Incidents of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been verbally and physically harassed and assaulted in public, including being spit on, called slurs and targeted for the spread of coronavirus. Asian American and Pacific Islander women and elders are disproportionately affected by this hatred.
One Asian American advocacy group, Stop AAPI Hate, has highlighted more than 3,000 firsthand reports of anti-AAPI hate crimes from March 19, 2020 to the present day.
The question remains: if this one organization has referenced over 3,000 documented hate crimes, how many other instances of discriminatory practices and systemic oppression against AAPI communities are going unreported in the United States alone?
In examining the history of race relations in America, it can be seen that the U.S. has such a long and ongoing history of anti-AAPI racism that the number of Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans who have experienced discrimination may possibly exceed the numbers being reported. From The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur, to Japanese internment camps during World War II under Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, anti-AAPI hate is a part of this nation’s historical fabric.
Following the 1852 crop failure in China, over 20,000 Chinese immigrants came to San Francisco’s customs house seeking employment. The influx of new arrivals caused racial tensions to flare between white miners and Chinese immigrants, with violent riots perpetrated by white miners who prejudicially feared that Chinese immigrants would challenge their opportunities for jobs. In May 1852, California imposed a Foreign Miners’ Tax of $3 per month that targeted Chinese miners. Chinese miners paid an estimated $5 million to the state of California via the Foreign Miners’ Tax while facing continued discrimination both at work and within their camps.
The People v. Hall Supreme Court Case of 1854 ruled that Chinese immigrants were not allowed to testify in court against white people in their defense, making it impossible for them to seek justice and effectively defend themselves against racially motivated violence. This Supreme Court ruling stated that the testimony of a Chinese man, who witnessed a murder by a white man, was inadmissible based upon the opinion that Chinese people were “a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point.” This meant that Chinese immigrants had no right “to swear away the life of a citizen” or participate “in administering the affairs of our [American] Government.”
Representative Horace F. Page of California is best known for The Page Act of 1875 (Immigration Act) which served as the beginning of racial prohibitions against Asian, primarily Chinese, immigration. The law officially stated that its purpose was to “…ascertain whether such immigrant has entered into a contract or agreement for a term of service within the United States, for lewd and immoral purposes…” It was a part of an early governmental effort to restrict Asian immigration on the basis of race, without stating their true intentions. Instead, it was worded in a way that strategically restricted a specific demographic of people whose labor was perceived as immoral or coerced. Such attitudes were informed by the racist beliefs by some that Chinese immigrant laborers were responsible for wage depressions. Additionally, as cited in The Page Act, white politicians thought Chinese women were to be mainly sex workers — and that being a sex worker was something immoral. Rep. Page cited the reason for establishing the acts being to “end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women.”
In efforts to slow the influx of Chinese immigrants to the United States, mostly to the state of California, President Chester A. Arthur signed The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This law suspended Chinese immigration for ten years, further declaring Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization, the process of becoming a permanent resident in the U.S. by meeting specific requirements and pledging allegiance to the U.S.
On May 5, 1892, California congressman Thomas J. Geary introduced The Geary Act that reinforced and extended the Chinese Exclusion Act’s ban on Chinese immigration for an additional ten years, requiring Chinese residents in the U.S. to carry special certificates of residence from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Other Asian American groups have historically faced oppression from the United States government as well. In 1942, following the Japanese air attacks on Pearl Harbor, a US military base, approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to internment camps. The logic behind this was just as unfounded as that of the Chinese Exclusion Act — white American politicians feared that Japanese American people could somehow secretly be spies for Japan.
In light of this history, it is important to remember that while anti-AAPI sentiment is on the rise, it is not a new phenomenon and has been gravely under-recognized.
As Jeanine Celeste Pang, guest writer for CNN’s Business Perspectives Opinions column, writes, “It was convenient to dismiss racial slights, to keep my head down and not ruffle feathers if it meant I could ignore what was happening. But recently I felt something inside of me clawing to get out and get loud. Last spring, in the safety of our bubbles, my Asian friends and I started to ask questions: Why is Covid-19 being called the ‘China virus’ and the ‘kung flu’? What is going on with the uptick of blatant racism being hurled at our communities? Why have our parents become so afraid of strangers’ accusatory glances that they’ve stopped going to their local gym and grocery store?”
Because individuals and organizations have dedicated themselves to fighting anti-AAPI hate, there is renewed hope.
There are many ways a person can contribute to ending anti-AAPI racism. Activist Chloe Shih has compiled an extremely comprehensive Google document listing a myriad of ways that anyone can become educated about anti-AAPI hate, spread awareness, volunteer and get involved with anti-racist efforts.
Though Shih’s document includes resources accessible to people everywhere, it also lists a volunteer opportunity right here in our community. The group Compassion in Oakland is seeking volunteers to escort Asian American elders in their everyday errands around Oakland Chinatown.
Additionally, groups such as Stop AAPI Hate, The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association and Send Chinatown Love accept donations and offer a variety of ways to get directly involved.
The Mills community has several leaders who inspire us to take action and speak up. Among some of these leaders is Sophia Su, a junior at Mills who contacted the President’s office to release a formal email of acknowledgement and is providing the student body with several materials related to reporting anti-AAPI incidents and getting educated on issues surrounding anti-AAPI hate.
The Mills Asian and Pacific Islander Student Association (APISA) has also been instrumental in leading the Mills community to action. They have hosted discussions, educational events, presentations and a talent show fundraiser to benefit Save Our Chinatowns, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting Bay Area Chinatown communities. Presently, APISA has created a petition to demand acknowledgment from the Mills administration regarding anti-AAPI racist incidents, and they plan to host a vegan dumpling workshop fundraiser to raise money for the Chinatown Community Development Center. This event will take place virtually on April 28, 2021.
One can learn from people in the Mills community. Beyond that, taking action against anti-AAPI hate is possible for everyone. Solidarity with the AAPI community shines bright during this dark time, and it is imperative that solidarity continues to be shown always.