Annenberg Radio

Anti-Asian racism: present, past and future

USC students and Los Angeles community members share thoughts on the rising violence against the APIDA community and expectations on Biden’s administration.

In January, Martin Ding, a Chinese graduate student at USC, carried his 8-month-old child to return home at the Orsini Apartments in Los Angeles.

As for Ding, it should have been a normal day... but a man without a mask ruined it.

“When the elevator reached the first floor, a person came in without wearing a mask, so I pushed my baby stroller to the side because I don’t want that baby to get COVID. That man just kept saying f words and he yelled at me and he said, “Go back to China.”

Martin Ding is just one of the thousands who have faced anti-Asian racism since the pandemic began.

According to the group Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander hate, about 4,000 anti-Asian incidents have been reported in the U.S.

However, these incidents hardly appeared in any major news outlets for almost a year.

Activist Amanda Nguyen, a social movement entrepreneur, pushed for coverage in an Instagram video posted in February. She demanded journalists to cover more stories about anti-Asian violence.

[“We matter, and racism is killing us. I’m asking everyone who sees us to share and tag CNN, MSNBC journalists with massive platforms like Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper to cover our stories – cover this man’s story. Our community is being attacked and we are dying to be heard.”]

It took a mass shooting in Atlanta to get more media attention.

[“We have new information this morning on the attacks around Atlanta that killed eight people on Tuesday including six Asian women.” (From CBS: Georgia captain faces criticism for saying spa shooting suspect had a “bad day”)]

Since then, the mainstream media started to cover a huge number of Asian American stories.

[“...a wave of violence against elderly Asian Americans putting communities across the country on edge.” (From CNBC: More than 2,500 hate crimes reported against Asian Americans in 2020)

“...a Brooklyn community comes together to fight the rise in anti-Asian attacks.” (From CBS: Brooklyn community holds rally against anti-Asian attacks)

“a disturbing rise in attacks on Asian Americans from California to New York.“ (From NBC: Disturbing Attacks On Asian Americans Spark Calls For Action, Outrage]

Racism against Asians is not a new problem in the U.S. The history of Asian oppression is long and dark.

In the 1800s, Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S. with dreams of taking part in the California Gold Rush. But soon, they were hired as cheap labor to build the transcontinental railroad.

As anti-immigrant sentiment grew, Chinese immigrants were accused of stealing jobs. That’s when a mob attack happened.

During the attack, 19 Chinese people were shot, beaten and hanged. It was one of the biggest mass lynchings in U.S. history.

The Chinese Exclusion Act followed a few years later. Then, anti-Asian sentiment flared again during World War Two, with Japanese internment.

The sense of Asian Americans being perpetual foreigners has lingered all these years. And former president Donald Trump used his rhetoric during the pandemic to latch onto that anti-Asian sentiment.

[“COVID. That name gets further and further away from China as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus.”]

Jonathan Wang is the director of USC Asian Pacific American Student Services.

”I think the political rhetoric has exacerbated the issue to an extent to make it seem like it’s a normalized occurrence. It creates this sense of anxiety and stress and definitely the psychological, emotional tolls.”

President Joe Biden recently tried to reverse the hatred Donald Trump has incited against the Asian American community. This year, he signed an executive order about advancing racial equity and a memorandum combating anti-Asian racism.

Some people felt optimistic about Biden’s policies. Jerry Raburn, a member of the Thai Community Development Center, hoped Biden could make actual steps to help Asian Americans.

”Well, my expectation is that Joe Biden is going to use the resources and the government of the federal government to combat this xenophobia and the scapegoating of Asian Americans... Racial aggression or racist behavior need to be combated from a public health perspective and an education perspective.”-

Others, like Wang, are skeptical.

”I am not naive to the fact that a memorandum will not solve any of this. I think it is a step to actually signal to folks that it’s been serious.”

[Transcription from a Koreatown protest:

“We are Asians, America!”

“Hate has no home here!”

“Stop Asian hate! Love Asian people!”]

More than a thousand people turned out to demonstrate in the L.A. Koreatown neighborhood recently. Protestors wore red t-shirts saying “Stop Asian hate.” They held signs reading “Protect Asian lives”, “Hate is a virus” and “Stop killing our women and elders.”

Similar rallies have happened nearly every weekend in cities around the country, to let more people know about anti-Asian violence and to dispel the myth of Asians as perpetual foreigners in the land that is their home.