In the face of COVID-19, our communities have felt fearful, uncertain, and even desperate. Against this backdrop of pandemic anxiety, one group has increasingly experienced harassment and even assault across the nation: the often-invisible Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community.
It’s bad enough to fear for your life as COVID-19 spreads and mutates, but in recent months, older Asians now also fear going out for daily walks, errands, or commutes. Recent videos of attacks on our elderly are horrific and gut-wrenching to watch, and only recently has the media begun to report on these crimes. The groups Stop AAPI Hate and Asian Americans Advancing Justice both report record numbers of hate crimes against Asian-Americans in recent months.
According to the Asian American Bar Association of New York, there were more than 2,500 reports of COVID-related, anti-Asian hate incidents nationwide between March and September 2020. The group also notes what we know to be true, that most incidents go unreported, because victims often fear to speak out.
This harassment and oppression is not new. Chinese-Americans were lynched in California in 1871. The Chinese Exclusion Act stretched from 1882 to 1943. The incarceration of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War remains a painful living memory for that community today.
Asian families in the Northland contribute to the community socially and economically. We volunteer our time, support local causes, run businesses, and proudly share our rich cultures with neighbors and friends. Yet many of us feel anxiety in the air, magnified by our nation’s current racial tensions.
Although Asians have lived in North America since the 16th century, our community still feels a lack of true belonging in 2021. For too long, Asians in America have endured side glances, racial slurs, slant-eye images, rhythmic racist taunts, and violent threats.
Many U.S.-born APIDA have heard in their lifetime, “Go back to where you came from!” We are looked upon as virus-carriers, as unpatriotic, and as pariahs, despite our service in the military, law enforcement, and health care. Our community experiences micro- and macro-aggressions in our own neighborhoods, in our workplaces, and in our children’s schools.
Congressional leaders certainly demonstrated their lack of empathy when 164 members of the House — including Minnesota’s Reps. Pete Stauber, Jim Hagedorn, and Tom Emmer — voted against a bill denouncing COVID-related anti-Asian sentiments, racism, discrimination, and religious intolerance. How can we move forward when people in power continually move us to the back of the line?
We want our local leaders, neighbors, and colleagues to acknowledge that what is happening elsewhere in the country also hurts us here in the Midwest. We want people to look at us, see our humanity, and affirm our dignity. Stop asking us where we are from. Ask how we are doing and how we can help each other do better.
Our Asian community also needs to speak up more and to report harassment without shame or fear of retribution. We must educate our neighbors about the realities we face. We will not fall prey to presumptions that pit minorities against minorities. Instead, we must stand in solidarity against white supremacy with our fellow BIPOC community members. We can and must counter misinformation with truth.
Here in the Twin Ports, we cannot brush off these hateful acts. We all need to work hand in hand if we are to live in harmony and hope. This happens when we open our hearts to listen and to learn.
Betty Casazza, Belissa Ho, Laura Judd, Julie Kim, Sharon Kwong, Jennifer Lien, Pakou Ly, and Sharon Yung are Asian women living in Duluth who are dedicated to advocacy and engagement and who have expertise in education, civic affairs, health care, business, arts, and equal justice.