Putting The ‘I’ In Immigrant: The rise in Asian American hate crimes calls for a unification of the community and its allies

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The complexities of being Asian in the United States have increased exponentially since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. There is a permeating aggression and desire for retribution that envelopes the label. 

I have never been more proud and yet more heartbroken to call myself a part of the body of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) braving its way through the Western world. There has been a great acceptance of who we are, but it has come at a time of great sorrow for many being used as a tool for misdirected vengeance. 

I have been raised by and am a part of a vibrant Asian American community that is unarguably invaluable to the University, to Southern California and to the entire nation. 

In my upbringing, the tenets of diligence, humility and the acceptance of a harder path were ingrained in me. There is a great unspoken acceptance of the “model minority” helm that is placed upon us, and for fear of breaking from the fold, the majority of Asian Americans take it up, albeit with a grain of salt. 

The “model minority” notion has become a conceptual tool used in tangible AAPI oppression. My parents and their parents were led to believe that if they worked hard enough or if they assimilated more completely, they might one day have a seat at the table. This catch-22 promises that we, as a demographic, may have a greater chance at opportunity where other minorities may not, but like a mirage in the distance, there is no substance to what has been promised. 

The issue of standing complicit to the acts of aggression carried out by this nation has become an issue of contention within the AAPI community. 

Asian Americans, old and young, have been trained not to come to the aid of others, even our own. We are encouraged to turn a blind eye. Most starkly, it has been suggested to us from birth that we should be grateful for the sliver of equal opportunity that has been afforded to us on account of our cooperation. 

I would liken it to playing the lottery; you have a chance to win, however small, as long as you follow all of the rules.

As it is, there is no place for our own self-acceptance in this lottery. The powers in this country have set whiteness on a pedestal and encouraged us to be something we may never be, and yet, because of our love for this nation and our desire to succeed, we try.

Our hearts reside with the family of Vicha Ratanapakdee, and we condemn the attack on the 91-year-old man in Oakland and on Noel Quintana, a Filipino man slashed across the face on a New York subway car. 

These grave acts of aggression are accompanied by smaller microaggressions that Asian Americans have faced on a daily basis since the outbreak of the pandemic. 

Since the pandemic’s outbreak, there have been upwards of 2,500 cases of anti-Asian hate crimes according to Stop AAPI Hate, a group dedicated to tracking such incidents. The New York Police Department reported a 1,900% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020. 

The aggressors, no matter the scale of the attack, have dangerously manipulated a global pandemic to use as an excuse to harm those already struggling. In no way are we to blame for this global crisis, but our businesses, our people and our culture are shouldering the burdens of a xenophobia that continues to build. 

For those of AAPI descent or those who are allies to our community, in the defense of Asian American lives, we should not be permissive of the hate crimes and hate speech that have been condoned by past leaders or enduring cultural biases. 

Asian Americans are not the source of an outbreak. They are not the place to find and take justice. They are the life-force with which this country has been able to push forward in a world of unprecedented happenstances. 

They are hard-working Americans — loving grandparents, parents and children — and because that doesn’t seem to be convincing for some, they are first and foremost human beings who do not deserve the xenophobic rhetoric and malice-filled attacks that have been rationalized as nationalism. 

Through that lens, my heart and my efforts for justice reside with my community — as they do with other communities facing racial and socioeconomic battles alongside this health crisis. 

The past year has been a true battle for change in the way this nation treats and views its marginalized peoples. 

In the past year, former president Donald Trump referred very memorably to the coronavirus not by its medical abbreviation but by a string of racist monikers that fanned the flames of xenophobia nationwide. 

The use of that language was recently prohibited by the Biden administration, but not before it had already entered the vocabulary of the indecent and malice-filled citizen. The power of these words and phrases have made themselves known and our communities have been assaulted in more ways than one.

The fact that we are Asian and Pacific Islander does not take away from the value of our work or the lengths we have gone to aid the nation we call home in its battle against a nationwide crisis. 

Our race most certainly does not take away the value of our lives, and the AAPI community is not the place to mislay acts of aggression in the name of an unfounded justice. 

The prohibition of xenophobic language is a start, but stopping these incidents involves a much broader group of people. It involves individuals and requires change within communities, within the AAPI community as well. 

The prevalence of racism in this country has made it undeniable that a pandemic existed long before the coronavirus was discovered. The fight against hate and systems of inequality present themselves as the reigning battle in America, and the deconstruction of these systems truly begins with the individual. 

For others who identify with the AAPI community, I have such great faith that we are turning a new leaf. I know the difficulty of unraveling these lifelong practices and the shame with which we have approached our Asianness for far too long. We must continue to advocate for others and advocate for ourselves, too. There has never been a greater time to come together and work towards change. 

Noelle Natividad is a sophomore writing about the immigrant experience in America. Her column, “Putting The ‘I’ In Immigrant,” runs every other Friday.