On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Last week, eight people were shot and killed in the Atlanta area, six of whom were Asian women.
Around the Washington region, 140 hate incidents have been reported against Asian Americans since last March. Many attribute the rise of the violence to Trump’s racist rhetoric around the coronavirus.
So, how is the local Asian American community coping in the wake of the tragedy in Georgia? And what can be done to combat racist attacks in the Washington region and across the country?
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Kojo For Kids welcomes Actress Eleasha Gamble. But first, how is the local Asian American community coping in the wake of the tragedy in Georgia and what could be done to counter racists attacks in Washington and across the country? Joining us to have this conversation is Yunhan Zhang, Owner of Valley Brook Tea shop in Washington. Yunhan Zhang, thank you for joining us.
YUNHAN ZHANGHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Marian Liu, Operations Editor for the Washington Post. She's been reporting on the swell of anti-Asian violence since the pandemic started. Marion Liu, thank you for joining us.
MARIAN LIUThanks so much on having this important conversation.
NNAMDIAnd John Yang is President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. John Yang, thank you for joining us.
JOHN YANGThank you very much as well. Take care.
NNAMDIMarian Liu, I'll start with you. Before the horrible shootings in Atlanta last week, you had written about anti-Asian attacks rattling communities across the country. What can you tell us about that?
LIUSo I started writing a story last year almost -- last February in 2020. And the first quote in the story was from a college student. She basically said that she wanted to change her face. She was that ashamed of being Asian, because of what was starting to happen from, I guess, all of the negative rhetoric that was going on. And then this past end of February I wrote a piece where this Korean American mom -- actually this was after the shootings. This Korean American mom says she hasn't been this afraid of being Asian in America.
NNAMDIWhat seems to be behind the uptick in racially motivated violence directed at Asian Americans?
LIUIt's a mix of reasons. One, the past administration used harmful rhetoric equating the community to the virus itself. So you actually have -- there's been the bulk of attacks that were on Stop AAPI Hate, Asian American Pacific Founder Hate, which is a self-reported site, the bulk of them were verbal harassment people were literally calling others coronavirus -- members of the Asian community coronavirus, which is frustrating and heartbreaking. So there's a lot of scapegoating for what's going on. Also, Asians may be seen as an easier target. A lot of this happened during the Lunar New Year when Asians were -- as gifts you carry around -- you get and give cash in red envelopes. So they're seen as an easy target. So many seniors were being shoved and robbed. So that's another thing that was going on.
NNAMDIWhat are your own feelings in the wake of the attacks in Georgia?
LIUIt's been, like I said, heartbreaking to see these stereotypes come to life, to be seen as an easy target, to feel paranoid, when I go out and how people might perceive me. Another thing about being an easy target is that the tradition is not to speak up and speak out. So the numbers might be seen as increasing, but they're probably largely underreported, because people aren't going to the police. People aren't reporting it. A lot of that has culture reasons. And it's just -- I mean, I had to have a conversation with my own parents, who are elderly, not to go out and not to take a walk, because I was scared for them.
NNAMDIThis is not just a racially motivated attack. It was violence directed primary toward women working at Asian spas in Atlanta. What are you hearing from those you have interviewed in the aftermath? How are Asian women in particular grappling with both the racism and the misogyny at play here?
LIUSo when you talk about Asian females a lot of experts I talked to say you can't separate racism and misogyny especially when you talk about Asian females who have been long historically exotified. And when it was initially came out that it wasn't necessarily racially motivated, the Asian women that I talked to felt gas lit. They felt like their emotions were not honored that their feelings did not matter. That, you know, they didn't have a right to feel hurt.
LIUAlso the insinuation of massage in the U.S. and in Asia is completely different. Massage in Asia is, you know, for holistic reasons, for wellness, for health. And in the U.S. when you say Asian spa there's a sad connotation. Anti-trafficking had basically said told me that when you say Asian spa in the U.S. there is a wink, wink, nod, nod that there's going to be more.
NNAMDIYunhan Zhang, you've said the shootings in Georgia sadly did not surprise you. What did you think when you heard the news?
ZHANGYes. So, yes, it did not surprise me, because I've been saying that things have been escalating for Asian Americans since last year. And in fact, things here in Washington D.C. have been escalating for us for over a year already. So two days before the Georgia shooting happened, I did another interview with a local channel. I actually said, you know, if someone don't put a stop to this immediately one day some person might just carry a gun and walk into an Asian business and start shooting. And that's exactly what happened two days later from the interview. So, yes, it has been this trend so far.
