Hyunji (Hannah) Lee is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at Georgia State University. Her research and clinical interests include acculturative stress, self-esteem, positive relationships, and family dynamics in the Asian American community. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a minor in Asian Studies from the University of Florida, and a Master’s degree in Education in Prevention Science and Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She serves as the Expansion Coordinator for the Asian American Psychological Association and as an Equity Consultant for multi-million dollar companies based in New York City. – Ed
I made wonderful friends at Harvard. A particular group that stands out to me is a group of five that I met through a student organization called Pan-Asian Coalition for Education. Although it’s been three years since we’ve graduated, we still keep in regular contact. One of these friends, Andrew, is now working as a consultant in New York City, but he recently made the decision to move to Baltimore. When I asked him how he felt about the transition, he replied that he had mixed feelings of excitement but also fear that he would be targeted for violence once he moves simply because he is Asian. Although in Asia there is differentiation to one’s country of origin (e.g., “I am Korean, you are Chinese), in the U.S., those from the continent of Asia is grouped together under the umbrella of “Asian American.” His response came as a shock to me as Andrew is one of the kindest, well-educated, and most successful people I know.
NBC news, a national media outlet in the U.S., reported on March 9th, 2021 that anti-Asian hate crimes had increased nearly 150% in 2020 (NBC, 2021). Hate crimes, also known as biased-motivated crimes, is a prejudice-motivated crime (such as assault, murder, arson, etc) that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership to a certain social group or racial demographic (Wikipedia, 2021).
What has anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. looked like? Asian women have been punched with no provocation. Asian businesses have been vandalized. Children have been stabbed in the streets. A group that has been particularly targeted has been older Asian immigrants in their 60s and 70s. This is acutely malicious, as elderly first-generation immigrants tend to underreport acts of race-based discrimination and are a vulnerable population due to their limited English-speaking abilities and financial/social capital. As honoring and respecting elders is a shared value in many Asian countries, these targeted attacks have sparked newfound grief and rage for Asian Americans across the country.
A specific anti-Asian hate crime that became internationally known was the murder of 6 Asian women at a beauty spa in Atlanta, Georgia. Four of the six that were killed were Korean, all immigrants who sought a better life in America. They were wives, mothers, friends, sisters, and grandmothers. Some were single parents, and some worked two to three jobs to support their families. The killer, a White young man in his twenties, blamed a sex addiction for his brutal killing and denied allegations that his actions were motivated by race. However, it should be noted that the devaluing of the lives of Asian women in the U.S. has always included the marginalizing intersection of gender and race. Furthermore, most recently, the prosecutor of Fulton County in Georgia has determined that the Atlanta shooting was indeed a hate crime, and the killer faces the most severe penalty in American governance. However, when considering the lost lives of the victims, there is still much to grieve.
Experts have attributed the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes to former President Trump’s rhetoric of blaming those of Chinese descent for the COVID-19 pandemic. His labeling of the pandemic as “Kung-Flu” and “The China Virus” has bolstered the American public to express hostility and act in discriminatory ways towards Asian Americans, and there is certainly truth to these claims. However, most first, 1.5th, and second-generation Asian Americans will attest to the fact that racism and racial trauma to their communities have always been a part of their experiences. In fact, Asian Americans have been regarded as the “model minority,” a phrase weaponized by White politicians in the 1960’s regarding Asian Americans to delegitimize the Civil Rights Movement of African Americans. From this labeling of Asians as being “submissive,” “docile,” and “silent,” many Asian Americans have historically been silenced when it came to matters of race. Now, many Asian Americans are making sure this is no longer the case. They are drawing from the same power and resilience of those that came before them. They are channeling the strengths of the very first-generation Asian immigrants who are being attacked, who made a life for themselves in a foreign country in order to enact change.
As a friend, my shock and feelings of sadness that Andrew is starting a new season of his life with fears that he will be attacked still linger. However, I am reminded of all of the obstacles and hardships that have been overcome by Asian Americans before us. This assures me that we are strong in the face of fear and violence, and the strength of the community will be our safe place.
[Weeklymonday No.60 Monday, May 31, 2021]