Lee: One of the things we have to think about is, first of all, Asian-Americans have an enormous tent with so many diverse histories, so many countries of origin. What we often forget is that, within the countries of origin, there’s certain stories of patriarchy that we don’t want to talk about, histories of colonialism and imperialism. That’s incredibly informative when we think about sex workers, in particular, and working-class women because we have all these class issues. We also have ethnicity issues, we have regional issues. It’s really complicated.
Tchen: I think it’s about otherness. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here. I mean, I can’t even speak Chinese and yet, I feel very othered, always feel it. Why did “Minari” win best foreign-language film even though it’s an American story? It’s part of othering.
You layer on top of that the sexualization of Asian women — which has always existed and is fueling this. The law enforcement are sort of saying this has to do with his sex addiction, so therefore it’s not a hate crime or racially targeted. No, no, no — that’s all together — all part of one piece.
I can remember when I was younger, just out of college in 1978, there were men who would come up to me in the street, drop their pants and say I reminded them of the girlfriend they left behind in Vietnam. Literally drop their pants and begin to touch themselves in the middle of downtown Chicago, and this happened more than once.
Lee: This happened to me, too. It happened to me several times. People would actually grope me in the street saying things like, “You remind me of somebody in Vietnam.” Very often, these are poor, homeless people. It’s not as if I don’t have sympathy for them — they’re maybe suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve sympathy either.
There’s been so much of just swallowing the assault, all this repression, and we carry it forward, saying, “Oh, it’s not a big deal, it’ll be OK.” But now people are saying: “No more. We are first among equals. This is not OK.”