Stop AAPI Hate

Stop AAPI Hate

Pulled by the opportunity of striking it rich in gold, East Asians began to immigrate across the Pacific Ocean during U.S. westward expansion. In 1871, amid Pacific Coast race riots, a white and Hispanic mob lynched 18 Chinese Americans – what was, at the time, ten percent of the Los Angeles Chinese population. The ten white men tried for the murders went unconvicted. This incident later became known as the Chinese Massacre, and anti-Asian sentiment only grew in the following years.

Most notably, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the first and only federal legislation to limit immigration by race. Founded on perceptions of Chinese migrant workers as inferior and unclean, it followed an 1875 act limiting immigration of Chinese women seen as lewd and immoral. Similarly, in the early 20th century, the United States’ heavy-handed colonial rule of the Philippines was justified through the mischaracterization of Filipino people as uncivilized.

Less than half a century after the Chinese Massacre, the Bellingham Riots occurred in Washington. A mob of nearly 500 white men attacked the homes, businesses, and families of Punjabi South Asian migrant workers in September of 1907. In a little over a week, all South Asians, fearing for their safety, fled the area. The vitriol of the Bellingham Asiatic Exclusion League, dedicated to their mission of preventing Asian immigration, was exacerbated by local anti-Asian newspapers.

An extension of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act of 1917 further restricted Asian immigration, requiring literacy tests and declaring the Asia-Pacific region as a “barred zone” for immigration.

Not only was anti-Asian hate crime unpunished and often endorsed but such hostility was also translated into attainment of citizenship. The 1923 Supreme Court case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind established Thind, a South Asian American, as ineligible for naturalization on basis of race. The court’s decision overturned that of lower federal and district courts which granted Thind naturalization. In his opinion of the court, Associate Justice George Sutherland wrote that “it is not likely that Congress would be willing to accept as citizens a class of persons whom it rejects as immigrants.”

Sutherland’s noted dismissal of Asian Americans as citizens was later reflected in the notorious 1942 to 1945 Japanese internment camps. In the devastating aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Americans became fearful that Japanese American citizens would act as spies for a Japanese invasion of the Pacific Coast. Pressured by public distress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 forced Japanese Americans — including those who were American citizens — into unregulated and isolated internment camps. The evacuees were stripped of both property and dignity.

More than eight decades after the initial Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1965 Immigration Act lifted immigration restrictions based on nationality. Regardless, the federal government continued to limit incoming immigrants based upon credentials. The act prioritized highly-educated doctors, scientists, and other professionals from non-Western nations.

With this in mind, the monolith of Asian Americans as the “model minority” quickly took hold. Sociologist William Peterson coined the term “model minority” in 1966, attributing the success of Japanese Americans to their cultural values and inclination for hard work.

Since then, the term maintains its illusory praise of Asian Americans, often upholding those who have fulfilled the American Dream while ignoring those who struggle to adjust. In fact, Asian Americans are one of the most socioeconomically diverse groups in the United States. The Pew Research Center states that Asian Americans “in the top 10% of the income distribution earned 10.7 times as much as Asians in the bottom 10%” (Kocchar and Cilluffo, 2018). Furthermore, the stereotype of Asian Americans as successful, hardworking, and obedient has historically been used to create racial division among minority groups with vastly different experiences.

The deceptive overgeneralization of Asian American success has been fatal for some. On June 19, 1982, Chinese American Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white autoworkers in Detroit, Michigan. The murderers targeted Chin due to national resentment of the growth of the Japanese auto industry during an oil crisis and economic recession. Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman declared that both of Chin’s killers “aren’t the kind of men you send to jail.” They were given probation and fined a mere $6,000 for manslaughter.

The oversight in justice for Chin and his grieving family sparked nationwide protests. Asian American civil rights organizations, including American Citizens for Justice, were formed. The U.S. Department of Justice investigated the case as a civil rights violation – the first time in history such a claim was pursued on behalf of an Asian American. Ultimately, though, neither of Chin’s murderers spent a single day in jail.

And that brings us up to date to 2021, the beginning of a brand new decade fraught with the remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic and a tumultuous political landscape after a historic election. The pandemic, partnered with xenophobic rhetoric, has led to an increase in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes.

