Leanna Truong, Senior Digital Strategist, HangarFour
As a firm believer that you can’t judge a book by its cover, here’s why, as I share a few personal experiences of Asian hate. As a Vietnamese-American, I was born in the U.S. (Virginia) and moved to New Jersey at a very young age. My mother and father both traveled here from Vietnam to start their own business to give us the “American Dream”. As they worked many hours in the day and night, my sister and I had the opportunity to attend private school in a Cauasian dominated area. While that may seem like a privilege for most, within the years of kindergarten and high school, I was verbally bullied for my race, made fun of for bringing different types of lunch that aren’t the “norm” in the US, and experienced physical altercations. Various experiences include constantly having my locker toyed with to “are you speaking your weird language again because I can’t understand you.” Meanwhile, English is the only language I speak. With only being a freshman in high school at 16 years old, there was a moment where I could no longer take the bullying that ended my freshman year in the principal’s office for two weeks “to get away.” While that leaves a mental impact during my childhood until adulthood, I will never forget the boys who bullied me out of my own education system that my parents worked so hard for.
Five years later, I was physically assaulted by a mugger during my senior year of college with impactful injuries, which limited me in continuing my in-class education for a few weeks, as well as my mobility. While many assaults go unreported, I too can say I am responsible for not reporting my incident because I assumed no one was going to do anything about it — I was wrong. With the rise of Asian attacks, I can only imagine how many incidents that are unreported now.
In our culture, we’re taught to keep our head down, work hard, and mind our business. While we all are in a pandemic and experience some type of racism and hardships, racism against those of Asian descent is not a new problem. We Asians in America are now facing two versions of a pandemic: a heightened fear of racist abuse, verbal slurs we grew up with, physical assault, all on top of all the anxiety of living through COVID-19. It’s 2021 and now more than ever, it’s important to use our voice to teach that racism starts at a very small level. Our silence and obedience doesn’t keep us safe and this is everyone’s fight. This is the last straw and we need allyship to raise our voice.
Arianne Antonio, Senior Account Executive, DKC Entertainment
Why are the attacks on the Asian American community so important to me? Well, the first and most obvious answer is that I’m a member of this community. And what that means is that I come from a very long lineage of people who have shared the same collective struggle to find peace and prosperity in this country. This is something that I have witnessed up close and personal in my household, and I understand that is the same or similar experience that many other people are facing today. But this issue is also very important to me because I feel like the AAPI community is one that is often overlooked. We sort of straddle this gray area where we experience discrimination, we experience atrocities, but somtimes in different ways than other minorities. And there’s a variety of different influences that play into that — whether it be self-silencing, or the model minority myth complex, or feeling like we don’t necessarily deserve to draw attention to these sort of things, or being taught to keep our heads down and our mouths quiet; to fly under the radar and not cause disruption — these all play into the reasons that this community experiences atrocities in silence. They all also ladder back up to this very common desire in our communities to assimilate to white culture.
When it comes to personal experiences in enduring racial discrimination, I’ve had plenty. There are so many different ones that it’s hard to choose just one. But my collective experiences ladder up to two very common themes.
One is the fetishization of Asian women that is pervasive in almost every facet that you can possibly imagine. And it really does impact sense of self, sense of identity, a variety of different things. And you come to pivotal moments where you have to really analyze and question whether your existence is to serve someone’s fetish, to fulfill a stereotype or if you exist in a relationship (whether platonic or romantic) because you are someone that matters and should elicit respect as an actual human being.
The second way that I’ve experienced discrimation is linked to the disrespect of our food. That may sound very trivial, but this goes as far back as I can remember as a kid. If you ask any AAPI community member what a “lunchbox experience” means, they’ll know exactly what you are talking about. It is very common in Asian cultures for our food to be criticized and shamed. From elementary school to high school, I’ve had friends who have spit out foods my mom has made in front of my face, criticized me or called me disgusting. As I get older, the impact of those experiences remains the same, and they’re just as powerful as when I was a kid as they are now. When you insult someone’s food, you are insulting someone’s culture. It goes way beyond that one siloed experience, regardless of how small the comments may be. There is a lot that is packed into that food, and it’s an expression of a culture. And so, when you take the time to disrespect it or shame it or call it “disgusting,” it really does go back to identity, and the cultures that are reflected in that food.
