Asian Americans have had a particularly long fight with America about immigration, disease, and violence. It was an unheard battle, but it wasn’t silent. Even with the loudest voices, America couldn’t hear the struggles we, as Asian Americans, face in order to live in this nation. This is because of the mirage painted by the white hegemonic state that Asians, in general, are passive, quiet, and submissive. We are stereotyped as model minorities, perpetual foreigners no matter how deep our roots are in America, and silent bystanders that do not have a notable place in American politics.
This rhetoric is ceaselessly perpetuated by the American political system and America’s racist history. However, with the recent surge in COVID-19 hate crimes, the #StopAsianHate campaign, and the Georgia shooting that took place on March 16, the rhetoric is changing and Asians are gaining traction and finding a louder voice that’s being heard.
Throughout the 18th century, Asian diaspora were seen as a social threat to white Americans. That is why there were so many restrictions on immigration towards Asian immigrants, and why America implemented its first racially exclusionary immigration law, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
White Americans were afraid of having their jobs stolen and took it further by using Asian phenotypes to justify their discrimination. This produced multiple stereotypes of Asian Americans, who were mischaracterized as “disease-carriers,” “Orientals,” and a “threat to western civilization” (also known as the Yellow Peril). The cycle continued through the fear that the white hegemony would be stripped of its power.
“The response from the Asian populace to the Georgia spa shooting fueled the #StopAsianHate campaign, and gave Asian Americans stable footing to voice the generational prejudices against them.”
Yellow Peril is still very much alive today, with people associating Asian Americans with COVID-19 and un-Americanness. We see that this mindset has not changed, but instead became a catalyst for the rise in Asian hate crimes. These baseless fears led to many injuries and deaths, and caused a lot of pain and suffering for our community. The Asian community is stepping up, protesting, and walking. The response from the Asian populace to the Georgia spa shooting fueled the #StopAsianHate campaign, and gave Asian Americans stable footing to voice the generational prejudices against them.
The role of Asian Americans is unique because we usually get tossed back and forth on both the racial and political spectrum. The racial spectrum spans from Black to white, and Asian Americans can be socially considered or treated either “more Black” or “more white.” However, the fluidity of such classifications on Asian Americans affect the social expectations or treatments they receive.
As for the political spectrum, political parties have used Asians to either further the party’s agenda or stigmatize the party’s image. If a party wants to push for diversity, they would point at Asians and say, “Oh look! We have people of color in our party!” But if they want to stigmatize a party’s association with Asians, Asians would be labeled as “illiberal” and nothing spooks Americans more than the opposite of freedom, which is Orientalism. This fragility has become a major reason why resistance and autonomy are difficult to achieve.
Nonetheless, Asian Americans are growing discontent and angry at being associated with the label “model minority.” Being called the model minority is especially harmful and pervasive because it emphasizes Asian Americans’ socioeconomic achievements to undermine racism. They are considered white until they’re not, and Asians are the model minority until they’re not. As you can see, we are included and excluded where the system finds it convenient, and we struggle to take control of where we stand in society. This term oppresses Asians because it paints us as “doing much better than other groups,” therefore our struggles are invalid, enabling society to keep perpetuating Asian American stereotypes and the current political injustice.
Along with the rise in hate crimes and disease, America is also in a heightened state of anti-immigration. With how Asians are being treated in this heightened time, it is crucial for Asian Americans to stand up for themselves and develop a stronger political presence.
“Being called the model minority is especially harmful and pervasive because it emphasizes Asian Americans’ socioeconomic achievements to undermine racism.”
I believe that if hate crimes, violence, protests, and campaigns eventually become a thing of the past, we will always perpetuate the current system that ultimately does not work for us. The progress our ancestors prepared for us so far to advocate for Asian American representation in the States will not see more progress in our generation if we are complacent. Especially because we are vulnerable to perpetuating the American system as we tend to struggle for loudness, and because of our ambiguous placement in society.
I hope that Asians can break through the silence and layers of ignorance that is present outside and within the Asian community. The Asian community needs help, but the Asian community alone will not suffice. In order to move forward, it is important to not forget our own ignorance in the matters we are facing today. The ignorance I am mentioning is the expectation to receive substantial support from the African American community.
It is not a secret that there is tension between the two communities. However, I still believe that Afro-Asian coalitions are possible as younger generations separate from more traditional conservative views and recognize that pinning minorities against each other is the oldest play in the playbook. We can begin more progressive conversations, and not prioritize one group over another. These issues affect multiple groups simultaneously. If we can come together to form diverse coalitions, we can be an all inclusive nationwide movement focusing on all inequalities to progress the movements that are currently happening right now.
With that mind, we can see how pivotal the current Asian American agenda can be for Asians because this demographic is getting louder and forming bigger groups. There are marches and protests nationwide that are still being organized today. This is an opportunity to disrupt the white rhetoric. The tragedies elders, women, men, and children have faced demand justice and reform, and I am excited to see how we proceed from this point on and make sure that this is not just part of our pasts.