By Y.P. Chan
For Northwest Asian Weekly
The ruthless and senseless killing of eight people—including six women of Asian descent in Georgia on March 16—touched the nerves and ignited deep anger inside Asians in the U.S. Through heavy rain, 3,000 people attended the Stop Asian Hate Rally in Seattle just four days after the shooting. The full spectrum of society arrived to show solidarity against all forms of racism and hatred. The turnout was unprecedented for an event organized by Asians in Seattle’s history. According to the nonprofit United Chinese Americans, more than 100 organizations in over 30 cities across the country brought over 100,000 people to stand together in vigil against violence and discrimination against Asians. This was a watershed moment that has shattered the “model minority” stereotype.
Asians in the U.S. have faced a long history of discrimination, beginning back when my ancestors from Taishan, Guangdong came to work as coolies in the Gold Rush to build railways in the 1850s. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and was repealed only in 1943. During WWII, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in concentration camps. In the 1950s, many Chinese American scientists were persecuted or discriminated against during the era of McCarthyism, leading to an exodus of top Chinese scientists returning to China. The Detroit murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 was a result of auto industry fueled, anti-Japanese sentiment. In the past year, Trump’s “China Virus” rhetoric has brought tremendous amounts of hatred and violence against Asians. Countless Asian Americans and Asian-owned businesses have been subject to xenophobic discrimination and hate crimes.
This most recent heinous shooting reflects a rising public crisis and is an act of terrorism against all Asian Americans. Anti-Asian hate crime in 16 of America’s largest cities increased by 149% in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Enough is enough! Asian Americans are fighting back! When 76-year-old grandma Xie from San Francisco’s Chinatown was assaulted by a racist, she struck back, sending her attacker to the hospital after she was punched in the eye. The editor of Vogue Teen was forced to resign after her anti-Asian racist tweets surfaced. Anti-Asian politicians can only wait for the other shoe to drop.
These events have stirred Asians across America. We realize that “hate is a virus.” We have been treated like second class citizens in the U.S. for too long. The challenge is finding a way to convert our suppressed feelings of anger into a sustainable movement that can guarantee the basic human protection we deserve. More importantly, how can Asians continue the journey of political engagement and find themselves in government for true representation?
On top of this, Asians are the most socio-economically polarized demographic in America, with the success of highly educated and skilled workers overshadowing the large population of undereducated Asian immigrants who are struggling.
Moving forward, Asian communities need to exercise our political power at the ballot box, support and donate toward politicians who represent Asian interests, and demand accountability. The 22 million Asian residents in the U.S. can be a powerful voice in a highly polarized political system. Better yet, Asian Americans need to groom and support the next generations of Asian political leaders and activists who can continue to build a coalition with others against all forms of racism and discrimination. The “model minority” Asians are waking up, and it is time for real political action.
Y.P. Chan is a principal of Chanden Inc., an advisory board member at UW Bothell Business School, and a visiting executive lecturer at Darden Business School.