years of independent Asian creators when many grew tired of being left out by the gatekeepers of mainstream media, they took to the internet to showcase their artistic expression. The top most subscribed channels on YouTube were Asian creators, normalizing Asian-faces presented in non-stereotypical settings for future generations to come — something Hollywood has only done for a handful of years.
Or the time five no-namers and Randall Park were put in a sitcom about the life of a Taiwanese-American chef who liked hip-hop. The show became an instant success spanning six seasons while earning numerous accolades and nominations for major awards, putting the cast on the map, one of whom was waiting tables not long before but now holds multiple award nominations, including a Golden Globe.
Or the time an entire cast of Asians from all walks of life came together to create a movie about a family of crazy rich Asians. They turned down a HUGE payday from Netflix to take the risk of going mainstream to gross $239 million worldwide with a production budget of $30 million, becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the last 10 years and the sixth highest-grossing ever.
Or the time an accountant from Ontario, Canada decided to pursue acting after getting laid off at Deloitte. He eventually starred in a successful sitcom with an all-Asian cast which currently holds a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and most recently became the FIRST Asian Actor cast as the superhero in a Marvel film.
Or the time a virtually unknown entrepreneur from New York decided to run for President of the United States with the promise of putting $1,000 a month in every American’s hands if elected. His grassroots and unorthodox efforts earned him a legion of fans that now call themselves the “Yang Gang” and helped raise over $30 million from mostly individual donors by 2020. While everyone has their own political beliefs, to see a virtually unknown Asian face move so high up the political spectrum so quickly was undeniably momentous for everyone in our community.
Or the time a Vietnamese American sexual assault survivor from the East Coast decided to protect other victims by drafting the “Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights.” The bill would, for the first time, establish clear rules and procedures for prosecuting sexual assault crimes. President Obama signed the bill into law right before he left office in 2016, affecting the lives of nearly 25 million rape survivors in the country and earning the survivor a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2018.
Or most recently as Asians from all over the world gathered in front of their TV screens on the evening of February 9 to see a South Korean filmmaker win four Oscars for a film entirely in Korean. It became the first non-English film to win the Best Picture award, beating notable contenders including “1917”, “The Irishman”, “Joker”, and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”.
To go from seeing so much excitement, positivity, and relief that our community was finally making a mark beyond the confines of the “model minority” to seeing our daily lives filled with fear, rage, and uncertainty has left us sidelined, wondering how the f*ck we got here. Our editorial meetings went from all the exciting things AAPIs are doing to sorting through endless stories of those facing discrimination, racism, and violent physical attacks because of the color of their skin. I think John Cho put it best in this Los Angeles Times op-ed:
“Asian Americans are experiencing such a moment right now. The pandemic is reminding us that our belonging is conditional. One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who ‘brought’ the virus here.”
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What pains me the most is the infighting within our community during a time when we need unity more than ever. I see people from both sides of the political spectrum arguing over the decisions our government has made and seeing people of color attacking those in our community. Even worse, seeing others in our respectful motherlands doing the SAME THING to other PoC.
It seems like our community has been set back decades, and that everything we’ve accomplished in recent years have seemingly vanished into thin air overnight. However, the benefit of being in quarantine has really given me the opportunity to step back and look at the big picture.
Social media has given us the gift of being more connected than ever, but that gift has also removed the security of our respectful bubbles to see the world as it is — full of hate just as much as there’s love. But for some odd reason, it seems that in the sea of light, darkness always shines the brightest.
Asian Pacific American History month isn’t just about celebrating our rich history filled with diverse cultures and backgrounds. It’s also to honor the ones who have come before us to fight for our belonging, and the allies who have helped propel our movement forward.
While we share the same sentiments with many of you, I think it’s also important to know that there is so much good happening right now, too.
In the last few months, Asians all over the world have donated their time, money and resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic along with supporting front-line workers. Millions of dollars have been raised among the heaviest hitters of Asian America along with millions more in supplies donated to support countless healthcare workers across the country.
Despite the current plague of anti-Asian sentiments, healthcare workers of Asian descent continue to go to work everyday to treat victims knowing they are putting themselves and their families at risk every time they clock in for their shift while facing prejudice themselves.
Volunteers from all over have been inspired to fight the virus in their own unique ways, like this teenage pilot who regularly flies medical supplies to healthcare workers in Virginia.
Celebrities from around the world have spoken up to condemn the attacks made against our community and offer encouragement, including Jeremy Lin, RZA, Wanda Sykes, Karrueche Tran, Cung Le, Lana Condor, Eddie Huang, Mark Ruffalo, Daniel Dae Kim, Simu Liu, Van Ness Wu, Ronnie Chieng and countless others.
Leaders of other minority groups have spoken out in solidarity with our community, like Bernice King, daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Senator Kamala Harris, the NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and more. Countless non-Asian followers of NextShark have also been loud in their support across our social networks.
