“Nobody came. Nobody helped. Nobody made a video.”
For Vargas, Quintana’s remarks underscored how he feels Asian Americans have long been seen in the US: as “the invisible within the invisibles.”
“It’s been really quite stunning to witness ‘mainstream America’ wake up to this invisibility,” said Vargas, a journalist whose organization Define American seeks to humanize immigrants through storytelling.
Wider recognition of the racism Asian Americans have been facing since the start of the pandemic is a critical step, advocates and experts say. But this moment has also prompted some to consider another question: What is the best path forward?
Asian Americans occupy a unique spot in the racial hierarchy
To understand the current problem, it’s important to acknowledge the unique position that Asian Americans occupy in the United States’ racial hierarchy.
“From the moment that the first Chinese arrived in the 1850s until today, Asian Americans have been considered not White but also considered not Black,” says Claire Jean Kim, a professor of political science and Asian American studies at the University of California, Irvine.
In many ways, that status has worked to their advantage, Kim said.
That’s made them a target during times of crisis
Still, the discrimination and hate Asian Americans have experienced throughout history is very real. Often perceived as foreigners, Asian Americans have been systematically targeted during periods of tension or crisis — a pattern that’s being repeated again today.
After 9/11, South Asians were among those swept up in a wave of Islamophobia.
Tung Nguyen, chair of AAPI Progressive Action and director of the Asian American Research Center on Health, says Asian Americans “suffer from the racism of being made invisible.”
He sees the invisibility of Asian Americans everywhere.
It’s in the challenges to language access, which prevent many Asian Americans from accessing resources in their native tongues.
Those notions, which suggest that Asian Americans are outsiders who don’t face disadvantages, make it possible for them to be seen as acceptable targets — and contribute to the spate of violence seen over the past year, Nguyen said.
“It’s easier to hurt someone when they’re invisible,” he said. “Our invisibility is all over the place.”
The younger generation is no longer willing to stay silent
Despite those feelings of invisibility, or perhaps because of them, the recent high-profile attacks against Asian Americans have generated a level of mainstream attention that feels different.
A number of factors might explain the heightened awareness this time around, experts said.
One is a younger generation who grew up in the US and is no longer willing to stay silent the way their immigrant parents might once have.
“The older parents or the aunties and uncles and the grandparents may not say something, but their children and their nieces and nephews and their grandkids will because we’re online,” Vargas said. “We know how to use the hashtag.”
Social media, in turn, has allowed video footage from the disturbing incidents to be seen and circulated widely, while more Asian American journalists in newsrooms have helped to amplify those stories. Meanwhile, the killing of George Floyd last May and the uprising that followed thrust issues of racism into the national spotlight and prompted Americans to take them more seriously.
“There’s been a kind of shift where people feel it’s important to at least talk about racism,” said Kim. “That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily committed to changing it in any deep way but there’s more discussion of it.”
But the community is divided on the solutions
Advocates and activists are largely united in calling for more discussion and attention around the issue of hate and violence against Asian Americans. But they seem to diverge on how best to address it.
“The main issue for us right now is: Do we go ahead as a single Asian American movement to address anti-Asian racism?” Nguyen said. “Or is anti-Asian racism both part of a bigger wave of racism, and the solution is beyond just what Asian Americans care about or should do?”
Others have cautioned against connecting the recent high-profile attacks to the larger wave of violence Asian Americans have been experiencing since the pandemic.
“These crimes and violent situations that happen in Chinatown have been happening for a while,” Wong told the publication.
The response will have to involve everyone
The public safety threat that many Asian Americans are feeling right now stem from structural problems of unemployment, housing insecurity and income inequality, some progressive activists argue. And they say what’s needed to combat that threat is a movement that works in conjunction with other racial groups to help solve those big issues.
“The idea that we’re going to solve anti-Asian racism without addressing racism in general and anti-Black racism is a mistake,” Nguyen added.
“What’s needed is really putting intersectionality in action,” he said. “What does it actually look like to protect each other? What does it look like to be somebody’s neighbor? I know these seem like basic questions but I would argue that these are basic questions that we all have to answer to really make this country safer for everybody.”
Vargas hopes more people are having conversations about the history of hate and violence that Asian Americans have long faced. But what happens next is critical, he and other advocates say. Because how communities choose to respond in this moment could set the course for whether Asian Americans — and other groups — continue to face these problems in the future.
Source : CNN