[The hatred] is something that has been building up for a while.
CW: Hate crimes toward Asian Americans: recounts statements of verbal and physical abuse.
Violence in Our Streets
They’re blaming an entire population for something that isn’t our fault.
“Hate crimes against Asians] wouldn’t be happening if the pandemic wasn’t all your fault.”
Emma Lee ’24 received this comment on Instagram after posting screenshots of recent headlines that documented anti-Asian violence. She believes the comment encapsulates the motives behind the increased hate crimes against Asian Americans, which have been progressively documented by the media and social justice organizations in the past year.
“[People] are blaming an entire population for something that isn’t our fault,” Lee said.
With the total COVID-19 case count in the United States nearing 30 million and the death count over 500,000 as of March, the coronavirus has become the biggest medical crisis of the decade. However, another crisis has been spreading almost as quickly as the virus itself: the violence and xenophobia against Asian Americans, and those against East and Southeast Asians in particular.
This violence has affected many Wellesley students, with some Asian students reporting their experiences with xenophobia. According to students, these feelings are exacerbated by the lack of acknowledgement of the rise in hate crimes by Wellesley’s administration.
“I do feel unsupported when I don’t see anything regarding [Wellesley not putting out a statement]. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way,” said Gaby Kim ’23, the co-first year liaison for Wellesley Pan Asian Council.
Along with their feelings of doubt and instability with the current state of the country, some Wellesley students have noted that they have received little support from their fellow students. A sentiment shared by those who were interviewed was that while they feel that most Wellesley students are aware of the issues, not many do much beyond sharing posts on Instagram and Twitter and agreeing that the attacks are horrible. Most advocacy towards ending anti-Asian violence, then, comes from Asian students themselves.
“I feel like they know about it but don’t really do much about it,” Kim said on student awareness of the attacks on the Asian community. “I wish they showed a little bit more support.”
Lee also felt that the lack of support could be due to the shortage of media attention these attacks have garnered. “[The attacks have gained] a little bit of traction on social media, but these attacks have been happening for a whole year.”
Despite the large number of attacks, the recent calls to action for the Asian community have had a slower start. A sentiment shared by some Asian students is that the Asian community does not like to bring attention to themselves or speak out about the issues at hand. Ashley He ’24 connected it to the model minority myth that the Asian community is subjected to.
“‘If you keep quiet, if you work hard, you’re gonna succeed in this country. So don’t say anything.’ I think that’s how a lot of Asian Americans are brought up. So I think with that, it was not really reported on much before COVID,” said He.
Many agreed that people being more aware of the current attacks and being educated on the Asian experience would be helpful in building solidarity between communities. Some Asian students have also asked for other communities to stop believing in the model minority myth, which has caused a lot of harm to their community.
Several Asian students at Wellesley have asked for the student body to take action, starting from a grassroots level. They suggested various actions such as holding events with the goal of educating the student body on the Asian experience, holding lectures on different cultures to breed understanding of other communities and simply having discussions about what’s been happening instead of ignoring it completely. Given the ease of connection over Zoom, these events could be more accessible to all students, providing more of the community with this vital information.
Some of these requests have been heard and events have been made to spread awareness and create solidarity within the Wellesley community, such as the lecture sponsored by the Office of Intercultural Education. The lecture, titled “Study, Struggle, and Radical Love: Afro-Asian Solidarities Building towards Liberation,” is meant to help bring the African American and Asian communities together to create a safer space for the two groups to reside in.
“[The hatred] is something that has been building up for a while,” Lee said. “The COVID-19 pandemic was really the straw on the camel’s back. I guess you could say that white people love treating Asians like the ‘good’ minority until it comes to something like the coronavirus. Then all of a sudden, we’re a scapegoat.”
Indeed, anti-Asian sentiment related to disease is hardly new. Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, has likened this rise of hate to the “yellow peril” of the 19th century, during which East Asian immigrants were stereotyped as a threat to society. Coupled with the fact that former US President Donald Trump constantly referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” Kulkarni argues that many people have been conditioned to readopting the familiar formula of blaming another minority.
“My grandparents have had a verbal altercation on the streets,” Lee said. “A middle-aged white man passing by in broad daylight told them to go back to their country.”
While Lee is grateful the incident didn’t become violent, she is still afraid something will happen to her grandparents. “If this has happened once to them, then I can totally see the worst outcome happening a second time to them,” Lee said.
Lee’s fears are not without reason. Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, an organization tracking anti-Asian discrimination, had received more than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from mid-March to December of 2020, which is an 150 percent increase from the previous year. The organization and others have also strived to raise awareness of the violence of these attacks in which victims are severely hurt or killed.
For example, according to CNN, on Feb. 3, a 64-year-old woman was robbed in San Jose, California while in her vehicle. On the same day, a 61-year-old Filipino man in the New York city subway was slashed in the face with a box-cutter on his way to work. On Feb. 13, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant died in San Francisco from an unprovoked attack on his morning walk. Days later, in Oakland’s Chinatown, a 91-year-old Asian man was violently shoved to the ground.
