I get afraid when my mom goes to the supermarket alone. I worry about who she might run into more than I do about the virus. She can take precautions to protect herself from exposure to the virus, but she can’t protect herself from becoming another victim of anti-Asian hate crimes.
My mom is the only parent I have. She’s my definition of home and without her, the thought of home loses all meaning. She came from very little growing up in Vietnam, and, in hopes of offering me a better life, she left everything she knew behind to move to the United States. She had little to offer and knew nothing about the language, but she persisted and worked incredibly hard to support us and her family back in Vietnam. She is a loving, kind-hearted, hard-working, selfless and resilient mom, not a virus.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans has risen exponentially. Asian-identifying people are being blamed for the disease; since it originated in China, they are thus carriers of the virus, as well as a threat to all of humanity. People fail to understand that people of Asian descent, like other groups, are not monolithic, but consist of a multitude of ethnicities and cultures from East Asia and Southeast Asia to the Indian Subcontinent. Viruses also do not discriminate; the novel coronavirus does not target specific groups nor is any group the sole host of the virus.
However, now, Asians are seen as “viruses” and face various degrees of discrimination, racism and xenophobia. It’s still a constant battle the community faces today and will be after the pandemic passes if we don’t work on addressing misinformation and stigmas and speak out against them.
Understanding this, we could have prevented numerous cases of Asian Americans being beaten, spat on and brutalized just because of how they look and speak. Furthermore, Asian businesses are now crippled, and some will be forced to close their doors indefinitely, resulting in a loss of culture and community.
Even as we keep anti-Asian sentiment in mind, however, it is also our responsibility to address the fact that the Asian American community has played a role in perpetuating anti-Blackness. We have benefited in some ways from the model minority myth — a white sympathizing tactic aimed at pitting minorities against one another — and bypassed a lot of the systematic and institutionalized racism faced by other communities of color, particularly the Black community. We must acknowledge that George Floyd’s death was also attributed to the Asian police officer who did nothing to stop Chauvin. That officer was capable of saving Floyd but didn’t and, instead, stood as a bystander in killer silence. The Asian American community, however, cannot do the same. If we choose to be silent, we’re no better than those who have discriminated against us throughout this pandemic. And in doing so, we are only adding to the problem as more innocent Black lives are taken, and with them, their hopes and dreams, life and future.
Thus, we as Asian Americans must stand in solidarity with members of the Black community in wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others whose violent encounters with law enforcement — people who are supposed to protect us, not kill — turned fatal.
We need to see beyond media narratives that criminalize protestors and divert attention from the issue at hand: police violence. Innocent lives such as Arbery’s and Floyd’s should not have been lost. And members of the Latinx/Hispanic community are not and have never been a threat to job security, nor have they given any “excuse” to be the targets of anti-immigration or ICE. Not to mention, what a person chooses to wear, such as a Hijab, Shayla or Turban, is in respect to their cultures, not an invitation for judgment towards the individual. Hate crimes have been especially prevalent against communities of color and, with the current outbreak, have shined a light on how easily communities can become victims to hate.
So Asian Americans must recognize that we are to some degree on both sides of the racial wounds these past weeks have exposed. Like other minorities, we face hate and discrimination in a country that views us as an eternal “other.” But like white Americans, we’ve profited from anti-Blackness and played a part in its perpetuation. Neither can continue.
My story is just one of many, but I hope one that opens the need for more discussion and action. People of color have and will continue to be vulnerable to these acts of hate until we can come together as a united front in these critical moments. We need to uplift and listen to the stories of others because it is our responsibility to learn from them. We need to work through uncomfortable confrontations with our own internalized beliefs and behaviors in order to truly support one another. If we choose not to, we are complicit to all that is happening because these problems will continue to persist and hurt even more people. So if we choose to not stand up for something, we will fall for the lie that everything is well.
Contact Cindy Chau at ccindy ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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