Hate Crimes Against the AAPI Community and How it Affects a First Generation American

The AAPI community has been discriminated against far longer than America cares to admit. I feel these effects.

Image from @chinatownvibes on Instagram

The more I look at hate crimes against the AAPI community in America, the less desensitized I become towards the inherit racism I face.

It’s not that I don’t recognize the problem with racism and discrimination — I acknowledge it and have an unsettling feeling at the pit of my stomach whenever I vocalize my frustrations about hate crimes. I use my voice to the best of my ability. I empathize and sympathize with communities in order to support others and I try to create spaces that allow people to feel safe when they want to speak up.

But it gets hard to carry the burden of oppression because I didn’t choose to carry it. I was born with it.

I can’t afford to ignore racism and discrimination because it follows me wherever I go. I am of Indonesian descent, I am perceived as looking somewhere in between Chinese and Filipino, and I experience comments and snide remarks from people regarding the COVID-19 virus despite never having step foot in China. I am constantly stereotyped and I endure microaggressions, such as comments about my culture from people who are not educated in Indonesian-American culture. No one asks me if they’re overstepping because most of the time, the people who perpetuate these racist acts think they have the right to make me uncomfortable in the first place.

It’s hard to shut off racism within my own community. I can put my phone down to limit the amount of social media I use within a day but I can’t let myself ignore the ongoing problem surrounding hate crimes towards the AAPI community. I’ve learned that being able to put down my phone when I’m being physically and emotionally affected is a good thing but it never lasts because I always feel the need to help those who don’t understand my struggle, understand my struggle.

Image from @kimsaira on Instagram

I’ve grown up in Northern California my entire life and was lucky enough to be able to attend private schools in Marin County through scholarships before moving to a public school closer to where I live. In my youth, it was hard for me to understand why everyone was befriending each other but why I always seemed to be on the sidelines from excluded birthday invites to my peers verbally naming all of their friends in front of me.

My mother always felt left out, too. She would come home from PTA meetings (which were not that many — between her jobs and taking care of my sister and I, that left little room for attending school functions) and air her frustrations about being silenced and never quite feeling like she had the support of other parents. It never dawned on me that what she experienced was racism (and classism, but this intersection is another topic in itself). Now I understand that being the only person of color in grade school meant having to endure people making fun of my lunches because the food “smells” weird and my eye shape being the bud of many jokes.

I acknowledge that it isn’t typical bullying. It’s racism and it follows me into adulthood.

I’m 21 and I’m barely starting my life away from home. I’m a third year in college. I’m looking for internships while working anywhere between 25–35 hours a week. I helped my mom take care of my ailing father before he passed away and I’m still dealing with the effects of grief five months later. But on top of this, I have to deal with the impending knowledge that I’m going to experience some form of racism, whether inherit or unassuming, when I walk into work or when I enter the public domain.

I work in the food and service industry and the anxiety I felt at the beginning of quarantine, when everyone in America took quarantining more seriously that today, cannot be explained. It felt like walking into my safe space knowing that there would be an imminent person or moment that would make my safe space feel otherwise. It felt like knowing everyone was going to judge me no matter how many times I tried to defend myself because nobody cared about my feelings. All anyone cared about was finding a group to blame and I looked like a scapegoat.

Hate crimes against the AAPI community are not a recent occurrence and have been happening for hundreds of years in the U.S. Our pleas are often ignored because of the “model minority” stereotype — which is harmful because it erases trauma that many immigrant and people of Asian descent have experienced — and we are told to keep our head down and work harder with the hopes that the government and fellow peers will accept us for who we are. But the matter of the fact is unless we‘re white, we will never be equal to the white man.

The hate crime that occurred in Atlanta is a hate crime perpetuated by Robert Aaron Long who harbors a deep hatred for the AAPI community. This is a hate crime against Asian sex workers. This is a hate crime against people who look like me and are descendants from the same and similar regions where I come from. Law enforcement and sympathizers who are trying to portray Long as a disturbed individual are part of the problem because they’re not addressing the racism against the AAPI in the communities they’re supposed to serve and protect.

Image from @chinatownvibes on Instagram

I’ve been having a hard time articulating my anger and frustration because I know this issue isn’t going to be fixed in my lifetime. I’ll always have to look out for myself because people are not willing to control their implicit racism. I am constantly being fetishized because of my ethnicity and I can tell when men are staring at my body when I did not give them consent to do so. I’m always being stereotyped by strangers who make small talk with me at supermarkets or at work. I’m expected to act professional at work but quite frankly, I deserve more than to have to smile politely when I’m faced with racist comments.

I can’t afford to ignore what’s happening because I’m experiencing it every single day. I can’t afford to “look at the bright side” nor can I afford to count all of my blessings when I fear for my life and my emotional well being. I do not have the privilege of pretending my life is safe when I walk into public because, as the Atlanta shooting has shown, that is not my reality.

To be privileged means to not be affected by social issues and hate crimes towards underrepresented groups. It’s up to those with privilege to figure out what to do with it.

An avid writer, a current public relations student, and a person trying to write her way through her feelings. emilykthen@gmail.com