On the East Coast, a 39-year-old woman in Brooklyn was doused with a caustic chemical and burned taking out her trash in early April. In July, an 89-year-old woman was similarly lit on fire near her Brooklyn home. In Feb., an Asian pizzeria owner was left unconscious following a violent robbery, and an elderly woman suffered stitches after being pushed to the ground in Queens.
The reasons for these attacks are complicated, but many critics and journalists attribute them back to the racist rhetoric instigated by politicians such as Trump. According to TIME, not only does the term “Chinese virus” blame a country for this medical disaster, but it also reinforces a long-standing tradition in America where diseases are used to justify anti-Asian xenophobia. In fact, TIME believes that this racist language has directly shaped the Asian American community as “perpetual foreigners,” forcing them to shoulder the responsibility of this pandemic.
What further incites this issue is the fact that Asians are seen as easy targets for crime. According to John C. Yang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, language and cultural barriers often prevent Asian victims from reporting these incidents, and internalized stereotypes make protests difficult. Lee has felt first-hand how difficult it can be to openly protest against xenophobia.
“Specifically when it comes to people trying to advocate against these Asian American attacks,” Lee said, “[social media comments will] say stuff like ‘Asian racism doesn’t really exist, it doesn’t go anything past verbal abuse,’ and that ‘Asians came here on their own free will.’”
Protesting for the Asian American community, or even reporting these incidents, becomes increasingly difficult when faced with language barriers. For many elderly citizens or Asian immigrants, an added burden may be that of their accents.
“My grandparents have a very thick and heavy Asian accent, and I think that makes them a lot more susceptible, and that the accent reminds people that they are Asian,” Lee said. “Nowadays, when people think of Asian, they think of the coronavirus.”
I’ve just never seen such prejudice against Asian Americans shown so broadly, and so close to my face.
Although many violent cases of anti-Asian hate crime have been documented by news outlets, civil rights advocates believe that most of the milder incidents go unreported. Numerous Wellesley students said they have come face-to-face with microaggressions. Lee shared that she experienced verbal attacks and aggression on and off campus, with people from her hometown of Phoenix, AZ consistently making comments about eating bats.
“In addition to us eating dogs, I ‘love’ being asked, ‘do you really eat bat soup?’ because that’s such a great comment,” Lee added, sarcastically.
Furthermore, while working at the mall, Lee’s Asian American coworker got spit on by a customer.
“I’ve just never seen such prejudice against Asian Americans shown so broadly, and so close to my face,” Lee said.
These acts of violence have had a large impact on Asian and Asian American Wellesley students. In fact, Lee admits that since the start of the pandemic, she has been made to feel embarrassed for being Asian.
“The little comments like that, especially when everybody was going through a hard time during the initial pandemic … [makes] being Asian embarrassing,” Lee said.
Although Lee added that she had not received similar comments outright at Wellesley, she noticed that it was much more likely to occur online under the mask of anonymity.
“Even on Twitter, so many people just ignorantly ask ‘Can Asians even be considered POC?’ By asking that, it totally suggests that Asians are just adjacent to white, but when you look a little bit deeper, that is just not the case,” Lee said. “I have no idea why there are so many arguments over [the anti-Asian attacks], I don’t see how it is, like, subjective to not want Asians to be attacked.”
Lee believes that the attacks and racial abuse manifesting on the internet is only a reflection of how ordinary it has become to target someone for their race.
“Social media, I think, has really exposed how normalized Asian — or specifically — Asian American racism is,” Lee said.
All Eyes On Admin
[The College] is just riding the wave of what every other mainstream media or school is talking about.
Over two months since the new year began and countless reported attacks against the Asian community later, the Wellesley administration still has not made a statement addressing the obvious targeting of Asians. Some Wellesley students wonder why there has not been an administrative response to these attacks.
He ’24 felt as though some of the College’s activism has been performative.
“They’re just riding the wave of what every other mainstream media or school is talking about,” said He.
He also hypothesized that Wellesley’s hesitation to make a statement may be based on the lack of attention the attacks have received from the academic community. Some other students hold the view that Wellesley believes its Asian students would not want to bring up their grievances or “cause ripples,” as Eugenie Park’24 put it.
Despite the administration’s reticence, Wellesley students have been trying to support their classmates. Students have been seen actively speaking out about these injustices with Instagram posts and stories dedicated to shedding light on the recent transgressions. However, students are being asked by members of the Asian community to do more than just post in recognition of the events.
“[I wish that] people would understand the Asian experience a bit more instead of just accepting Asians on face as this invisible force that is navigating the world without anyone paying attention to them” said Park.
Instead of being complacent, He ’24 hopes that other communities will do more to understand the struggle of Asians.
“[Help] amplify voices from Asian Americans, especially weaker groups like the elderly. And don’t blatantly [eat] up the xenophobic things from the American media,” said He.
“I think a lot of us often don’t feel very seen when it comes to the challenges we face as Asian students here, and I would personally feel very validated by even just a simple ‘We see you, and we are here for you,’” said Park.