Stop Asian Hate: A Brief History of Anti-Asian Discrimination and its Context for Parkview

Racism and discrimination have always played significant roles in the lives of many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), whether it be casual or direct discrimination. Vy Nguyen, a sophomore at Parkview High School, is no stranger to the adversities faced by Asians. Before COVID-19 struck, Nguyen and a fellow Asian friend were walking to building E during a class change when a fellow student walked by and repeated the phrase, “ching chong,” multiple times. This was one of many instances that this would happen to the pair and eventually led to them taking a different route to class. As someone who was born in Vietnam and holds great pride in her language and culture, Nguyen says, “I really love the language, and for someone to make fun of my native tongue just because I’m Asian really bothered me.”

Racism and discrimination can also manifest themselves in the form of stereotypes, which Nguyen believes have become a normalized part of everyday life. Despite having been lectured on the harmful nature of stereotypes since middle school, she finds that many individuals still choose to partake in stereotyping while others remain as bystanders. Even in the hallways packed with students, not one stood up for Nguyen and her friend when racist remarks were made against them. Luckily, Nguyen was able to find solace within her friend group, who would never mock the way she spoke and would stand up for her. 

Shortly after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which, as many know, became a dark moment for many in the AAPI community. Hearing about the countless acts of violence towards Asians, Nguyen feared for the safety of her parents, who often had to leave their home for work and other essential needs. She says, “Reading the news about the Asian American violence really saddened me because the people perpetrating that violence felt justified to mistreat Asians when we are also humans too.”

Her experiences and suffering resulted from many years of deep-rooted racism that would last through centuries, all the way into the modern era. And, unfortunately, it would go to change the lives of Asians everywhere. 

Nguyen’s experiences reflect the increase in hate crimes in the United States. In recent weeks, there has been an increase in violence directed toward Asian Americans as people of Asian descent have been threatened, hurt, and killed, especially since March 2020. Cities with large Asian populations seem to be suffering the most. New York has had four recent attacks on Asian Americans. At the same time, events in San Francisco include the attack and robbery of two older Asian women and two other older Asian women stabbing on May 4th. In our own state, shootings at spas in the Atlanta area resulted in eight deaths, six of whom were of Asian descent.  A report by the organization Stop AAPI Hate shows that there have been over 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, many targets being women. This presents a real problem to Asian Americans and one which needs to be addressed.

Historical Context

American society hasn’t historically been welcoming towards Asian Americans. With the Page Act of 1875, which prohibited the hiring of Chinese or Japanese workers, and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the government was actively oppressive toward Asian immigrants. One of the first prominent Asian American hate crimes in history took place in 1885: the Rocks Spring Massacre. On September 2, 1885, 28 Chinese coal miners were killed, and 15 more were injured by White workers who lost jobs in the coal mines. Unfortunately, no one was imprisoned, and the workers were merely compensated. 

Another significant attack on Asian Americans took place in Snake River, Oregon, on May 27, 1888, called the Hells Canyon Massacre.  This was more gruesome than the 1885 attack. This massacre also targeted Chinese miners but instead was carried out by seven White thieves. Instead of just stealing from the group, all 34 Chinese men were murdered and mutilated before being thrown into the river. Similar to the Rocks Spring Massacre, the jury failed to convict the thieves. Only three of the seven thieves were tried, and their verdict was returned not guilty.

By the 1940s, tens of thousands of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans had built lives in the United States only to be forced by the federal government into internment camps for the duration of the war over suspicions these citizens might aid the Japanese military. No spies were ever found, and when families were freed, many returned to find their homes and businesses vandalized or confiscated. In 1988, after over 40 years, survivors eventually received a presidential apology and $20,000 each in reparations.

In 1900, an outbreak of bubonic plague struck San Francisco. It was most likely that the outbreak began with a ship from Australia, but since the first stateside victim was a Chinese immigrant, the whole community was actively blamed for it. Overnight, the city’s Chinatown was surrounded by police, preventing anyone but White residents from going in or out.  Chinese residents were also subjected to home searches and property destruction by force. This 4-year episode was a prelude to the racism that has been aimed at Asian Americans during the Coronavirus pandemic, which former President Donald Trump frequently called “the China virus,” “the Wuhan virus,” and the “Kung Flu.”

