Lunar New Year typically marks one of the most lively and important celebrations for Asians who live all over the world. Marta Conte’s recent article on the celebrations and their origin goes into the various traditions across the Asian world. However, in the western world, the celebrations this year have been marred by a rise in hate crimes toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. (AAPI).
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen a huge rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and sentiments with over 2,800 incidents documented by Stop AAPI Hate. Sadly, it took the death of an 84-year-old Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, caught on video to bring attention to what is going on, even in anti-racism circles. Ratanapakdee’s death highlighted the particularly insidious attacks against Asian American elders who are deeply revered in Asian cultures.
This kind of discrimination toward Asian Americans and Asians living in the Western world, however, is not a new phenomenon. In 1882, the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that halted immigration of Chinese immigrants for a decade and prevented naturalization of immigrants already in the country. This was enacted for reasons that might seem familiar today: there was a perception that, albeit a very small number of immigrants resided in the U.S., they were taking jobs of white Americans. Chinese immigrants during this time were subjected to extreme racist and xenophobic violence. Liz Kleinrock, an anti-bias anti-racism educator has a good (yet depressing) breakdown of this history on her Instagram page.
We also can’t–and must not–forget the internment of around 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Incidentally, February 19th was the 79th anniversary of the executive order Roosevelt signed to essentially rip Japanese Americans away from their livelihoods, their homes, and everything they had built in America to dislocate them to concentration camps along the West Coast of the United States.
We note these events to emphasize that xenophobia and anti-Asian racism is not new in America. What is starting to change is that many Asian Americans are speaking up about the racism they’ve experienced their entire lives and rising up in solidarity to share their trauma and advocate for their community. Bianca Mabute-Louie wrote about this beautifully in this Elle op-ed.
What allies and especially globally minded parents can do is also to rise up in solidarity with the AAPI community. You can do this by listening to and amplifying the voices of Asian activists and also have conversations with your kids about what is happening. Here are some places to start and make sure that if they’re not directly linked to educating or talking with your kid, involve them in the process so they can see you being an active ally.
1) Get involved with community groups that serve Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
These groups are doing a great deal to watch out for and protect their community members, especially elders who have often been targets of these brutal attacks. Follow, learn from, volunteer with, and support them in their work. To get involved in the national movement, follow and learn from AAPI Women Lead and Stop AAPI Hate.
2) Be an active ally for Asian kids and their parents.
Part of this is talking with your kids specifically about race and racism. In this case, you can have age-appropriate conversations with your kids about how Asian people, particularly elders, are being attacked and why. With many schools set to reopen soon (if yours hasn’t already), there’s a lot of fear among Asian families for their kids’ safety at school. Non-Asian parents can have a frank and open conversation with their kids about how they can help keep their peers safe.
We created an in-depth anti-racism resource article (found here) that goes into how to talk with your kids about race and racism. All of these lessons apply to talking to your kids about racism toward Asian Americans.
3) Re-examine your kid’s bookshelf.
First, you can you ensure that your kid’s bookshelf has strong Asian and/or Pacific Islander community represented in their books. This also requires seeing what’s already on your bookshelf and what problematic literature you might need to toss. For example, Dr. Seuss books are on most white American kids’ bookshelves, but quite honestly, they shouldn’t be. He was a documented racist and many of his seemingly harmless characters in the classics were based on harmful Asian stereotypes. Still not convinced? Read this Scary Mommy article and The Conscious Kid’s overview (note the content warning).
4) Examine your assumptions and biases about the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
In the United States at least, there’s this “model minority” myth which Learning for Justice describes as such: “This myth characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.” This is a harmful stereotype that, in the same way that color blindness does, erases and dismisses the different experiences the AAPI community have from their white peers. Bianca Mabute-Louie says in her Elle piece, “Politically, the harmful ‘model minority’ stereotype thrives on this silence and on the myth that Asian Americans don’t experience racism, even as we are aggressively victimized by poverty, unemployment, deportation, and white supremacy.” Non-Asians must examine and identify how they have helped to uphold this stereotype rooted in white supremacy.
5) Learn from history through your travels and other self-education.
The introduction included examples of deliberate U.S. government actions rooted in xenophobia and hate toward Asian people. As traveling parents, you can ensure these important histories are remembered and not repeated.
For example, many former Japanese internment camps still exist today as museums (some examples include the Topaz Museum in Utah and Manzanar National Historic Site in Northern California). Additionally, Chinatown neighborhoods in cities around the United States are part of the country’s history of immigration. Before partaking in the food and culture within any city’s Chinatown, you can learn the history of these communities (e.g., this PBS resource guide for Chinatown, San Francisco). That self-education will give you a deeper perspective on the evolution of the neighborhood and culture. PBS also has a great documentary about the Chinese Exclusion Act and some really great educational resources about the Asian American experience.
Like any anti-racism work, this is an ongoing process. But it’s essential for all of us to acknowledge how racism toward Asians cannot be ignored and how we need to do what we can as parents to ensure our children are allies to all children.
This article is co-written with Brinda Shah