At the start of this month, we got together and planned out exciting blog posts about mentorship, life in grad school, and fun science topics to share with you all. Since then, mass shootings and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes shook the country, leaving us both speechless. It didn’t seem appropriate to post anything else on the blog before posting this message first.
We are both Asian American; Ayumi’s single mother and both of Phuong’s parents are immigrants to the US. We are proud of this heritage. Our parents are the hardest working people we know, literally leaving their homes to pave new lives in a new country, and yet they are also the humblest and most selfless people. They have invested everything they had to take care and provide for us, and we contribute so much of who we are today to their efforts. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for them, to not only learn a completely new language and find work, but also to raise families in a completely foreign land? Many Asian Americans’ stories start out this way, and that is why we relate so much to the families affected by the recent upticking string of hate crimes. It breaks our hearts to hear that victims of hate crimes are being targeted for nothing more than their accent, or the color of their skin, or the way their eyes are shaped. These people are grandmothers buying groceries, waiters waiting for their next tip, and salon workers working overtime to make rent to pay for the roof over their heads. The next victims could be anyone.
Anti-Asian hate itself is not new, and we hate to admit that what happened in Atlanta, Georgia is not surprising. In fact, anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise since 2020--there have been almost 3800 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, which is about a 150% rise compared to 2019. This country has a long and dark history of discrimination and racial violence against Asians, just like other communities of color in America. Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, there was the 1875 Page Act which prevented people from “China, Japan or any Oriental country” from entering the country for “lewd or immoral practices”. This act was de facto used to prevent the immigration of Chinese women because they were believed by white men to be promiscuous. Chinese women attempting to immigrate were subjected to invasive and humiliating interrogations by U.S. immigration officials and turned away. This historical Act highlights the intersection between racism and sexism that leads to violence against women of color. The far reaching effects of racist misogyny were felt with the shooting of primarily Asian women in Asian-owned businesses because the murderer deemed them to be a “temptation” for his sexual addiction. We want to point out that this mass shooting was racially motivated whether the killer says it is or not. He didn’t go to white-owned businesses, he found Asian women to be a temptation and chose to drive to different Asian-owned spas specifically to harm Asian women. That is both racist and sexist. If you find yourself trying to dig for reasons to show that this is not racially motivated and are taking a mass murderer at his word that he’s not racist, kindly stay away from us.
We could discuss at length the historical events from the 1800s to now that culminate in the anti-Asian hate and discrimination that is endemic in America, but honestly we feel pretty exhausted at the moment. This pervasive toxicity is an undercurrent to our (and many other Asian Americans’) experiences. We have both felt immediate fear for the safety of our families, and news of increasing hate crimes in our communities have rested heavily on our minds. Perhaps the scariest thing about anti-Asian hate crimes is the randomness of the perpetrator demographic. To make matters worse, there is very little data on anti-Asian hate crimes, and it is difficult to track as many crimes go unreported. There is a stereotype that Asians are submissive and passive, and therefore tend to not report or take action against wrongdoings. It is time to break this stereotype and speak up for the AAPI community, and really, any community affected by racial discrimination. This past year, more than any other year, has taught us the power our voice holds.
We are grieving for all of the families affected and hurt by anti-Asian hate, and are working towards organizing important discussions surrounding discrimmination in our program. While this message is short, it is by no means easy for us to post. Thank you all for your patience as we heal from the emotional turmoil these past few weeks have been. In times like these it is hard to be a scientist and dealing with the clockwork that is academia. Grant deadlines are still due, experiments still need to be run. It can be hard to take a breath and slow down to grieve properly, but we are doing the best we can. With so much negativity in the world right now, we hold every one of our supporters closer to our hearts.