By Anne Shaw
I helped organized the #StopAsianHate and Public Safety Rally in Chicago’s Chinatown on March 27, 2021. We had about 3000 people who attended the rally and it received news coverage internationally, nationally, and locally. We had numerous elected officials and community leaders appear in support of the event, which started out as a Chinatown public safety event long before the tragic events in Georgia on March 16 where 8 people were murdered and 6 were Asian American women who worked at Asian owned massage spa businesses.
I was compelled to help organize the rally after other Asian American women shared they “did not want to look Asian anymore” after the mass shootings at several Atlanta-area spas on March 16 because they were afraid of being attacked. I was also compelled by the growing statistics of a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes with 70% being against AAPI women. As I watched story after story of AAPI seniors being murdered and brutalized and the deep pain and fear in the voices of the victims and their family members, I knew we had to speak up and be seen. AAPIs are often invisible in America. Our AAPI history is not taught in schools and non-AAPIs think Asian Americans just recently arrived in this country, when we have been here for hundreds of years and DNA of Native Americans can be traced to people in China 40,000 years ago (https://phys.org/news/2013-01-ancient-dna-reveals-humans-years.html).
Asian Americans have been used and scapegoated for centuries in this Country and forgotten for the contributions they have made in this Country, such as building the Transcontinental Railroad. Indeed, Chinese workers on this important railroad system were largely forgotten and not even celebrated or commemorated until May 2020, the 150th Anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s competition
(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jul/18/forgotten-by-society-how-chinese-migrants-built-the-transcontinental-railroad). Leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers and built upon the earlier Page Act of 1875 which banned Chinese women from immigrating to the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first, and remains the only law to have been implemented, to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating to the United States. The reasoning for the Page Act was to reduce the Chinese population, but in doing so, backers falsely made the claim that Chinese women were prostitutes. Many Americans on the West Coast attributed declining wages and economic ills to Chinese workers. Although the Chinese composed only .002 percent of the nation's population, Congress passed the exclusion act to placate worker demands and assuage prevalent concerns about maintaining white "racial purity." We also cannot forget the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II with the forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps in the western interior of the country of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom lived on the Pacific Coast. Sixty-two percent of the internees were United States citizens. These actions were ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. My Uncle George Yamasaki was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor from Congresswoman Judy Chu for his service with the military intelligence during World War 2 at the age of 99 in 2017. I think of the hardships that his family went through during those times and the fact that he served his Country with dedication and honor despite his Country not treating him the same due to his Japanese ancestry.
There are numerous examples of discrimination, invisibility, and “otherism” of Asian Americans on so many levels in this country from the murder of Vincent Chin to the treatment of South Asians after 9/11 to the continued violence and murder of AAPIs today. A lot of this anti-Asian sentiment is not exclusive to white on Asian violence but is exhibited by every race and ethnic group against AAPIs. This is rooted in White Supremacy and the creation of the Model Minority Myth, also a tool of white supremacy and designed to attack Black Americans and create racial divides that started in World War II and persists today. From Kat Chow writing for NPR, “Since the end of World War II, many white people have used Asian-Americans and their perceived collective success as a racial wedge. The effect? Minimizing the role racism plays in the persistent struggles of other racial/ethnic minority groups — especially black Americans.” (https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks).
Janelle Wong, the director of Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the Model Minority Myth involves "1) ignoring the role that selective recruitment of highly educated Asian immigrants has played in Asian American success followed by 2) making a flawed comparison between Asian Americans and other groups, particularly Black Americans, to argue that racism, including more than two centuries of black enslavement, can be overcome by hard work and strong family values."
It also hurts the AAPI community because many are living in poverty and it causes AAPIs to be ignored in studies, media, polls, and more, as well as to be convenient scapegoats.
The murder of the 6 AAPI women in Georgia struck a deep chord in me and I was shocked at how deeply it hurt me. I realized that I must do more that had to not only tell the world, ‘Hey, we’re human beings too; we’re not this quiet person in the corner that you can scapegoat, but we’re actually human beings that care. And we love, we have families and … we are part of this American history.’” This was why I spent almost a week of sleepless nights helping to organize the Rally and I was so touched by the outpouring of support from the people, community, elected officials, and allies. I was especially happy to see the support from so many PMS members who joined in. Chinatown and the East Asian community has been his so hard since the pandemic. We are still being attacked and what is scary is that there is no institution we can hold accountable because these are all random verbal and physical attacks by strangers of all races and ethnic groups. I am working on planning more rallies because it is hard to hate someone you know and humanize. We need to be out there, and our histories taught as part of American history. For too long has the viewpoint and lens of American history be only from that of White America. It is truly a matter of life and death to teach American history from the perspective of POCs.
We ended the rally seeking the following 5 demands:
Increase public safety in Chinatown and provide education to the community for safety protection.
Take anti-Asian Hate Crimes seriously. Act on each report in a timely and culturally sensitive manner while providing support for the victims and the community.
Create a website to report anti-Asian hate crimes and the outcome of these reports; share this data regularly and widely with Asian American community groups.
Pass the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act (HB376). Learning Asian American history is necessary not only for our Asian community, but also non-Asians. Resources and education will lead to more understanding and less ignorance.
Fund Asian American organizations that outreach to our Asian American community, with special focus on Senior Citizens, who are often the direct victims of violent hate crimes and fraud.