Currently, it is evident that these causes have not diminished, especially with xenophobia increasing alongside cases of Covid-19. Among the many videos showing incidents of Asian hate being uploaded during the early pandemic, one video gained exposure. It led to more people being aware of the rise of hate crimes.  A video of an elderly man in San Francisco collecting cans was uploaded to social media in February of 2020. In the video, the elder is detained by an assailant while being assaulted and called racial slurs. 

Despite being deleted, the original post was reuploaded on multiple social media platforms allowing it to reach Shamann Walton, an elected Supervisor (or city councilman) for San Francisco. Walton spoke about the incident stating, “We’re working on getting somebody intermittently who can work with our office to coordinate how to respond to and prevent and intervene in violence in our district as a whole.” Despite this brief statement from the city’s supervisor, in early investigations, the San Francisco police did not deem this attack a “hate crime.” 

Anti-Asian racist incidents increased 150% in 2020. The advocate group Stop AAPI Hate received more than 3,800 hate incidents towards Asian Americans. The biggest kind of discrimination that was demonstrated through all these incidents was verbal harassment at 70.9%. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, about 3 in 4 Asian Americans say they’ve personally experienced discrimination due to their race. The percentage of Asian adults that have said they’ve experienced at least one of five racist incidents is 45%. Moreover, 71% of U.S adults reported witnessing discrimination against Asian Americans. 

Student Experiences

Thoughts on the Recent Acts of Violence:

Lily Littrell (17, Junior): I don’t remember where I was during the racist killings in Atlanta. I remember seeing a post about it on Instagram and then fact-checking it online. When I learned they were trying to pin it on “having a bad day” and “sexual problems” I was infuriated that they continued to marginalize the Asian community. I was saddened that these families lost their loved ones to such a violent and cruel crime. 

Andy Tran (15, Freshman): I think I was sitting on the staircase when I heard about [the recent shootings] from a New York Times notification. In honesty, I was not surprised seeing there was another shooting in America. But upon learning that it was in Atlanta, it was definitely surprising to hear that this happened so close to me. It wasn’t until I learned that all of the spas were Asian-owned businesses that [I realized] something was happening: anti-Asian sentiment. I didn’t want to rush to conclusions when the news was still breaking, but I immediately felt shocked seeing the words, “I’m going to kill all Asians,” finally knowing that that was his intent. 

Simran Mohanty (17, Junior): I haven’t been personally affected by Asian American discrimination.  Considering I’m Indian-American, I haven’t been faced with [the discrimination] East Asian or South-East Asians have faced. And it kind of like, it really infuriates me to see, I guess Americans, blame them for a virus that wasn’t even their fault at all and simply stemmed from that location. It wasn’t even, like a whole thing, like it gets me really annoyed how they use scapegoats in a way. 

Yeah, so, it hasn’t personally affected me but seeing the violence really kind of- it makes me really sick to my stomach to see how far people can go just because of a thing they had no control over. And it just shows how rooted racial violence can be.  Like literally this country was built on immigrants so to see that racial violence even in present times is really disgusting, to know that we haven’t moved past the Chinese Exclusion Act, and we haven’t moved past any of that Asian discrimination; there will always be that mindset that blames minorities and that minorities are always at fault.

Andy Tran: Anti-Asian violence has helped me realize the lack of representation Asian individuals have in American society. While I have never felt insecure about my heritage, I’ve realized that Asian people are not prominent in American positions of power. Also, it’s also made me wonder about my parents during the day. My mom works in the city and my father is in a popular Asian town for the day. It’s hard trying to imagine becoming an orphan after both of my parents die in a shooting because of their race. My behavior hasn’t changed much, though I do feel less welcome outside the metro area.

Lily Littrell: The recent events have made me sad for my community.  I do not understand why people are so hateful towards other people just because of our differences.  My behavior has not changed [because of the Anti- Asian violence]. I work with many different organizations and have helped organize certain events for AAPI hate.  There are lots of amazing student-led groups that help support AAPIs. My friends are a great support system as well. 

Personal Experiences:

Lily Littrell: I have been called many not-so-nice things, but I remember when I brought seaweed as a snack in elementary school, everyone was very grossed out by it. I love seaweed (it’s become “trendy” now) and so when everyone was like, “ew, what’s that weird smell?” I was saddened by that.

