Part of why it’s so difficult to talk about the discrimination Asian-Americans face is that there is no such thing as a unified Asian-American experience — far from it.
Some of our families have been in the United States for generations, and some have come from dozens of countries under many different circumstances, including as refugees.
[Read more about how racism and sexism intertwine to torment Asian-American women.]
Members of Asian-American communities have varying levels of education and English proficiency and can land at different places on the American political spectrum, sometimes depending on the issue. Some, particularly first-generation immigrants, are less inclined to call out racism, while their children might be more willing to speak up.
One tie that binds Asian-Americans, though, is our history, America’s history, of treating people of Asian descent as anonymous sources of labor, foreign objects to be expelled.
And that discrimination has tended to peak in times of national crisis, Lok Siu, an associate professor of Asian-American and Asian diaspora studies at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.
In the early 20th century, there was, she said, “a chain of exclusion acts,” meant to keep Asians from immigrating to the United States. During World War II, Japanese Americans were incarcerated in internment camps. During the Cold War, Chinese American organizations were targeted. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there was a rise in violence against Asian Muslims and Sikhs.
Now, of course, we’re living through a catastrophic pandemic and anti-Asian violence is rising again, experts have said.