Asian-Americans struggle to reconcile a long and ugly history of AAPI racism

By Nylene Garcia
May 1, 2021

CHINATOWN, CA- When the coronavirus made its way to America, it took thousands of lives. However, it was not just the illness itself that killed citizens. The virus triggered 3,800 attacks on the AAPI community. The recent attacks on Asian Americans are just another event in the series of racist battles that this ethnic group has faced in the country.  

“It’s rooted in a very unfortunate and very long history of discrimination against many members of the Asian American community,” said Michael Berry, UCLA Professor in Asian Languages and culture. “From very early migration of chinese railroad workers and those who came during the gold rush period were subjected to all kinds of acts of violence and discrimination, not just playing out on a private level, but very much endorsed by the government.”

In March 2020, the former President Donald Trump called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” in a tweet. 

Many Asian Americans have been discriminated against and feel the paranoia as a whole. 

“I have been fearful ever since it even came that it was a China virus, but I’m not even Chinese,” said 34-year-old Cammie Park. “I feel like I’m going to be attacked either way.”

Racism towards the Asian American community is nothing new to its people, but the coronavirus has heightened the discrimination coming their way. 

“I grew up with a lot of microaggressions and stereotypes throughout my childhood and my life,” said Alice Kim. “So to me this, unfortunately, doesn’t sound new, but it does seem very much heightened.”

The Asian American community has banded together all over the country to put on local events such as vigils, speaking events, and rallies to build community and lean on each other for support.

In Chinatown, the organization “Skate Against Hate” put on a roller skating event to show solidarity with one another. Participants met at the corner of North Spring Street and West College Street and skated together to a “Stop Asian Hate” mural at 1700 Naud. 

“I had a woman yell at me to stay away from her. Not that I was close to her or not that anyone else was. More people were in proximity to her than me, but she specifically yelled at me to move away from her,” said Killo Kitty, an event organizer. 

Participants skated through Chinatown to a mural that says “Stop Asian Hate Crimes” and “Protect Our Elders.” Organizers shared their experiences with racism growing up and called for change. 

“The fact that my mother is out there having to go shopping, having to do things, and I’m always worrying about her. It’s really just been very intense for me the past year or so,” Kitty said. “We have to stand up and we have to say something.”

Elderly Asian Americans have been especially at risk in recent attacks, while younger ones announced their solidarity with them.

“The significance of today was just to shout out to our elder Asians,” said volunteer Cammie Park. “We’re here, we wanna protect you. I just want to push the agenda of ending racism  altogether.”

Alice Kim, an attendee, described how events like this help her feel less alone.

“I can agree that there has been a stronger sense of community,” attendee Alice Kim said. “I am hoping this is just the beginning and there is going to be more.”

Racism against the AAPI community often comes without the knowledge of their history. 

“I grew up in a really, really white neighborhood in Orange County,” said Chance Song Dan, a speaker at the Chinatown event. She recalled being taught the “white history” in school growing up, and how it is unfair because of how diverse America’s history actually is. 

“Skate Against Hate” Rally – Chinatown, Los Angeles

Berry said that there is a lot to be done, and much of it starts with education. Though he said it is going to take time to see change, he advised people to call out racism wherever it can be seen, no matter how small. Those small acts of racism often hold up the larger issues, he said.

“It’s those little actions I think that build up and they accumulate. They create a culture whereby this kind of hatred becomes ingrained, becomes condoned and it becomes part of people’s everyday consciousness,” Berry said. 

With the world opening up again, Asian Americans are still suffering from paranoia as they go out and restrictions are slowly lifted. 

“Things are starting to open up again as people are getting vaccinated,” said Kim. “That virus is over, now we got another one to take care of.”

With so much going on in the world, the Asian American community recognizes the struggles of all ethnic groups. 

“That’s what’s needed in this community, is solidarity. It’s not just Asian lives and Black lives. It’s Muslim lives, Latinx Lives, and Jewish lives, and trans lives,” said Dan. “It’s all of us coming together.”

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