NNAMDIYour own shop here in D.C. has been targeted. How many times have you dealt with this in the past year?
ZHANGThat depends if we include verbal attacks, then I've lost count. But physical ones, we've had three incidents here, one in May -- one in June, one in July and one in November. Usually here in Dupont Circle -- we're west of Dupont Circle, 21st and P Street, usually here we're very peaceful. But last year, because the streets or even the city became so empty, then we also became a very easy target for people, who just want to commit these types of crimes.
NNAMDICan you tell us about the incident that happened in November?
ZHANGYes. So that was November 10th. It was a Tuesday morning close to 10:00 a.m. Again very quiet, the streets were completely empty. So this person just walk in shouting, you know, "Chinese tea, Chinese people. COVID-19." Then the entire things lasted about 40 seconds and I was pepper sprayed in my face. It was very fast.
NNAMDIAnd as far as I know, so far no one has yet been arrested in that incident?
ZHANGNot to my knowledge, no.
NNAMDIJohn Yang, how are you feeling in the wake of these attacks in Georgia?
YANGLike many Asian Americans, I'm feeling frustrated, tired, but also angry. It's just been something that's been going on too long for our community.
NNAMDIIn the last year, what has your organization seen in terms of violence and racism aimed at Asian Americans?
YANGUnfortunately we've seen a sharp increase. You referenced a website Stop AAPI Hate, our organization likewise tracks anti-Asian attacks. And between the two websites we've seen over 4300 in the last year alone. And that's a very stark difference than in 2018 and 2019, where we saw only about 50 attacks in each year.
NNAMDIWhoa. You note that this increase is real, but there's a history here. Can you elaborate on the notion of perpetual foreigner? How have you seen that play out in the course of U.S. history?
YANGAbsolutely. That is one of the unfortunate things about U.S. history as it relates to Asian Americans. Whenever there is if you will, an external threat, oftentimes Asian Americans are made to be a target or a scapegoat as Marian alluded to. So we could go back to the late 1800s when Chinese workers were brought here to work on railroads. And that ended with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 when Chinese were lynched. Then you fast forward to the 1940s when Japanese Americans and I emphasize Americans were put in incarceration camps, because of so called dual loyalties because we were at war with the empire of Japan.
YANGThen, of course, there is after 9/11 when the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian American communities were targeted and there was fierce backlash in those communities, because of those terrorist attacks. So that's unfortunately a part of our history that Asian Americans are always seen as the foreigner no matter how long we've lived here or were born here, and that we are treated as the other and the people to be feared.
NNAMDIMarian, many point to Former President Trump's rhetoric throughout this pandemic. What role do you believe that has played?
LIUI mean, he directly scapegoated China, you know, as a source and so many people saw Chinese people, Asian people as the source of the virus sadly. And to John's point, I would even add one more killing of Vincent Chin in the 80s I believe when the Japanese factories for cars were in Detroit. And even though Victor was seen as he's Chinese. But factory workers blamed him and the Japanese, I guess other workers for taking their jobs away. And so he was violently beaten and killed. So there is a history of scapegoating that is really frustrating and heartbreaking, like I said.
NNAMDIJohn we only have about 30 seconds left in this segment, but what role do you believe President Trump's rhetoric has played in this?
YANGIt absolutely had a role. Given the fact that he had an opportunity to make it clear that the Chinese people and the Asian people were not responsible for the virus, he doubled down and laughed when people referred to it as Kong flu. And that gave people license to scapegoat the Asian American community.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about anti-Asian violence. Yunhan Zhang, you first came here to study when Barack Obama was president. How has the climate changed since Donald Trump's administration?
ZHANGYes. So I first came in 2009 as a college student. Then I came back to the States -- actually came to the Washington D.C. area in 2017. So my direct feeling is that back in the days when I was a student, I can join a conversation where I can say, you know what? I have no opinion about this. You know, if this is political, I don't care. I have no opinion about this. Then that was fine. But when I got here, I don't know if it's because we are in D.C. or it was just because we are with a new administration at the time, everything became so political. It's either yes or no. It's either right or wrong. That was my direct feeling about what has changed from the Barack Obama years then to the Trump years.
NNAMDIDo you feel safe just walking around doing everyday things?