Andy Tran: Though I wasn’t directly victimized, there was a person on my bus in eighth grade who frequently exhibited bigotry. I remember he told me he was mistaken for being Asian on the first few days of school by many, and there were a lot of other cases where he would yell out how he believed Asian people should be discriminated against. He was only verbal, nothing physical. It’s a little funny considering he acted very normally when he sat next to me as if nothing ever happened. 

Something I think about a lot was that before he stopped taking the bus to school and back, I remember during a bus ride home, he told me that I should stand up for myself more, his tone suggesting a desire to become a better person, like a father teaching his son a hard life lesson. While he was being racist in the past, I didn’t bother to do anything since I believed that karma would come soon, so the only thing I did was tune it out until he got consequences. 

It wasn’t until after the Trickum pep rally that I thought about reporting him to my bus driver, so I decided to write a sticky note about him to my bus driver.  I forgot to give it to him and the note never left my backpack. Though I never reported him to my bus driver, it makes me wonder what would have happened if I did stand up, even though he never said anything derogatory towards me.

Jaimie Chen (17, Junior): Being Asian feels like a label for other people to avoid seeing me as human and instead have their own perceptions without even knowing me. It can be changed by Asian representation in media, education, and entertainment through Asian lenses… I’ve felt victimized in the first grade when I brought 黏糕 (Chinese rice cakes) to school as a treat and everyone said it was disgusting.

Lily Littrell: A fellow student asked me if I had, “chopsticks up my…” [here, she uses the swear word for one’s backside], and then called me a racial slur. He thought it was a funny joke, and I was left speechless. 

On Feeling Less “Asian”

Simran Mohanty: Let me tell my lunchbox story… This is truly a tragic story that was honestly a really small thing but it really affected me. 

When I was in elementary school, I brought this Indian lunchbox, it’s called a tiffin, it’s a little metal container, and it was pretty different- I got it from India and I was really excited to bring my lunch. It was a really good lunch that day, I don’t remember what it was, but it was really good, I bet. So I brought it to school, went to the lunch table, and everyone started looking at me and they were like, “what is that container,” and I was just like, “It’s my lunchbox.” And they were like, “why does it look like that? It looks so stupid. Why would you need a metal container?” And I’m just like… it’s literally so efficient and effective. It’s literally just a lunchbox and they just completely made jokes about me and I like, laughed along because like, I don’t know what to do in this situation. I just laughed along with them. 

I think that’s like a common thing when you’re reduced to that casual racism. You’ll laugh along and play along with it even though it’s not good to play along with it. I should have stood up at that point and been like, “No, this is my lunchbox, you don’t deserve to make fun of it.” 

And then I opened my lunchbox, and they just got so disgusted with the smell and how I had to eat with my hands. And I was like, “Do you Americans not have finger food? Like what do you call chicken nuggets? I don’t know what you mean.” And so they just got so disgusted that I was eating like I guess, curry or something, with my hands. And yeah they got so disgusted with my lunchbox that I literally stopped bringing my lunch right then and there, and I didn’t start bringing my lunch until middle school, where I got a new lunchbox — an American lunchbox — and I didn’t even bring Indian food because I was just so terrified people would make fun of me again. And I didn’t start bringing Indian lunch food until probably high school, which is pretty sad. Yeah, that situation kind of like always had an effect on me, like sometimes it seems really insignificant to what other people have faced, and that kind of mindset is harmful. And so that situation made me stop bringing Indian lunch and made me stop bringing that Indian lunchbox and it made me stop eating with my hands. I still haven’t really been able to eat with my hands with Indian food, which is actually really sad because I used to love eating with my hands, and I guess that kind of traumatized me in a way so I kind of just could not eat with my hands anymore. And so like, that’s where that “whitewashed” Indian comes in. And I’m just like… if you call me a whitewashed Indian, then you have to realize this was a result of your actions. I don’t think people realize what they call “whitewashed minorities” is a result of what they’ve done to that person. 

Lily Littrell: I absolutely hated my brown eyes when I was younger. I have a white family so I was surrounded by blue eyes as the beauty standard. I hated how I didn’t have them. I don’t anymore, but I always desperately wanted colored contacts and to dye my hair.