There was an estimated 149% jump in hate crimes from 2019 to 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, and the number of reported hate crimes only seems to increase as 2021 progresses. Additionally, Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate, has recorded nearly 3,800 hate incidents during 2020, and there are plenty more that go unreported. Social media feeds are consistently filled to the brim with video after video showing horrific hate crimes. America finally reached its boiling point on March 16 when a series of mass shootings occurred at three spas in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Six of the eight victims were Asian women. Law enforcement has not yet ruled out charging the shooter with a hate crime in legal proceedings.*

In response to this horrific crime, the #StopAsianHate movement has emerged. The movement is being expressed in many forms, the most prominent of which is rallies, as people take to the streets to demonstrate their stand against discrimination. In the local Fort Wayne community, the First Presbyterian Church took it upon themselves to organize and conduct a March 20 rally on Clinton Street.

“We were out there demonstrating that (not only) what happened clearly was wrong, but that hatred was wrong,” Reverend Dr. Anne Epling, Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church, said. The First Presbyterian Church congregation has been a constant advocate for social reform. Epling also served on the Mayor’s Commission on Police Reform and Racial Justice. She notes that communication and trust have broken down in our community, especially between the people and the police, and that denial has persisted, making it difficult to reconcile. This prevents Asian Americans from having a platform to discuss their experiences, preventing a real conversation about how to stop discrimination.

“That’s what was so disheartening: people wanted to argue that (racism) doesn’t exist,” Epling said.

Her best piece of advice is to start making change, even at a local level. Talk to different people with opposing views and try to find common ground. She explains that because we have become so polarized politically, people surround themselves with others who have similar views, which prevents conversation.

Reverend Dr. Youngsoo An, Associate Pastor for the Korean Language Ministry at First Presbyterian Church, holds similar sentiments as his colleague.

“Difference does not mean that somebody has the right to decide which color is superior or inferior,” An said.

He then detailed his own brush with racism that occurred this year: a man had asked An a question drenched in racism, and it was a very painful incident. At the time, An said nothing.

“If I meet that situation again, I will say something,” An says. He emphasizes the idea that everyone is created equally, and that discrimination holds no place in our society. To An, the First Presbyterian Church had a simple message they wanted to express through their peaceful rally: racism is wrong, in any form.

Of course, attending a rally is not the only way to cast a spotlight on issues that plague the Asian American community. Yeyoon Song (10) started a fundraiser in the name of the American Association for Justice to spread awareness and to promote unity in Fort Wayne. He believes that our city is one of the more diverse and accepting communities, yet stereotypes and microaggressions persist.

“I think a lot of teenagers might think they don’t have any power or any ability to stop discrimination and racism from happening in today’s society, but I personally think that we have a lot of power to make changes,” Song says. He believes that social media is a particularly powerful tool.

Song also discusses his frustration with how Asian American history is overlooked in schools, often leading to a general disregard of anti-Asian discrimination.

“I think (racism toward Asian Americans) went unnoticed because we never had a big movement that really captured the media, but I think after the event in Atlanta, it really was just pent-up frustration,” Song said.

But for those discouraged from signing countless petitions and sharing what seems to be pointless posts on social media, change is coming.

On April 14, the Illinois House of Representatives passed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act by a vote of 98 to 13. The bill mandates that Asian-American history be taught in schools. It still has yet to go through the Senate for deliberation, but, if passed, Illinois will be the first state to mandate Asian American history in public schools.

Other than rallies and fundraisers, there are organizations dedicated to having conversations about Asian American history and discrimination. In fact, there is one such group that Homestead students can easily attend: Asian Alliance.

“We’ve talked about the Stop Asian Hate movement and we’re going to continue to talk about it,” Asian Alliance President Hannah Groeneweg (10) said. One of her main points was the necessity of keeping the spotlight on anti-Asian hate crimes relevant. The best way to do this is to keep the conversation going.

“Not many people were talking about it so people didn’t see it,” Groeneweg said. “It starts with the individual person.”

In addition to an emphasis on individual action, she hopes to unite people of both Asian and non-Asian descent through the sharing of experiences, culture, and traditions. Asian Alliance celebrates differences in Asian cultures through the play of traditional games, trying traditional snacks, and culture days, where each person makes a presentation to educate others about one specific culture.

Groeneweg noted the striking lack of knowledge about Asian culture, highlighting Asian Alliance as a space of open-mindedness and learning. Her own experience with racial ignorance motivated her to take a position of leadership in the club. Groeneweg recalled a common scenario she faced when bringing a traditional food from her culture to lunch, only to be met with rude remarks about the food’s smell or appearance. Microaggressions such as this, much of the time done unknowingly, reinforce the identity of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners.

She further details the impact that one person can have by simply educating others when it comes to race. Educating a person, as well as letting them know that their action or behavior is wrong, is the most important part of a confrontation.

Asian Alliance is held every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Room 117. All are welcome to join, just remember to bring an open mind!

*Current as of April 20, 2021

Originally Published in the Spartana Issue 7 (April 2021)