On Easter Sunday, I was celebrating the holiday and our son’s seventh birthday with family. It was the last day of a weeklong vacation and I felt light and carefree for the first time in at least a year — when suddenly my phone started vibrating nonstop. Without even looking, I knew why.
I excused myself from our celebration, looked at my screen, and there they were. Text after text alerting me to another assault on an Asian American in our area. This time a 27-year-old Korean American woman was smacked in the face as she was walking to H&M with her sister near the Convention Center.
I immediately felt a pit in my stomach. I made a few calls to vet the incident, alerted our station for coverage, and posted the video on social media. I called my father and reminded him, yet again, not to walk alone.
Then two days later I went through the same terrible cycle. This time, a 64-year-old Chinese American dad was assaulted in Chinatown. The attacker yelled, “YOU GAVE ME THE CORONAVIRUS!”
These attacks are relentless. Every time I scroll through my social media feed — including now, as we kick off Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month — I see a new hate incident reported by fellow journalists. Yet another Asian American slugged, spit on, or slashed. Often the victims are seniors. Sometimes they die from their injuries.
Asian Americans saw this coming
Some of us tried to warn America this was coming. More than a year ago, weeks before the country shut down due to the pandemic, weeks before reports of explosive violence, I made a plea on social media and right here in The Inquirer, asking people not to blame Asian Americans for COVID-19. I wrote: “My dad does not have coronavirus. Neither do I. So please don’t treat us like we do.”
But as is often the case when Asian Americans speak, the rest of America did not listen. So can you hear me now? I am not asking anymore. I am begging. Because while I have no outward injuries to prove my pain, I do feel sick, heartbroken, and traumatized by it all.
And as I’ve reported for 6abc and ABC News, this rise in violence is deeply rooted in long-held stereotypes and anti-Asian sentiments. So if we don’t seize this moment of long-overdue attention to anti-Asian prejudice, and turn it into a sustained movement to change the narrative, this hate will continue long after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Asian Americans will be blamed for another crisis that originates overseas.
How to stop the hate
To prevent that from happening, we — all Americans — have a lot of work to do. If we want to stop the hate, we need to acknowledge the struggles of every community, without comparing one to the other.
When I was pitching a 6abc docu-series on racism and the diverse American experience, a white friend told me I need to tread carefully in speaking up for Asian Americans because “a lot of people have had it a lot worse.” I was so stunned at the time, I didn’t push back.
“We need to stop ‘grading’ racism.”
Let me be clear in my response now: We need to stop “grading” racism. Racism is not a competition and this is not a zero sum game. We can support — with hashtags but also with action — the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, because this is America.
We also need to acknowledge the racism that lies within our own communities and learn from a long history of solidarity in America, particularly Black-Asian solidarity. At a time of political pressure to ban Chinese immigration to the United States, for example, Frederick Douglass spoke out in 1869 in favor of their entry. Later, the Emergency Detention Act was repealed only after Japanese Americans locked arms with Black activists.
Today many Asian Americans and Black Americans are holding joint rallies, thanks to groups like Philly Solidarity. On May 12, I will participate in the Unity Rally against gun violence and Anti-Asian hate. It will bring communities together — white, Black, Latino, and Asian — calling upon everyone to act for the sake of public safety. Make no mistake, it is in all of our interests to raise one another up. Today, Asian Americans are the focus of hate. History has shown tomorrow it will be another group.
To eradicate the virus of hate, we also need to shatter the myth that Asians are “a model minority.” By holding us up as a “model,” it suggests that other people of color are “inferior.” It builds resentment and pits us against our Black and brown brothers and sisters.
And the truth is not all Asians are privileged, educated, or rich. In fact, income inequality is greater among Asian Americans than any other racial group in the United States. Asian Americans work in great numbers in low-wage industries, including salons, restaurants, and factories. We have some of the highest poverty rates in the country. During the pandemic lockdown, long-term unemployment rose more sharply for Asian Americans than any other racial group. One in seven Asian immigrants is undocumented.
The model-minority myth discounts these realities and makes it harder for struggling Asian Americans to get help. To some people, it also makes it permissible to mock us and hurt us.
Celebrating being Asian American
Since the rise in violence against Asian Americans began last year, I’ve worried a lot about my father. But today, I’m also writing for my children.
When I was a kid, I sometimes wished I were white. I once asked my mom when I was going to “turn blond” and “get long legs.” I cringed when anyone would learn my Korean name, which is Hyungah. I wanted my nose to be pointier, so I would pinch it 50 times a night.
As an adult, I tried not to be “too Asian” for much of my TV news career, lightening my hair and rationing how many stories I pitched related to Asian communities. I was basically hiding my Asian self in plain sight. I was on television every day but not fully seen and heard.
But no more. Especially after this year, I feel a sense of responsibility to bring my entire self to my work and am gratified by what happens when I do. Thanks to my Asian American colleagues’ and my speaking up, 6abc is airing PSAs in support of our community, asking viewers to “Join us to end racism.” Our station and ABC News have also aired several programs to take action against hate.
I now see that my greatest assets are the gifts my ancestors gave me. I see strength, power, and beauty in being Asian. And being Asian American brings me joy. I celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with the same pride I am working to instill in our kids every day.
Of course, in a few short weeks this month will end. Someday the coronavirus-related attacks will end too. But I hope even when the news cycle has turned its focus away from our communities, you will not. I hope you can hear me now.