Last week, New York Times editor Michael Luo wrote an open letter to a woman that harassed him and his family for being Asian-American.
“I was, honestly, stunned when you yelled at us from down the block, ‘Go back to China!’” Luo said in his letter, published in the New York Times on Oct. 9th. “Afterward, my 7-year-old, who witnessed the whole thing, kept asking my wife, ‘Why did she say, ‘Go back to China?’ We’re not from China.’”
Luo’s letter lead to an outpouring of responses on Twitter, as others relayed their experiences with racially charged encounters.
At a time when diversity in America is so widely discussed, the issues of Asian Americans are not as commonly covered in widespread media.
According to the 2010 census, minorities make up close to 30 percent of Seattle’s population. Half those are Asian Americans. With the prominence of racial equality groups like Black Lives Matter tackling the heavy subject of police brutality, what about Asian American issues?
“It’s not fair to compare the issues of the Black Lives Matters group and Asians,” said Hong Chhuor, the communications manager of Seattle’s Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). “We experience oppression in other ways; we are seen as the model minority that doesn’t have a strong voice.”
While Asian Americans may not be the target of police brutality, Luo’s experience in New York exemplifies the serious issues of racism and discrimination that we’re facing nationwide.
Surveys done in Washington D.C. found that 54 percent of students being bullied are Asian American, and racist stereotypes continue to exist in modern media, like a recent Fox News segment shot in New York City’s Chinatown.
In addition to bullying and street harassment, Asians often face stereotyping, marginalization, and cultural appropriation, even right here in Seattle.
“I grew up in Seattle. I always feel like this is a very diverse area, but it doesn’t seem like we’re insulated from racism.”
Jennifer Sun, a Seattle-born Chinese American woman says she dealt with this incident when she attended a Mariners game last year:
“My daughter and I sat down and pretty soon I started hearing this person yelling ‘F-ing Chinese people, f-ing Chinese eyes’ and I didn’t even know who he was yelling at,” said Sun. “It’s one of those moments where you’re kind of like, did I really just hear that?”
Unfortunately, for Sun, this racial attack wasn’t a one time incident.
“I feel like it happens all the time,” Sun said. “I was walking down the street with my niece just by our house and somebody felt like they had to yell ‘chink’ at us. I grew up in Seattle. I always feel like this is a very diverse area, but it doesn’t seem like we’re insulated from racism.”
While social media campaigns like #NotYourAsianSidekick and influential bloggers like Angry Asian Man have called out underlying racial issues in the media, they have still yet to gain the traction necessary to invoke a mass movement for change.
Regional Asian American activist groups like Asian Americans United, which was founded over 30 years ago, do not have the widespread social prominence to address problems head on.
Without a widely publicized group or idea, the most that Asian Americans can do now is to make sure that their voices are heard individually.
“Our hope is in empowering the community,” said Chhuor. “Rallying to register to vote, engaging with leaders, we want to give the population a voice.”
Since Luo first published his letter, the New York Times has produced a video where others told their own stories of harassment and discrimination (embedded above), and hosted a live chat with Asian American experts and advocates.
Despite the negativity of these incidents, there is still optimism in the dialogue that they have created.
“In general I’m a very hopeful person,” said Sun. “This is the time when I hope we can make our voices heard and that we can join in to be allies with other people of color, but also with anyone who’s willing to start talking more openly about this.”