There are many different groups of Asians in our Glendale neighborhood. Our friend group includes Karen, Zomi, and Vietnamese people. Our school community also has students and teachers from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, the Philippines, and Myanmar. Yet, people often assume that we are all Chinese. This has made it especially hard this past year for anyone who is Asian, because some people are blaming COVID-19 on Chinese people.
Matthew Okabe, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary School said, “Right now, the Asian population is being targeted for something that they have no control over. The coronavirus has nothing to do with Asian Americans.” Even though COVID-19 started in China and spread through the world, it doesn’t mean that all Asians, as a group, are responsible for it. Regardless, if anyone looks Asian, they are in more danger of hate crimes and being disrespected due to anti-Asian feelings related to blame for the pandemic.
Minna Kim, a teacher at Glendale Middle School who has experienced this hate said, “I am saddened by the recent uptick in violence and racist rhetoric toward the Asian American community.” This increase in hatred reminds people like Miss Kim of the history of anti-Asian sentiment and laws that are prevalent in our country’s history.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which banned the immigration of anyone from China for 10 years was one law that impacted Asians. The anti-Asian ideas that led to the immigration ban and then allowed it to stand for several years have lasting impacts on how Chinese people and those who are mistaken to be Chinese are judged in America.
This law also paved the way for other restrictive race-based immigration laws like the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited immigration from Japan. Later, during WWII, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which sent thousands of Japanese Americans to live in internment camps where they lived in terrible conditions cut off from their normal lives. As Mr. Okabe said, “[Asian hate] is something that has been going on for a long time.”
This horrible history repeats itself in his family’s recent experiences. Mr. Okabe told us of his mother, who is originally from Japan, being told to go back to her country. He also told us of a time when she was mistreated in front of him at a grocery store. The only reason he could think of for this treatment was her accent. “That was very saddening and uncomfortable for me,” said Mr. Okabe.
The data from Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate paint a sad picture, too. According to their website, www.stopaapihate.org, from March 19, 2020 to March 31, 2021 Stop AAPI Hate has received 6,603 reported incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans across the United States, including physical assaults, coughing/spitting, and verbal harassment. Certainly there are many more events that go unreported.
Earlier in the pandemic Dim Hung (one of the writers of this story) was helping at her parents’ sushi bar. As she walked by, a man told her, “Go back to your country!” and pushed her. After experiencing this she felt her anger start to rage. “Telling someone to go back to their country is just disgusting. No one would like to hear someone telling them to ‘Go back to your country!’ especially if it was your country that you were in,” said Dim.
Dim’s family moved to Tucson, Arizona in 2011 and then to Salt Lake City, Utah in 2012. Her parents wanted to immigrate to the USA so that she and her siblings could have a better life and have the things that they couldn’t have.
We and our families call America our country, Salt Lake our city, Glendale our neighborhood and we are a big part of what makes those areas great places to live.
Unfortunately, people seem to forget about all the contributions Asians have made to build our nation – from the Chinese railroad workers who were instrumental in completing the transcontinental railroad; scientists, like Dr Tuan Vo-Dinh, who have made important breakthroughs in cancer research; and inventors of tech companies, like Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, founders of YouTube. Asian American entrepreneurs have opened countless small businesses throughout our nation, not to mention all the contributions Asian Americans have made in a variety of fields like education, fashion, civil rights and others.
Despite all of these remarkable contributions, hate incidents across the U.S. have surged, devastating individuals and entire communities. Hundreds of organizations in communities across the country work to combat hate every day.
Though all of this news about hate can be quite depressing, Ms. Kim said, “I am hopeful and know a more tolerant and accepting future is possible.” She recognizes that this will require compassion, empathy and respect for all cultures. She and Mr. Okabe agree that continuing to speak up when we see hate, having ongoing conversations about these issues, and treating others like we want to be treated are all key to help to make our world fairer for everyone.
Please speak up about Stop Asian Hate as much as you can! You can help support by signing petitions, donating, and speaking up about it. Thank you.
Dane Hess, Glendale Middle School teacher and mentor, collaborated with the students in the writing of this piece.