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Eight Shot, Six Asian American Women killed

Eight Shot, Six Asian American Women killed

I saw the news headline and signed heavily. Though the sorrow that struck that first day was profound, the anger and frustration of the ensuing week’s coverage was overwhelming. 

“It wasn’t a racist attack, the killer said so.” 

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“They worked in a dangerous profession in the red-light district…” 

“He was at the end of his rope.”

Each new comment spilling over a boiling pot of ignorance and threatening to scald my already raw and wounded disposition. Being immersed in the pages of Asian American history, the lack of knowledge about anti-Asian violence in America always strikes me hard. One of the greatest triumphs of the mythos of white supremacy, is the lack of sticking power that narratives out of the histories of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and Pacific Islander peoples have. 

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How many Chinatowns have been wiped off the map, burned down by the fires of nativist sentiments? Do people know the names of the 18 Chinese immigrants that were tortured and hung in Los Angeles in 1871? Perhaps the 1942-45 incarceration of Japanese Americans is now better known, but what about the bombing of Japanese farms in the Salt River Valley of Arizona in 1934? Or the 1930 anti-Filipino riots in Watsonville? How many people remember the 1989 school shooting in Stockton that left five children dead in a Southeast Asian community? How many times must the name of Vincent Chin be invoked before his story is remembered by the American public?

Hundreds of people gathered in China Town’s Portsmouth Square on March 20 to show support amid the recent wave of violence against members of the AAPI community. Participants painted justice driven artwork throughout the park and wrote messages conveying solidarity with the AAPI community. Photo: Benjamin Fanjoy

The lack of knowledge around histories of Asian American struggle and anti-Asian violence foments an ecosystem in which the violence of the present moment comes to many as a surprise, or encourages them to brush it aside as an aberration instead of a pattern. The narrative of Asian immigrant success, utilized as a cudgel to enforce the oppression of other people of color, sweeps aside these histories. Such erasure marginalizes the struggles and fears of Asian American communities today. Only at times of crisis do they briefly see moments of recognition before falling to the margins once more.

The statements that drive my patience to the limit do not only come from outside the Asian American community. I have grown to expect obliviousness from white news broadcasters in the national press, though I loathe it. But commentary rooted in ignorance echoes from the posts and punditry of social media activists and the self-proclaimed righteous from within the Asian American community. 

Calls for ending Asian American silence. As if there hasn’t been a century of Asian American activist and radical movements which demanded justice and equity. Calls for more police and tougher punishments and prosecutions. As if we hadn’t spent the last year demanding an end to unjust policing that disproportionately brutalizes black and brown bodies. Such demands are short sighted and push towards a centering and alienation that casts aside the bonds of interethnic solidarity movements. 

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I have grown to expect obliviousness from white news broadcasters in the national press, though I loathe it.

Where does one begin amidst all the turbulence? Just six months ago, in September of 2020, 164 congress members, all of them Republicans, voted against a bill condemning anti-Asian violence. This after years of presidential rhetoric alienating and scapegoating Asia as the source of American woes, from the economy to the pandemic. With the sea change in governmental leadership, I would hope that we can expect better from Washington, but I don’t know if we really can. Wasn’t this change in leadership also supposed to stop putting children into cages?

At times of despair, when I question how the study of the past, my own profession, can help in the present if the people don’t learn about it, I also find courage and heart in that very past. I think of the strength of Yuri Kochiyama as she walked with Malcom X and her dedication to justice and human rights. I recollect the writings of Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, woven throughout with the spirit of revolution. I recall the solidarities of Larry Itliong, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta as they demanded an end to the exploitation of farmworkers. I remember these things and I am filled with hope. California recently enacted an ethnic studies requirement for all CSU students. Each year, a new cohort of students will encounter these histories and perhaps be determined to make the world a better place than they found it. 

Despite the sorrow and the rage, and the moments where I feel helpless and unheard, I also remember that there is work to do. I take a moment to grieve, to vent, to regroup, and then to get up once more, carried forward by the chords of solidarity woven from the threads of numerous coalitions. I feel the strength of these bonds and hope that as I cast my own line out, it can provide another strand to share the weight. Bernice Johnson Regan warned that coalition work to change the world is hard and demanding and dangerous. But she also said it was necessary when we remember that it’s our world. So, let’s get to changing it. 

El Tecolote is 51 years strong this month!

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