In times of tragedy, it is easy to be consumed by despair, anger, fear, cynicism, and even hate.
We ask ourselves the most basic questions. Why? What’s the point? What can be salvaged from senseless violence and ignorance?
Yet there is a point. And you get to decide what that point is. That is the fundamental power of the human experience.
We can be consumed by anger and fear, or feel all those things and still reach out to our community. We can isolate ourselves, or ask how someone else is doing, accept outreach and love from those around us. We can dwell in despair, or double down on the pride, love, and the perseverance of our people — what they came up against, and pushed through.
Many are grieving, and still processing everything that has happened in this tumultuous past year and divisive times, including the rise in violence against the Asian American community — from the senseless murders last month to the increasing hostility, whether in the form of racial slurs or physical attacks.
According to StopAAPIHate, nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents against Asian Americans have been reported in the past year. Based on police department statistics across major U.S. cities, anti-Asian American hate crimes rose nearly 150% (Source: CBS News)
Grief needs to be processed. The names and lives of those unjustly attacked or killed need to be acknowledged. Let’s focus on their lives, our shared humanity, and not the attackers. While the media has a responsibility, we can all contribute — by not giving hate and bigotry a greater platform, in not focusing on the attackers’ “justification” for killing innocent people.
Let’s have more meaningful conversations about the systemic issues that have led to more hate and violence, from the lack of U.S. history education about the contributions of American Indian, Black, Hispanic and Asian American communities to the growing economic divide that festers into misunderstanding, fear, and scapegoating.
In a global pandemic, we are humans first. The only path forward that does not eat us alive, is one of love, open-mindedness, and continued resolve to persist, despite our doubts and loss.
Honestly reflecting on my own experiences, I imagine many of us at one point or another growing up have felt some amount of shame about being Asian American. Maybe it was the food we ate that was different from our friends and classmates, or the halting accented English our parents or the first generation spoke, or all the stereotypes about the “model minority” we labored against to show our individuality, our humanity.
Perhaps at times, we wondered whether our culture had been reduced, simplified, commodified, caricatured into a 2-D cartoon of takeout containers, kung fu movies, and fortune cookies.
Maybe only in learning about Asian American history, did we start to see that our culture, history and community represent so much more. Maybe it almost made us feel shame that we had ever felt ashamed in the first place, a sense of emboldened pride and love for the contributions Asian Americans have made to every facet of American life: infrastructure, the arts, literature, film, music, journalism, science, architecture, business and more.
We are not the model minority, invisible or silent to ourselves. When we look at each other, we see we do not “all look alike.” We see the boisterous stories, the diversity of our experiences, the American paradox of being “othered” yet part of the very fabric of this country.
So anyone who’s ever been called a chink, gook, the n-word, wetback, coon, Paddy, greaser, hillbilly or Okie likely understands this profound paradox: our cultures are what have helped create American culture, the American Dream. So perhaps, what is more American than being “othered”?
On a note of hope and outreach, many of us have been thinking about what we can do. Perhaps a starting point:
- Read, learn, and listen before you speak and offer solutions.
- Words matter — most of us do not choose to be hyphenated Americans. Unless referring to the global Asian population, use Asian American (not just Asian) because that is what we are: American.
- Learn about Asian American history — laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Japanese American incarceration camps of WWII, and more importantly all the positive contributions of Asian Americans.
- At the same time, let’s recognize our common humanity — no one should have to be exceptional, a steward of their community, or family person to deserve basic rights, safety, and human empathy.
- Think about ways you can exercise your voice and vote to change policies and education to instill a greater understanding of our shared American history, and provide equal opportunity so fewer people feel overlooked, forgotten, marginalized.
May our frustration and sadness eventually shift into resolve, pride, and renewed connection.
If you’re Asian American, feel free to leave a comment about your own experience or the name of someone you wish to honor or remember.
If you’re an ally, feel free to leave any words of support, love, friendship.
Kory Vargas Caro, Takeshi Furumoto, Scott Furumoto, Christina Peabody, Deborah Perry Piscione, Kashish Hora, Kathleen Koehler, Laura Stepp, John Stepp, Lucy Maddox, Bridget Kelley, Nils Reuter, Yaya Zhang