(part 2 of a 2 part series)
By: Kysasurina Adhikari, BS Political Science, The Ohio State University, Class of 2021
Allie Valocchi, BS Neuroscience, The Ohio State University, Class of 2022
Lalitha Pamidigantam, YWCA Columbus Policy Analyst
The term Asian American broadly refers to those with ancestry from East, Southeast and South Asia. This term, coined by Asian American activists at the height of the Civil Rights movement, was meant to bring together Asian people living in the United States under one umbrella to facilitate solidarity against white supremacy. Asian Americans have a long and complex history in the US, and are often subject to political, social, and cultural erasure. Regardless, these communities have survived in the US, some for as long as centuries, and their stories of resistance and community reinforce their resistance and resilience in this country.
Instances of violence are not isolated events or new to American society. Recent hate crimes include reports of Asian Americans being harassed in public, barred from businesses, physically assaulted, etc. These cases of violence often take place in broad daylight, with onlookers and video evidence. Yet, their stories are erased and advocacy weakened by the US white supremacist state.
A brief history of anti-Asian sentiment
In part one of this series, which you can read here, we discussed in depth the history of anti-Asian sentiment, which has its roots in American exceptionalism, xenophobia, and nationalism. Stoking fear about Asian Americans is one way the ruling class can divide and conquer marginalized communities. The United States has historically codified anti-Asian racism. Starting as early as the late 1800s, and to this day, orientalism and xenophobia play an integral role in American politics and policies. We are still working hard to teach Americans to unlearn harmful stereotypes and fight against violence coming from the very top of leadership. Though the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated violence against Asian Americans, this community has struggled against hateful rhetoric and othering in the US for as long as they have been on the land. Because of Asian American narrative erasure, it is difficult to myth bust as it pertains to stereotypes. Erasure is violence, and we are combatting that with education. Learning about the AAPI community will help curb the oppression experienced by these communities.
Busting of the “Model Minority” Myth
Asian American struggles in the US are erased due in large part to the making of the Model Minority (After the Immigration Act of 1965). This is when the American government used Asian immigration inclusion against other minatory groups and facilitated the myth that Asian Americans are the “successful” minority—and that other groups should strive to be like them. The model minority myth is a manufactured narrative about Asian Americans. In fact, Asian Americans have the largest within group wealth gap of any racial group in America. Asians in the top 10% of the income distribution earned 10.7 times as much as Asians in the bottom 10%. Additionally, Asian American women are falling behind in employment due to COVID-19. Asian Americans often are locked out of resource distribution because of language barriers. The Asian American experience is not a monolith; from macroaggressions in the workplace to high rates of abuse and hate crimes, Asian Americans have unique struggles and even more unique resistance stories.
Why more policing is not the answer
For the Asian immigrant working class, law enforcement is one of the biggest perpetrators of violence. During the 1990s, the Asian American prison population grew by 250%, and youth of Asian descent were twice as likely to be tried as adults compared to their white counterparts. Over-criminalization is particularly prevalent in the Southeast Asian community, of whom many are refugees from the Vietnam War. In large cities, such as Oakland, Southeast Asians had very high arrest rates: Cambodians with 63 per 1000 and Laotians with 52 per 1000. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Laotians and Vietnamese were among the four most arrested groups in 1990. Gang violence in the Southeast Asian community is also rampant, and police departments have established task forces to target Asian gangs. According to experts, the gang activity in the Southeast Asian community stems from the need to resort to survival tactics or the yearning for community. Task forces do not solve the root causes of these issues. Under the guise of national security, South Asians are a target for extensive searches, background checks, and surveillance (post-9/11). Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are particularly vulnerable to profiling and surveillance, which can result in deportation and over-criminalization. Through programs like 287 (g) and Secure Communities, South Asians are profiled by police, which instills fear and mistrust in their communities. There are several barriers to justice for the current uptick in hate crimes. For example, victims of hate crimes can be reluctant to engage with the police because of language barriers, cultural differences, or mistrust. NYPD data shows Asian Americas as the only racial group to experience increased victimization across all offense types (murder, rape, robbery, assault). Though police institutions bloated throughout the 2000s, they have not yet solved these issues around anti-Asian hate.
Where we find white supremacy, we must defeat it—and that includes in and against Asian Americans communities. We must build protective and proactive services, such as language translation services, political enfranchisement, and policy platforms that center the needs of Asian Americans. We need to fully integrate our antiracist efforts to reflect the Asian American community, in solidarity with other marginalized groups. Building off of and extending the solidarity within the history of Asian Americans will help us to navigate an equitable American society where no one is victimized for their identity.