ZHANGNot really, not anymore especially after March 2020. I remember at the beginning of this, I and my wife, we went to this Asian supermarket over there in Virginia. I realized that from the parking lot to the supermarket everybody walked faster as if they are just trying to avoid being outside. Then, you know, things kept going until this year. Actually people are still doing that. Some people are still doing that these days.
NNAMDIHere now is Mike in Centerville, Virginia. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEYes, good morning -- or good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. I find it particularly just, just -- it just angers me with the amount of anti-Asian hate that I see going on on the news and what's going around in general. I'm a second generation United States born citizen. And since my dad's generation was born in the United States, they served both in the Army and in the Navy during World War II. I've had uncles that served during the Korean War. And I was too young for the Vietnam War, but subsequently after it ended, I joined the Army and served for 22 years and with service during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
MIKEAnd it -- I find it just incredibly -- I can't even describe it that someone would have the audacity to potentially come up to me and tell me to go back to where I come from or go back to where I was born. I was born in this country. And not only that, but since my family tree migrated from China over to the United States, the males in my family have served the United States military as a way of saying thank you for the incredible gift of being able to come over to the United States. I find it extremely reprehensible that these people who perpetrate such hate crimes tend to target elderly folks or women. And I'm not trying to say that women are the weaker gender, it's just I find it particularly cowardice that a perpetrator would choose either women to attack or elderly women or elderly men.
MIKEIt's to the point now -- I used to after work watch the NBC Nightly News every night just to catch a 30 minute update on what was going on in the world and in the United States. It's to the point now where when I see...
NNAMDICan't do it.
MIKEYeah, I just -- I switch to a different channel, because it's so angering to see what's going on. And I just ...
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much, Mike, for adding your voice to this very important conversation. John Yang, you believe we need action at that federal level. There is a federal hate crime statute, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. What more do you think needs to happen to address this nationally?
YANGCertainly the federal legislation helps. So there's both the Jabara-Heyer's No Hate Act as well as Congresswoman Meng and Senator Hirono's COVID-19 hate crimes bill. I think both of those are great starts. Then we need more resources for our community. And when I say resources I am talking about money to ensure that victims have multilingual responses, to ensure that people have the types of mental services healthcare services that they need. But then the last thing I would say, is that this also has to be local too, because we can't legislate ourselves away from racism.
YANGAnd when I say racism all of us are in this together. Right now there is a moment that it's been focused on the Asian American community. But let's not remember last year with George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We all have to do a lot more locally to really combat this virus of racism as well.
NNAMDIHere is Frank in Sperryville, Virginia. Frank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANKYeah. Thank you. I am calling to say that I think it maybe that the racial part of it is overshadowing another important element of it. And the reason I don't think it's in this case that these killings were entirely racially motivated is because he was having physical contact with Asian women, and, you know, in some form intimate or not. So it doesn't seem like he was -- had a hatred for them. But the important part that needs to maybe be looked at is that after having read about his story and his background he was in treatment for porn addiction and he'd been, you know, into internet porn, apparently from -- as a kid, probably from puberty, and he came from a very religious background, super strict, and that combination...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt, because we don't have a great deal of time left. But Marian Liu, to what extent is the attacker's story in your view, which our caller is obviously familiar with overshadowing the stories of the victims?
LIUWell, the majority of the victims are Asian women. That's a fact and it doesn't also take away from how this affects the community and how Asian women are perceived. And you talk about internet porn, there's a whole category of just Asian female. So it's all unfortunately wrapped together, like I said before, misogyny and racism, gender, sexuality, exotification, it's all wrapped together in one when you talk about Asian females.
NNAMDIAnd we're almost out of time, but Yunhan, you have said that anti-racism is not a new problem. Where do you see solutions?
ZHANGWell, first I think we need a very strategic and a scientific response to this. The hate crime against Asian Americans did not start with COVID-19 and it did not start last year. It has been there for decades or even centuries as John has mentioned. In the late, you know, 1800s, there were legislations just targeting Asian Americans. So from the media, from our leaders in different industries, including our leaders in garment, we need more conversation. We need a platform, which, again, with a lot of interpretation or translation hub. We need to have more people speak up about this issue. Then we can have a more, you know, full understand of what we're facing right now, because so far we're just talking about one singular thing. But again, we need a full system to combat this.
NNAMDIYunhan Zhang, Marian Liu, John Yang thank you all for joining us.
NNAMDIUp next Eleasha Gamble.
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