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A Personal Account on Anti-Asian Violence, Hatred, Grief, and Fear

Thursday, March 25, 2021

BY PHUONG PHAM

 

My heart feels sick like a dark, bloated & bleeding fish
The water in my chest is rotten & murky
I cry all day to try & drain it out of me
Every day, I watch as our elders are being turned into plums
Soft round faces full of bulging bruises
Our elders are shoved, made to fly through the air
89 years old, 91 years old, flying
Then found bent in strange configurations on the cement
Question: Do you know what it feels like when the media feeds us the shooters’ first, middle & last name, interviews his grandparents, spreads his photo so that I cannot unsee the shape of his glasses and texture of his beard?
It feels like six Asian women are depicted as uniform, nondescript bowling pins
While he is cast as the main character deciding the fate of their lives
Destroying them at the whim of his own emotions
I watch the media crawl through his mind, spending time in tunnels of his thoughts to find morsels of humanness to assign to his motivations
[...]
Follow-up question: How cruel is it that marginalized communities live with the knowing that they must not only fear death, but also disappearing?

Chanel Miller 

 

In the days following the Atlanta hate crime killing eight people — six of which were women of Asian descent — it’s been difficult to have conversations with my parents. They are 8,000 miles away across the Pacific Ocean, are ridden with worries for my safety, and ask questions I could hardly bear to answer. 

How do I explain to my parents that it is no longer surprising to hear of violence and mass shootings? 

A year ago, at the beginning of a pandemic that would eventually take over half a million lives in the U.S., harmful narratives blaming China for the coronavirus turned into violence as anti-Asian racism and xenophobia increased exponentially. Since March 2020, more than 3,500 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate. The history of violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander didn’t start with last year or last week. It started with the first migrants coming to America in the 19th Century, followed by racial segregation, discriminatory laws, massacres, and hate crimes.

How do I tell them that today’s trauma is very much connected to theirs?

Underlying anti-Asian racism is white supremacy and U.S. imperialism, a tangled web of war policies, militarization, and dehumanization of Asians. In my family, we don’t talk about the American war in Vietnam as those who survived would simply prefer to forget. In the U.S., we neglect to educate ourselves about the violence of settler colonialism and its imperial power. 

How do I describe being objectified and feeling small?

I could recall countless times being catcalled — being called “china doll” by men on the streets. There were several instances when someone I had just met immediately started guessing where I’m from based on my accent. I can think of multiple occasions when people speak comically slower — emphasizing every word — to make sure I understand their English.  

How do I even begin to express the gripping grief and fear? 

It might be a while until I could fully unpack how different my experience as an immigrant may be from my parents’ vision of the American dream without keeping them awake at night. From elders not feeling safe, to refugees being deported, to massage workers facing deadly misogyny — there isn’t anything new but it has been a lot to hold.

As an Asian American woman working in philanthropy, I lean on the support of my adopted families, friends, and colleagues; I learn from and live into the vision of leaders who have dedicated their lives to anti-racist work and community care. With the abundance of community wisdom and energy, I believe that we can learn, unlearn, heal, and act. Here are some learnings and resources for your considerations.

 

Solidarity against white supremacy.

In our battle against violence toward the AAPI community, we must fight against narratives that pit Asian and Black communities against each other. Our liberation is intertwined. See resources on Black/Asian solidarity.

 

Asian American isn’t a monolithic identity.

Cathy Park Hong and Morgan Ome reminded us that the term Asian American was created by the Vietnam War and the Black Power movement and by student organizers who were envisioning a pan-Asian, anti-racist, anti-imperialist movement. It isn’t a monolithic identity, but an intersectional coalition. More on why we turn to intersectionality to confront anti-Asian violence, read a blog from my colleague Alice Hom of Northern California Grantmakers. to better understand the history of Asian Americans in our country, watch PBS’s series Asian Americans.

 

Policing is not the answer.

With the rise of violence, there has been a call for more policing from leaders. Increased policing, which is rooted in white supremacy and anti-Blackness, has never been the solution to racism against communities of color. What’s powerful, supportive, and healing are mutual aid resources, community defense networks (Stop AAPI hate, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bystander Intervention Training), and mental wellness support.

 

Turn statements into actions.

Speaking up and vocalizing your support for the AAPI community is an important first step. However, it isn’t enough. 

 

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