Andy Tran: Though this was years before the pandemic, I felt like I was disconnected from Vietnamese culture. Looking back, I’m proud of the progress I have made. I’m looking forward to trying an áo dài (Vietnamese national garment) for the first time.

Normalized Asian Discrimination

Simran Mohanty: As an Indian American, stereotypes and biases definitely impact me personally. It’s definitely become normalized, casual racism for me. Because even if I haven’t faced a violent kind of discrimination, I’ve always been impacted by the stereotypes that people make of me and the biases that a person will hold before they even like… meet me. They’ll always see me as an Indian and they’ll already make a first impression of me without me even speaking because of those stereotypes. And with a lot of those stereotypes can be really harmful because it’s just like a person is just reduced down to their ethnicity or race.

Lily Littrell: I completely agree that everything is normalized in our community. The Model Minority status perpetuates the typical stereotypes and AAPIs typically accept it. I think people think of racism against Asians as a joke. It makes me frustrated but I also know that our culture is very different from American culture and so it makes it hard to change years and years of practice and accepting the negatives.

Simran Mohanty: I can see on social media an immigrant man talking about something and they’ll have broken English. And they’ll literally be doing nothing but just talking and suddenly I’ll see comments like “look at them they’re such a fob” or “look at them, they probably are pedophiles.” I’ll see all these stereotypical comments and it’s just really disgusting to see that. Let me get this point straight, I know that muslims are not the cause for 9/11, but people have mistaken me as muslim and they will kind of shift the 9/11 racism towards me and it’s honestly kind of really scary how they’ll be reduced to that violent nature with me.  I haven’t faced racism but I have been called a lot of names. I’ve been called “a living bomb.” It’s just sad that people will always see color before they see a person. 

I am a very pessimistic person, and I simply don’t believe that we can change that because racism is so deeply rooted in this country that it’s just like it would take absolute centuries to even unfold all the racism. Because honestly, the system was built on racism. The system was built to literally put minorities at a disadvantage. So I don’t really think we can do much, but kind of like keep fighting and trying. There will always be improvements and progress but I don’t think we can ever stop the racism or biases or stereotypes.

Andy Tran: We’ve come a long way from prejudice. I believe since there is a diverse culture in the community there is a lot of learning that is accompanied by the introduction of new perspectives into the area, so we’re a lot more open and better prepared to interact with people that might not fit in the “de facto” categories: in other words, being mindful of others. Despite that, there are people in the community that normalize prejudice, and I feel sad. 

Intersectionality: Where ‘Asian’ Meets Gender, Age, etc

Model Minority:

Many have pointed out that racial violence against Asian Americans is often overlooked due to persistent stereotypes about the community, “There is a stereotype and an assumption that Asian Americans have class privilege, that they have high socioeconomic status and education, and that any discrimination doesn’t really happen or feel legitimate,” says Bianca Mabute-Louie, a racial justice educator. “There are these assumptions about ways that Asian Americans have ‘succeeded’ in this country.” The pervasiveness of the model minority myth is a large contributing factor to the current climate. That false idea, constructed during the Civil Rights era to stymie racial justice movements, suggests that Asian Americans are more successful than other ethnic minorities because of hard work, education, and inherently law-abiding natures. “This contributes to erasing the very real interpersonal violence that we see happening in these videos, and that Asian Americans experience from the day-to-day, things that don’t get reported and the things that don’t get filmed.” (Mabute-Louie)

Attacks on Older Women:

The theory of intersectionality is lately proving to be true.  This theory suggests a person who belongs to or holds multiple identities of marginalized identities is more likely to face discrimination.  This is like the attacks on older Asian people in San Francisco, and on Asian Women in Atlanta.  There are many theories as to why the elderly and women have been targeted more than men in acts of Anti-Asian discrimination. As far as women are concerned in recent events, Jennifer Ho from a CNN article states, “To be an Asian woman in America, working in a place called Youngs Asian Massage — as several of the shooting victims were — means having men assume you are a sex worker, that you are not what you are: a human being worthy of dignity and respect like every other person — you can’t work safely from home; you have to earn tips in the service industry; you have to put up with abuse from customers because in America the customer is always right, especially when that customer is a man.”

