Patricia Kinaga is an employment lawyer and counsel in DWT's Los Angeles office. She is a third generation Japanese-American born and raised in California. Patricia recounts how anti-Asian hate has affected her and her colleagues and shares important guidance on how each of us can do our part to put a stop it.
Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month provides an opportunity to reflect on our identity as API women. We do so against the backdrop of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents which continue to affect us in sometimes subtle and at other times overt ways.
Anti-Asian hate is on the rise but not new
It has not gone unnoticed that the vast majority of anti-Asian hate crimes and micro-aggressions have occurred against API women. The violence has rocked us: The murders of Daoyou Feng, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Yong Yue in Georgia. The murder of Christina Yuna Lee who was stabbed to death after a man followed her to her Manhattan apartment, just a few weeks after Michelle Go was killed when she was pushed onto New York City subway tracks. Women in the San Francisco Bay Area have been assaulted while standing at bus stops. Last December six men were charged with 170 hate crime incidents—stabbings, muggings, and robberies—against APIs during 2021. One hundred of the victims were API women. To API women, these statistics are shocking yet at another level not surprising. We've lived through stereotypes that depict us as demure, quiet, hard-working, submissive.
We shuddered as we heard leaders in our nation's capital spew hate-filled rhetoric about the "China Virus" and "Kung Flu." Over the ensuing months the fears became reality. Strangers would cut a wide berth on sidewalks while we rushed to work. Travelers in airport terminals would quickly move as we, responsibly masked when others were not, reached down to plug in our iPhone cords. Grocery store clerks would roll their eyes at us when we politely reminded customers behind us in check-out lanes to not encroach on our precious six feet of safe social distancing. Lorraine Wang, an associate in our Los Angeles office, described how a man yelled at her, "you dirty Chinese people… you give everyone COVID!"
Hate against APIs is not a recent phenomenon. It started in the early 1900s with the arrival of the first Asian male immigrants who toiled to build our country's railroads. Distrust of these different-looking, different-sounding men led to hundreds of lynchings in Chinatowns. World War II was marked by the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese-Americans, young and old, held behind barbed wire solely on account of their ethnicity. Chinese-American Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit when he was mistaken as Japanese by white auto workers threatened by the Japanese auto industry.
How we're responding – as individuals and as a community
We've taken steps in response to the crimes, the serious incidents, and the micro-aggressive behavior. Korean-American Jisoo Kim, counsel in our New York office who was born and raised in the greater New York area, describes how customary safety precautions have been heightened. She is now more aware than before about proximity—who's around her, and where she stands on platforms and street corners. She looks over her shoulder even more. She recognizes, "I'm identifiable as an Asian woman; I need to be more vigilant." Other friends in Manhattan wait to run down to the subway platform until they hear the train approaching.
Before the pandemic, the elderly mother of one of my Chinese-American friends had enjoyed her weekly solitary walk to pick up her groceries in Oakland's Chinatown. Those walks are no more—for safety reasons my friend insists on driving her mother the few short blocks to the grocery store. The concern is not limited to the elderly. Even young API adults—women and men—are more aware of their surroundings. In fact, the topic of safety is now more frequently discussed among family, friends, and in the community. Jisoo describes how she'll learn about new incidents or the "latest attacks" from her family who are part of the informal network of friends passing along breaking details via social media, phone calls, and text messages—well before such incidents hit mainstream news outlets.
The anti-Asian hate has caused many of us to reflect upon our API identity. Chinese-American Lorraine Wang recounted, "I was born in New York City and lived in New Jersey. I grew up watching the Brady Bunch and the Six Million Dollar Man. I can sing both versions of the Gilligan's Island theme. But no matter how American I felt inside, I felt like I was wearing some sort of costume that made everyone around label me as a foreigner." She shared, "More than ever, I feel like people only see my race and not me as a person."
South Asian American Vandana Kapur, who is a counsel in our Los Angeles office, shares that she does not feel she is being currently targeted. But the rise in API hate crimes and incidents has brought back memories of the harmful shift of being regarded a model minority to being subjected to repeated hostility in the aftermath of 9/11.
While anti-Asian hate has deeply affected us personally and caused us to change our behavior, it has also spurred many in the widely diverse API communities to come together. "Stop Asian Hate" rallies, galvanized in many ways by the murders in Georgia, were attended by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. We stood for hours holding vigil, carrying candles and signs, crying for an end to the violence. We've painted murals, we've written songs about tolerance and peace.
A call for unity to stop anti-Asian hate
What can we do to help eradicate the hatred? For some of us, it has been a lifelong effort to dispel the stereotypes and to voice our concerns. To take action.
In Jisoo's words, we must all be aware of how we are treating each other. Be aware of the micro-aggressions. Put yourself in the situation of the person who is being mistreated. Whether you decide to take action can be a risk analysis, but at least do that risk analysis. Don't ignore what you just saw, what you just heard.
And know there are possible ways of intervening. Organizations such as the national nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice offer bystander intervention training. For example, in a crowded bus or train, the intervention of a heated racist rant against an Asian woman can consist of dropping a book, causing a momentary distraction between a perpetrator and the targeted API.
There have been over 10,000 anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents in the country since the beginning of the pandemic. We are all in a position to reach across and do something. Because, as Vandana stresses, "what affects one of us affects all of us."