Asian Americans rise above the fear to find strength in the face of hate

By Evan Matthew Chan

By Evan Matthew Chan

One month ago — Tuesday, March 16th — a seemingly ordinary San Francisco afternoon. I was on the couch, routinely checking my phone, when I stumbled upon news that made my heart plummet — six Asian women and two additional victims were shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia. Every muscle within me tensed as my brain froze, struggling to process what happened to the six Asian women. This past year, as anti-Asian hate relentlessly beats down our communities, I have never felt so threatened in the country I call home.

There is an untold legacy of anti-Asian discrimination and violence in the United States. From exploiting Chinese laborers for the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1800s, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — the first travel ban to include a nationality in its title, Japanese internment in World War II, the legal redlining against Asians during the 1900s, to countless other domestic events, including the recent assault on 75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie in San Francisco. This country has normalized and perpetuated exploitative and dangerous policies, causing generations of Asians and Asian-Americans immeasurable pain. The domineering model minority myth continually works to obscure our harrowing history.

Since the pandemic took hold, we have been shaken to our cores as we watch our elders; aunts and uncles; and, brothers and sisters attacked and killed solely on account of being Asian. Anti-Asian hate is only now visible to the public due to the power of social media, which shifted the discourse to acknowledge that othering Asian people as a model minority fabricates a dangerous narrative. This narrative upholds the same legacy of violence our families have experienced throughout numerous generations.

These anti-Asian attacks leave irrevocable effects on our lives. I was working at a San Francisco ice cream shop, less than a mile away from home. My parents always worried that I would be assaulted for being Chinese one day. Patrons consistently reacted with hostility to local public health orders and our internal health-related measures, namely wearing face-coverings. Being Chinese, I began worrying that a customer’s aggression could escalate to an attack. I never felt safe. Walking home from night shifts, I always donned a hat and pulled up my mask to hide my Asian appearance, as I trekked through the neighborhoods I consider home. I eventually came to an unspoken agreement with my parents’ anxieties, surrendering to the fear that I might one day be harmed, and gave up my public-facing ice cream job.

These days, I constantly think about members of my community. While living their daily lives, they have come face-to-face with the violent arm of hate. The xenophobia and racism present is loud, and no one deserves to be a target of assault. I am encouraged that we are finally discussing anti-Asian hate on a large scale. But, I still ask myself, after over a year of consistent attacks, why do we have to be injured and killed en masse for society to begin discussing, let alone acknowledge, anti-Asian hate?

As we move forward and create solutions to keep our communities safe, we must ensure that we are not promoting our communities’ well-being at the cost of others. We must resist the reactionary response of increasing policing, which not only harms Black communities, but also statistically targets our own South Asian and Muslim communities.

Instead of policing, we must promote investment into neighborhood organizations that center the voices of those directly impacted. We must also attack the roots of racism and xenophobia by increasing positive Asian representation in educational curricula, media, and political institutions. We must work alongside and stand in active solidarity with Black, Indigenous, Trans-Queer, People of Color to collectively disrupt and dismantle systemic racism.

Looking back to Tuesday, March 16th, the day of the Atlanta shooting, and a year since San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order, the fear that has been sown into our communities is disgraceful. But, we will unstitch the fear, and sow the strength our communities have emanated after every tragedy. We are resilient. We will rise. The United States is still my home, and the home of over 18 million Asians and Asian-Americans – this will never change, no matter the threat. We deserve to feel safe in our homes, and respected in our communities. We need to end anti-Asian hate.

A third generation Chinese-American and San Francisco native, Evan Matthew Chan is an Honors College student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a degree in Asian Studies, International Studies/Global Politics, and Chinese Studies.