Just like the times people in our own communities stepped up to show solidarity to others, like the time Japanese Americans staged protests to speak out against the detainment of migrant children and families in the U.S.-Mexico border, or the time an Asian American SF resident proudly displayed her “Black Lives Matter” sign in front of her house despite receiving countless threats to her family, or the time an Asian flight attendant wore his “Black Lives Matter” pin during his shift despite being lambasted online shortly after.
While these are only a few examples, I know for a fact that there is more our community can do in the long-term as we solidify our voices and become stronger as one.
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These things aren’t new. Minority groups have always helped each other in the past, dating back as far as slavery was still legal in America, where African Americans fought with their lives for the single notion engraved in our country’s founding documents that “all men are created equal.”
Decades later in 1898, a Chinese American, born in America years before the Chinese Exclusion Act, was denied entry back into the U.S. after going overseas because he didn’t qualify as an “American.” He won a landmark victory in the Supreme Court, solidifying the fact that anyone born on American soil is an American. Period.
Then during WWII, an American tried to enlist in the U.S. military only to be turned away because he was of Japanese ancestry. He refused to be forced into concentration camps along with 127,000 other Japanese Americans and spent decades fighting the injustices committed by his own nation’s government. His conviction was formally overturned in 1983 and he was awarded the President Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Then came Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates, whose work and sacrifice for the civil rights movement both directly and indirectly impacted the lives of all minorities. I think Korean American Pastor David Choi said it best during a Martin Luther King Jr. Church event in 2017:
“As Asian people, we want to thank Black Americans. Black people were enslaved, beaten, and discriminated against, but you didn’t give up. You bled and died for your freedom and in so doing you lead the way for people like my grandparents who came from Korea to have civil rights in America. You paved the way for freedom for all Asian America. I want all the Asians in the room to join me in saying thank you to our Black brothers and sisters.”
And in more recent years, Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented Filipino immigrant who came to the U.S. when he was twelve, penned an essay for The New York Times in 2011, risking deportation by revealing his undocumented status to help provide a chance for children in similar situations to have a path to citizenship.
We’ve always helped each other, and we will never stop continuing to do so, but there is much more work to be done. As I finish writing this, my news app notifications are popping up with a distressing video of a Black man being gunned down in broad daylight by two white men who allegedly thought he was a burglar. He was only 25 years old and his name is Ahmaud Arbery, a name I will forever remember along with Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Marshall Miles, Michael Brown, and countless other victims of a very broken system. Because when a minority chooses to finally put their foot down to fight for their rights, they are indirectly fighting for the rights of all minorities.
Better days will come, but good days come at the cost of selfless risk and sacrifice. Just like our ancestors braved through war, famine, and tyranny to give us a better life in America, we will come together to continue that fight, paving the way for future generations to come. In the words of Bruce Lee:
“A fight is not won by one punch or kick. Either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard.”
Let’s continue to fight for what’s right, to call out injustices when we see them, to give a voice for those who continue to be silenced and refuse to stoop down to the levels of evil around us.
Let’s spread love and kindness, giving the opportunity to those simply blinded by ignorance to grow for the better. Instead of arguing over who’s right or wrong, who started it, or pointing fingers at each other. Let’s work collectively to move forward so that we have a better future.
Most of all, let’s continue to shine a spotlight on those doing incredible things to fight this pandemic, those who continue to call out injustices happening within and outside of our communities, those who understand that this is NOT a fight targeting a specific group or race but to eradicate the evil and hate around us.
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One of the latest books I’ve read that had a really profound impact on me was “Pork Buns and High-Fives” by Norma Slavit. The book centers around the life of my friend Larry Chu Jr. who recalls in the first chapter a “lunch box” moment in school when his peers made fun of him for bringing pork buns to school.
When he came home and told his mom, instead of reacting with anger or disgust, she had him invite the kids over to their home to cook them fresh pork buns. Her hope was that once they fell in love with the dish themselves, they would understand.
I believe we should use this same notion to spread the love that is desperately needed at this time. In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Most importantly, it’s important to see the strides we are still making even in this pandemic. Did anyone notice that the #1 show on Netflix in America at the time of this writing is about the life of an Indian-American girl in LA!? C’mon guys, you’re in quarantine! Watch it!
In the words of my dear friend and activist Sylvia Kim piggy backing off of Sandra Oh’s famous Golden Globes Speech, “It’s STILL an honor to be Asian,” and in the words of legendary news anchor and my Noona, May Lee, “It is OUR TIME.”
My name is Benny Luo and I am proud to be Asian American.
Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!
#HateIsAVirus #WashTheHate #RacismIsAVirus #IAmNotCOVID19 #FacesOfTheCure #AllAmericans #JusticeForAhmaud
Feature Image Artwork via @m.onicart (Posted with Permission)
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