I think allyship is important. When we look at these atrocities, what we need to understand is that there is a common thread that runs through all of these negative experiences — white supremacy. When we understand that that is the fundamental issue that is propelling hate in all of its different forms across the AAPI community, across the Black community, across the Latinx community, will we truly understand that it is all of our problem. And when we function off of that premise, we’re able to really make an impact across communities to truly upend racial discrimination. It is until then that we are actually going to be able to move forward and make progress.
Cristina Samiley, Vice President, DKC Hospitality + Lifestyle
In early 2020, news of attacks on AAPIs were already trickling through the community: verbal harassment, physical assault, vandalism in Asian neighborhoods, etc. Once again in the U.S., AAPIs were the “foreigners” to blame despite decades of citizenship and meaningful contributions to American society, in the same way that Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and incarcerated during WWII; the same way that Muslims or anyone that was inaccurately identified as one (such as Sikhs or most South Asians) were negatively targeted post 9–11; and so on, and so on.
For over a year since COVID-19 started making its way around the world, I’ve been silently anxious and heartbroken, not only by the stories of attacks around the country, but also from my own friends and family. I’ve had loved ones yelled at and told that they’re the ones to blame for the pandemic, to “go back to China” (whether or not they’re Chinese or Chinese American), to “go to hell” or worse, all while just trying to go about their lives, like grocery shopping or walking around the neighborhood. However, for all the horrible things that have been going on, these conversations generally stayed between myself and my fellow AAPIs. Culturally, we’re largely taught to keep our heads down and our mouths shut, with the hope that if you don’t “cause trouble,” that any harm that could come to you would pass or be minimized.
But the moment that really broke me was the Atlanta mass shooting that took the lives of six Asian women and innocent bystanders. It was bad enough assuming that the shootings were due to COVID-blame when the news first hit on that awful Tuesday night. It was exceedingly worse when it was reported the next day that the perpetrator “had a bad day” and felt the need to eliminate his sex addiction “temptations;” that his humanity was being validated while the lives he took were reduced to stereotypes, fetishes and punchlines. Because while I’m relatively lucky that I haven’t experienced harassment directly connected with COVID-19, I’ve been harassed, stalked and assaulted by non-Asian men who believed they were entitled to easy access to me since I was a teenager. I’ve been blatantly told that “yellow fever” was justification for such actions, that I should be flattered for the attention. Absolutely not. It’s humiliating and traumatizing to receive unwanted advances and aggression because of this twisted fetishization.
So, to witness this specific brand of racist-misogyny escalate to a mass murder spree? Not only did it trigger a very personal kind of trauma, fear and anger, but it was a stark reminder that AAPI discrimination is not isolated to this moment. It is deeply embedded in so many facets of our society, threaded throughout history, and even so-called “little things” can escalate to severe violence and fatalities. It doesn’t matter that so many of us have contributed so much of our lives to ensure the safety and advancement of American society — AAPIs are members and veterans of the U.S. military; are nurses, doctors and caregivers; are teachers; are entrepreneurs; are artists; and so much more — we are a community that is always reminded of our “otherness.” We are constantly having to prove our worthiness as citizens and human beings.
But that otherness that AAPIs are subjected to is not isolated to our community, though our experiences may be unique to us. Ultimately, there is a common fight for everyone — regardless of race/ethnicity, religion, gender/sexual orientation and identity, socioeconomic class, and more — to be treated with dignity and respect; to be seen as humans that are whole and worthy of love and care. Allyship and unity across all marginalized communities and movements has never been more important in the work against the systems of toxicity and white supremacy. No person or community should suffer humiliation, degradation or violence on the simple account of being who they are, and true progress for a better society must include the health, safety, prosperity and care of everyone.