“Our stories aren’t told”: a discourse on anti-Asian hate and how to move forward

By Kailyn Rhone

Protestors gather at a Stop Anti-Asian Racism & China Bashing Rally in Washington DC, March 2021.Photo: Elvert Barnes Photography / flickr

The recent surge in attacks on Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, including the racially motivated shootings at three Atlanta spas, has sparked a nationwide movement to “Stop AAPI Hate.”

There is, perhaps, no better place to discuss this than UC Berkeley, which was the home of the original Asian-American movement that began 50 years ago. Founded at Berkeley by then-student Yuji Ichioka, who is also credited with coining the term “Asian American,” the Asian American Political Alliance became a nationwide coalition of Asian Americans united in political and social action. This April, reflecting on renewed conversation about racism against Asian Americans, UC Berkeley hosted three professors and two academic deans for a virtual event discussing “The Long History and Present Surge of Anti-Asian Violence.”

“This panel is not just about the recent, horrific attacks on Asians, but it seeks to situate this violence in both the history and the present of this nation’s life,” said Dean of the Division of Social Sciences and event moderator Raka Ray. “It’s dedicated to the Asian and Asian-American students who asked us to do something that showed that they, and their histories of being in this country, mattered.”

This sentiment was shared by School of Public Health dean, Michael Lu. “Many of us in the [AAPI] community have been feeling invisible for much of our lives,” said Lu. “Invisible, because our history isn’t taught in the schools. Our stories aren’t told in the media. Our contributions often go unrecognized. Our struggles, our pains often go unnoticed.”

Pointing to former president Donald Trump’s use of the term the “Chinese virus,” Ray emphasized that this is not the first time white Americans have unfairly blamed and alienated the Asian community.

“The history of scapegoating and threat does not begin in 2020, or 1982, or even 1942. It is part and parcel of the racial and gendered makeup of the nation,” said Ray. “And yet, the Asian-American story is not really part of the nation’s dominant narrative about race or gender.”

Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and Berkeley Ph.D., corroborated Lu’s analysis of historical injustices against the Asian community: “We knew that when COVID-19 was arriving from China that Asians would be blamed…and targeted with violence and be met with racist policies because that’s been our history.”

In March 2020, Jeung helped create and launch a website, Stop AAPI Hate, to document the surge of anti-Asian sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Jeung, roughly 3,800 incidents, including coughing and spitting attacks, physical assaults, verbal harassment, and civil rights violations, were reported to the website between March 2020 and February 2021.

“I knew that unless we documented the racism that we were experiencing, policymakers and the media wouldn’t pay attention to Asian Americans.”

He added: “Asian Americans are now under such a state of siege and have experienced racism that has been so damaging that they’re more concerned about other Americans and their hate than they are about a pandemic that killed half a million.”

Kimberly Hoang, associate professor of Sociology and Director of Global Studies at the University of Chicago, recalled last month’s shootings in Georgia—which resulted in the deaths of eight people, six of whom were Asian women—and how the tragedy played out in the media.

“The media portrays these events as, ‘What’s the story of why these women migrated to the United States? Why are they undocumented, or what were circumstances that brought them here?’” said Hoang. “But this is an American story. Anti-Asian violence is an American story.”

She urged a reclaiming of narratives from the media’s grasp, saying: “[We should] remember that at the heart of these shootings is an intelligent public starved for depth in understanding a group of women who were immigrant entrepreneurs, low-wage workers employed past their retirement age, single mothers, and real people whose lives and families are forever broken as a result of these devastating events.”

Hoang explained how the media reinforces stereotypes, characterizing the AAPI community as “submissive” or “docile.”

But what to do going forward? “We have to confront this long history of anti-Asian violence in order to understand how tenacious it has been and how tenacious it continues to be, and to figure out what each and every one of us can do to prevent and mitigate hate and harm,” said Professor of ethnic studies and an associate dean of undergraduate studies, Catherine Ceniza Choy. “I take heart that we, as Asian Americans, have many allies across racial and ethnic lines because our fates are interlinked. At stake is the health and well-being of our nation and world. We have no choice but to work together to stop Asian hate.”

This article was originally published on the California Magazine website.