Being Asian American in 2021
Fueled by the racist and anti-Asian rhetoric by the previous administration, we have started to see a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes or over 3,800 incidents from February 2020 to March 2021. And these are only the ones that have actually been reported.
The tactic of scapegoating is so blatant that it reminds me of our world post-9/11 and the horrendous attacks against Arab Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, and anyone who was Brown passing. I have been thinking a lot about the time when I was an undergraduate at UNC and three students were shot dead in their own apartment simply for being Muslim.
While stunning and traumatizing, the reality of the increase in hate incidents was no surprise to many of us. At home here in Oakland, we lived next to a neighbor who regularly shouted anti-Asian chants from his dark apartment dimly lit by the TV usually tuned into FOX news. I filed an official complaint to our property manager with the following note back in April 2020:
April 27th 2020
“Hi Mike, We live in [address] and our next door neighbor in [apt #] has been shouting for hours at a time. On a typical day he sporadically yells or screams to himself. The yelling has intensified in the last couple of days and he is now yelling racist remarks that we can hear through our walls and courtyard.
Today, he yelled the following phrases for around 3 hours straight:
“Fuck China, fuck them all”
“Ban them all”
It goes without saying that he has agency to practice free speech, of course. However, the yelling and the shouting has been disruptive to us from work meetings to finding peace in our own apartment.
Let us know what/if anything can be done.
The complaints from us and our other neighbors didn’t deter this man from stopping his racist chants. The management asked us to write a formal complaint because they were going to be taking legal action. In our incident report, we asked that this be properly addressed but that he not be displaced from his home. The rate of houselessness here in Oakland is high and knowing this man’s mental state and lack of support (from what I could tell), I assumed he’d be in a vulnerable state if he were to be kicked out.
Fast forward a few months to November and the neighbor’s yelling and message emboldened:
I just walked past “apt #” hearing the resident yell with his front door open to “kill all the Chinese.” It sounds like he needs serious help. I know you’re already on it but wanted to let you know it seems to be getting worse. I don’t feel as much in imminent danger knowing he is mentally ill but also in the same light do feel like it can escalate to something worse if he’s not helped. Thanks,
A couple of weeks later, we intervened in an altercation between the racist neighbor and a man who lives in an adjacent apartment. While the man and his son were walking into their apartment, our neighbor shouted to them “fuck the Chinese.” The shouting match intensified and the man threatened to come across the fence to handle him. We hurried downstairs to the courtyard to let the man know that this neighbor has been shouting racist remarks for months and that he was mentally ill. The man with the child was so visibly shaken up — I know the feeling of being shouted at with racist remarks but to have your child with you and to have them hear this? I can only imagine the rage he must have felt.
Many complaints later, the neighbor finally halted all audible shouting that had been terrorizing the apartment complex. We ended up moving to a different unit. But as I have to walk past by his apartment to get to ours, it’s a constant reminder that I have a target on my back. I’ve imagined the worst possible scenario. What if something happens to me or my husband while we are walking the dogs or walking home? What if he escalates his verbal assault to physical? What if he really has nothing to lose?
The anti-Asian hate rhetoric has been a part of our history since there were Asians living in the US. This video produced by Eugene and the Try Guys does a great job explaining the deep rooted history of how Asians have been portrayed and negatively characterized since the start of Asian immigration. It also highlights the solidarity of the Black and Asian communities through history. We held a IG Live conversation on this topic here.
In February, my co-founder of Southpaw Stitches, Jess marched in a protest in NYC. There, she held up a sign that read: “LOVE OUR PEOPLE LIKE YOU LOVE OUR FOOD.” Since then, the message has resonated across many regions, communities, and around the world. We are asking people to remember the humanity of the people. We are quick to connect over good food and new cultural events but have a harder time really seeing each other.
I keep thinking back at a recent conversation I had with a man I met at my local car wash. As we waited for our cars to get done, we shared about our personal experiences with each other’s communities. We talked about how unless we have actual friends and personal relationships with people from other communities, that our perspectives and judgements of one another will often be shaped by the media that typically portrays minority groups in fantastical and one dimensional characters.
We released our Love Our People collection to bring more visibility and to take up more space. Many of us are from cultures where we are taught to keep quiet, to not complain, and to not cause a scene. But we’re exhausted. We’re exhausted from hiding ourselves and our own pain and playing into the minority myth that deems us invisible. There are many messages and phrases that speak to our pain and request and this is one from us: to love our people like you love our food. To love our people like you love our culture. To love our people like you love our skincare. To love our people like you love our music.
Let’s take time to really see the humanity in one another…