Almost a year ago, as the pandemic began to spread through American cities, I wrote about how the crisis felt to me as an Asian American woman. Now it’s been 11 months since we locked our front doors to COVID-19 for the first time. And since then, so much has changed—from how we work, to how we march through the streets, to who sits in the Oval Office. But despite the once-in-a-lifetime disruption, a year later, some things remain the same: Crimes against Asians are spiking, and here we are again. Or rather, here we are still.
As someone who grew up Asian in predominantly white communities, I spent a lot of time not speaking up in the face of discrimination. I tried to ignore how different I felt and the degree to which I didn’t fit in with the other kids I knew. Not talking about what set me apart—and even what made me unique—seemed like a step toward inclusion. But over time I developed a deep love and appreciation for my Chinese and Korean roots, and I pledged to never again remain silent about racism toward Asians. Prejudice needs to be called whenever and wherever we see it. And more than ever, I see it.
Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a disturbing and sharp rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans throughout the United States, up a frightening 1,900% in New York in 2020 alone. The number is also increasing nationwide. Representative Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York, introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to denounce the rise in hate crimes. In a statement after it passed, she note that since the beginning of the pandemic, “Asian Americans have been forced to endure demeaning and disgusting acts of bigotry and hate, consisting of everything from verbal assaults to physical attacks.”
Over the past few weeks, the violence has been even more visible, with catastrophic results. On January 28, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapadkdee, who is Thai, was fatally attacked in San Francisco. Three days later, a 91-year-old Chinese man was shoved to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed across the face while riding the subway, requiring almost 100 stitches from cheek to cheek. This is a far from complete list of attacks we have seen in the last few weeks, the most recent being the killing of Kevin Jiang, a 26-year-old veteran and Yale graduate student. The motivations behind these attacks are not all known, but the cumulative effect has been to put Asian Americans on notice.
If you’re one of the millions of people who haven’t heard about these attacks, you might be wondering how it’s possible that one group is facing such profound and relentless discrimination in relative silence. But I’m not surprised the news hasn’t crossed your feeds. So often stories about violence against Asians don’t appear in the mainstream press, but rather get circulated in panicked text threads or on “niche” websites. I’ve made efforts to join online communities like the Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits and follow sites like Next Shark to ensure I’m up to speed. But these events aren’t just for Asians to read about; we all need to understand how hate and violence is traveling through our communities. And we all need to show up when people are being targeted.
Even as our communities and allies raise their voices, share posts, initiate conversations, and ask for help, the news seems to have gotten more attention on social media than in the news outlets we would otherwise turn to. It’s frustrating and frightening. It makes us feel alone. When it comes to discrimination against Asians, the sense that we’ve been ignored or even forgotten is not new. Our reputation as the “model minority”—a trope that is as offensive as it is wrong—often makes others discount our struggles, reducing them to something that can be shrugged off or managed without help. That attitude takes a toll.