With women, it oftentimes relates back to how throughout history they are seen as stereotypically inferior. Therefore, they are thought to be less able to defend or speak up for themselves. However, the issue is that race and gender identity end up being a problem. This is the reality of the racism and sexism that many faced. In an NBC news article, it is stated that there is an evident fetishization of Asian women and that this plays a crucial part in the violence that they faced. “I’ve been cornered on the street as men say ‘me love you for a long time.’ I’ve been offered money for a ‘happy ending massage.’ I’ve been hit on because I’m Asian and told it’s a ‘compliment.'”

For the elderly, there have been many cases where they were targeted. The stereotype, which is similar to that for women, is that they will not fight back. However, this was not the case for a 75-year-old-woman in San Francisco who was punched by an attacker. She fought back, and he was sent to the hospital on a stretcher. Even so, the victim was still standing as she had been bleeding and appeared to have her face swollen from a punch. According to ABC11, “This most recent incident happened shortly after police received a call about an 83-year-old Asian-American man who had been attacked in the area…. According to KPIX, the woman was heard repeating in Chinese, “You bum, why did you hit me?” and then turning to the crowd and saying “This bum, he hit me.” When authorities arrived, the man was handcuffed and placed on a stretcher, where he appeared to be bleeding from his mouth. The woman had a bruise on her eye.”

There has been another example where elderly members of the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community have been targeted. There have been more than twenty attacks that were reported in the small Asian American town: Chinatown, located in Oakland California. Here, many Asian Americans faced harassment or discrimination in their own area. According to ABC News, “…police arrested Yahya Muslim, 28, who faces charges of assault and elder abuse in three of the 20 incidents reported in a series of unprovoked attacks targeting Asians in Oakland’s Chinatown including the assault on the 91-year-old man, according to Oakland authorities.” Family members of the victims are also fearful for their families and themselves. “The granddaughter of a 71-year-old woman who was robbed on the sidewalk in Oakland, California, learned of the incident when she received a call from her grandmother.Other than a few bruises, the elderly woman did not sustain any major injuries but her granddaughter told ABC News, “She’s traumatized.”

“It was kind of hard for me to even watch it,” she said. “So it’s traumatizing for me to even, you know, be outside … to not look twice or the third time to see if I’m being followed or someone suspicious, just like come up to me, you know what I mean?”

How the Parkview Community Can Celebrate Asian Culture

Andy Tran: I’ve had a lot of exposure to Asian culture through food, particularly along Pleasant Hill Road and Buford Highway, as well as at home. I think the Asian restaurants lining those streets do a good job of representing Asian culture, which makes me proud of my heritage. [There’s also] a news outlet called “Nextshark” that reports Asian American news, and a Facebook group called “Asian Americans with Republican Parents Support Group,” consisting of Asian-Americans having to deal with the ideological gap between their elders and themselves. I also mentioned it (discrimination) to a teacher when I went to email her, and she was very understanding of the situation at hand. Something she said that stuck to me was, “It is human nature to care for and love one another. We’re a communal species. Anyone who wants to do harm, well, they’re the outlier.” 

Jaime Chen: [Parkview’s] International night was a great way to represent my culture and made me feel validated.

Lily Littrell:  [Parkview’s] International night was such a fun experience for me to see ALL the cultures and how proud everyone was of their culture. Also, there are lots of amazing student-led groups that help support AAPIs. My friends are a great support system as well. 

What do you want non-Asian allies to know? 

Jaime Chen: Speak with us, not for us! Donate to AAPI organizations and be there for your friends of color.

Lily Littrell: Be kind. Just be kind. Don’t make any jokes that have been normalized like [calling Asian people] “dog eaters.” Let your Asian friends know you support them and if you ever see someone being harassed speak up. Use your privilege, please. Our community is in pain and hurting and we need help.

Andy Tran: Now is always a better time to speak up against anti-Asian racism. It costs zero dollars to make a difference in someone’s life.

Resources/Ways to Help

Although there are many nuances to the Asian American struggle, the underlying truth is that they’re not alone. In this feature article, the Pantera staff has curated a list of different resources for both AAPI and AAPI allies to use. While there are thousands of organizations on the internet that focus on a multitude of ways of empowering and advancing AAPI such as through job development and student opportunities, this list brings resources that focus and bring light primarily on the recent events that have affected the AAPI community: fighting AAPI hate and hate crimes.