By Ally Fung
Hate crimes against the Asian American community have been on the rise in America, especially since the start of the pandemic. In 16 of the country’s most populous cities, there was an increase of almost 150% in reported anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 compared to the year before.
A recent wave of violent attacks against Asian American elders has renewed attention to this issue. Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai American man, was killed in an unprovoked attack in San Francisco; a 64-year-old Vietnamese American woman was assaulted in broad daylight in San Jose and robbed of $1,000; and 61-year-old Noel Quintana, a Filipino American, was slashed in the face on the subway with a box cutter. There have been many other violent incidents similar to these—many of which were caught on camera—fostering a fear in Asian Americans that they might be the next victim.
Trump’s rhetoric fueled “anti-Chinese sentiments among Americans … not caring that the people who will truly suffer the most are Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans, his citizens whom he’s supposed to protect,” said Charissa Cheah, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore to the Washington Post.
Harassment against the Asian American community isn’t just a result of political rhetoric: Asian Americans have dealt with racially-charged persecution for a long time. Since Asians arrived in America for the Gold Rush in 1849, they have faced racism, xenophobia, and sinophobia (anti-Chinese sentiment). The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Barred Zone Act of 1917, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II are just some examples of how anti-Asian racism has manifested in America’s history.
The Yellow Peril stereotype—a stereotype that paints Asians as dirty, infected disease-carriers—has plagued Asian Americans since the 1880s, and contributes to why many Americans today place blame on Asian Americans for COVID-19. Additionally, the “model minority” myth—the myth that implies Asian Americans cannot face racism like other minority groups do because Asian Americans have achieved economic success—has made it difficult for Asian Americans to be taken seriously when calling out anti-Asian racism.
In response to the increase in Asian American hate crimes, major protests across the United States have taken place. Some American politicians have also taken action, including Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) who sponsored House Resolution 908. This resolution called on all public officials to denounce anti-Asian racism, urged federal officials to “expeditiously investigate and document all credible reports of hate incidents against Asian-Americans, and recommitted U.S. leadership to prioritize language inclusivity and combat misinformation that put the Asian American community at risk. On January 26, 2021, President Joe Biden also signed a memorandum to combat bias incidents toward Asian Americans, which issues guidance on how to better collect data and assist with the reporting of anti-Asian hate incidents.
Organizations such as Stop AAPI Hate are leading forces in the fight against Asian American harassment and offer resources for people to report incidents across the country. Many victims of hate crimes experience “signs of racial trauma” after these incidents, according to Stop AAPI Hate’s co-founder Dr. Russel Jeung.