It’s much deeper and complex than solely due to the lack of mention on mainstream media. If you know an Asian, whether if that’s your family member, your friend, your significant other, your colleague, or your neighbor, you may want to continue reading and share this post with others to help us raise awareness.
Over the past months, there's been a huge surge in violence, harassment, and hate crimes against Asian Americans: +1,900% increase year-over-year in New York City alone according to NYPD as of September 2020, and even more alarming recently particularly against our elders, which is found surprising by a lot of people unless you are Asian. Do you also know that in New York City, hate crimes against the Asian community became so frequent that the NYPD had to create an Asian Hate Crime Task Force? It’s understandable if you don’t know that racism against Asians in America is not a new phenomenon — it's hard to be aware when you are not part of the community, while the news you are exposed to rarely mentions it. But the answer to why not many people are aware of the anti-Asian hate crimes is much more complex than that. Asians like us might have gotten so used to it that even we made it seem like there was no such thing, but when our elders — who are highly regarded and respected in our long-existing culture — are abused and harassed at an increasingly terrifying rate especially since Covid-19 started and was then irresponsibly called the ‘Chinese virus’, we can’t have yet another “just wait for it to pass and everything will be fine.”
Unlike the Western ideology of individualism, Asians like us were raised with a strong belief in collectivism and that in everything we do, we need to think for the group and not just for ourselves — how our actions have an impact on others, family reputation, and even national pride. In many cases, we were taught to make decisions based on our responsibility first before considering our rights. This is why on the one hand, we are highly family and group-oriented; while on the other hand, we don’t want our family and others to worry about us so we tend to minimize or even swallow our problems as if nothing happened.
Asians like us were also raised to value harmony over conflict, and if what it takes to protect the harmony is compromising then so be it. Similar to the English proverb “A bad compromise is better than a good lawsuit,” we have many idioms in Vietnam that share a similar meaning, such as “Dĩ hoà vi quý” (the most valuable asset in social connection is harmony), or “Một điều nhịn, chín điều lành” (compromise once, and you will be rewarded with nine times of good fortunes). We were raised to follow these virtues as soon as we started to learn how to read textbooks. You rarely see Asian people complaining, and I’m not saying that it’s good or bad; what I’m saying is that it is one of the most outstanding differences in our cultures — I remember telling my Vietnamese friends back home after my first few months in America that I had never seen people complaining so much like here, even though I actually found it rather funny and empowering. Meanwhile, traditionally, many Asians like us would take it upon ourselves to 'amend' the situation by compromising when conflicts arise.
The "model minority" and "perpetual foreigner" myths often caught Asians like us being stuck in a racial triangulation theory: not white enough but not black enough to be an insider of any group, while always looking like an outlander. Sometimes I wonder if what many Asian Americans still feel vulnerable even until today is being seen as an exotic ‘alien’ half the world away from America, even if they’re American. Similar to the awakening realization of Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd last summer, anti-Asian racism has been around indeed for a very long time, yet people only started learning about it now because these heartless attacks were caught on camera and spread around thanks to social media. However, sadly, racism can't always be captured but experienced (I wrote a blog post on this back in April last year).
It comes much more natural for Asians like us to defend others than our own sake. We were raised first to understand our duty and be responsible for others before we were taught to think for ourselves. Did you notice that you had barely heard of hate crimes against Asians on major news until now, and that it started from our generation speaking up to demand safety protection of our elders but not from the elders themselves?
For many Asians like us, what tends to be painful the most is not the pain itself but seeing that our family having to worry about us, and this is particularly true for Asian elders. We don’t want to be a ‘burden’ for other people, even if that ‘burden’ only lives in our heads. Additionally, a lot of our elders didn’t come from English-speaking countries, so it’s hard to ask for help when they can’t speak the language. They’re afraid of the police and authority figures, and believe it or not, many find telling people about their struggles in life rather ‘embarrassing' or 'detrimental' than 'courageous’ to speak up. This may sound foreign to you if freedom of speech has been all that you’ve exercised, so if you’re about to say “Well, maybe they just need to speak up more often,” you may want to try to put yourself in their shoes first and think again to understand the complexity of cultural barriers and differences. Just like we can’t tell one to shut up here, can we?
And if it occurs to you to question the validity of the surge based on the data we see, I’m with you. I’m with you because, in reality, I believe the real number of hate crimes is much more than what’s been reported. I’m with you because I know that many Asian Americans have been swallowing the bitter pill quietly. I’m with you because, I know people who are Asian but not American like me, simply don’t exist in the stats.
So stop the Asian hate, help us protect our elders, and let's educate each other to fight against bigotry of all kinds.
I am well aware that this is, of course, a generalization of Asians as a community and not all Asians share the same traits. I know I also have my own differences, but like many of us, I was taught the same ideology. However, just because we prioritize keeping the 'harmony' doesn’t mean we are afraid of condemning the wrongdoings. In Amanda Gorman's powerful inauguration poem, there's a line that reads: “We've learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what "just" is isn't always justice.” We’ve been trying to learn, unlearn, and relearn a lot not only for our own sake but also to fight racism against other BIPOC communities, but like any other inequality issues and mistreatments, the anti-Asian hate crimes won’t simply stop without justice and having people from all races to join forces with us in this fight, and only then can we become anti-racists for all mankind. I know that I too have to do better.
No matter what race or cultural belief you identify yourself with, I think we can all agree on this: We all are going to get old, and how we treat the elders now teaches our future generations how to treat us later when it’s our turn to become “the elders.”
1) What's happening and what can you do?
2) Asian American news and organizations to support and follow:
3) Report hate crimes against Asians (available in multiple languages):