The Asian Voice

Not the best of times for Asian Americans: Inquirer columnist

The writer says the animosity toward Asian Americans may continue to worsen, especially with a looming election in 2022.

Activists hold signs at McPherson Square in Washington, DC, on March 21, 2021
Activists hold signs at McPherson Square in Washington, DC, on March 21, 2021 PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Last week, six Asian American women, four of Korean descent, were killed in shootings in the US state of Georgia. Some may consider this to be an isolated case but according to research released by a forum Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) Hate, close to 3,800 anti-Asian incidents were reported from March 2020 to February 2021, with 68 per cent of the attacks directed against women.

In 2021 alone, roughly more than 500 incidents took place. Verbal harassment and shunning were the most common types of bias with physical assault making up a third of the total incidents. The mass shooting in Atlanta is perhaps the latest fall-out from the poisoned legacy of the previous president. Unfortunately, there are no signs that things will improve. In fact, they may worsen in the coming months as Americans gear up for another election in 2022.

In an Instagram video, Amanda Nguyen, an Asian-American civil rights activist and a Nobel Peace Prise nominee, spoke out against the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, a Thai-American who was shoved to the ground while taking a walk in San Francisco, the assault and robbery of a 64-year-old Vietnamese American grandmother in San Jose, and the attack on a 61-year-old Filipino whose face was slashed with a box cutter in a New York City subway. While the attacks have been nationwide, reports indicate an upsurge of incidents by 150 per cent in 2020, mostly in New York and Los Angeles.

An article by Kimmy Yam, of NBC Asian America, throws more light on the problem. According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of Demographic Data and Policy Research of nonprofit AAPI Data, the rise cannot be attributed solely to President Trump's incendiary, racist rhetoric about the coronavirus but he believes that Trump's repeated mention of the "Chinese virus" played a major part in fostering hate against Asian Americans. In effect, what Trump did was to weaponize it in shaping his narrative of events.

Ramakrishnan said a 2020 study examined Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants during his presidential campaign - when he referred to them as "rapists"-and found that the inflammatory remarks emboldened certain members of the American public and gave them licence to express deeply held prejudices. Researchers called this the "Trump effect." A separate study revealed the use of "Chinese virus" to refer to the coronavirus, particularly by Republican officials and conservative outlets, resulted in a shift in how people in the United States perceive Asian Americans. Ramakrishnan cautioned against "simplistic understanding of what's going on…but the reality is that there is an increase in the number of Asian Americans who feel unsafe."

Going back to the Atlanta killings, police say that the suspect, a white man, Robert Long, with a history of sexual addiction problems, may not have been motivated by racial hatred. Nevertheless, both President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first individual of Asian descent to occupy the nation's second-highest position, made it a point to visit Atlanta and go on nationwide television urging Americans to stand up against bigotry. Biden said, "Our silence is complicit. We cannot be complicit." For her part, Harris said, "Racism is real in America. And it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America and always has been. Sexism, too… the President and I will not be silent. We will not stand by. We will always speak out against violence, hate crimes, and discrimination wherever and whenever it occurs."

I have an Asian American granddaughter in Illinois.

Nicole is a senior at Loyola University in Chicago. She has also chosen not to remain silent and has posted her views on Instagram.

"The racist hate crimes towards BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) and AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) that have been rampant all across the US since the start of the pandemic are not new. They are the result of a broken system that must begin to acknowledge and respect the very people it destroys. This is not about mitigating the oppression of one minority group over another. This is about standing together in support of the BIPOC and AAPI communities. And this begins with individuals refusing to stay silent about what is happening. Everyone killed was somebody to someone and an incredible light in this world that went out too early."

The writer is a columnist for the paper. The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.