Gruesome crimes against Asian Americans are fueling fear and drawing condemnation nationwide. While Asian scapegoating rose during the pandemic, such unwarranted blaming has old roots in America — from anti-Asian government policies and cultural appropriation to the strange place this so-called model minority finds in today’s United States. Asians are reaching new heights of political power and influence today, shaping American culture in profound ways while also confronting disturbing threats. Today’s Daily Dose explores what’s going on.
Pallabi Munsi and Isabelle Lee, Reporters
community at a crossroads
1. Cases You Must Know
The jarring videos are catching the country’s attention. In January, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai American, was out for a morning walk in San Francisco when a young man violently shoved him to the ground, leading to his death. Days later, 28-year-old Yahya Muslim shoved a 91-year-old to the sidewalk before doing the same to a 60-year-old and a 55-year-old in Oakland’s Chinatown. In San Jose, a 64-year-old Vietnamese American woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000, and in New York, Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino American, had his face slashed with a box cutter on the subway. Two more Asian women, ages 68 and 71, were attacked on the New York City subway Tuesday.
2. Pandemic-Fueled Hate
While the U.S. is not witnessing hate crimes against Asian Americans for the first time, experts believe that the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in China — and President Donald Trump calling it the “Chinese virus” — incited recent attacks. A report by the Asian American Bar Association of New York found more than 2,500 incidents of coronavirus-related hate and violence between March and September, a number that likely substantially underestimates the total given how few incidents are reported to authorities. President Joe Biden signed an executive order last month directing the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to explore ways to fight xenophobia, but the hate continues.
What else is fueling these racist attacks? The economy. Carnegie South Asia Director Milan Vaishnav tells OZY there has always been a connection between crime and recession. He compares today’s economic strife to the Great Depression, when crime also surged, with homicides peaking in 1933 before New Deal programs were implemented. “While one section, the white-collar workers, are working from home, seemingly unaffected, there is a huge chunk of blue-collar and other workers who are out of a job,” Vaishnav says. “The government too has been slow to help them out.”
4. In the Affirmative
This month, the Biden administration’s Department of Justice dropped a key federal lawsuit launched by the Trump administration. The suit alleged that Yale University’s admissions policies violated civil rights laws by discriminating against whites and Asian Americans to boost Black applicants. While many Asian Americans have been vocally in support of taking on elite university admissions, these cases are controversial, with many activists saying Asians are being used as a wedge to improve outcomes for white applicants. A recent survey found that 70 percent of Asian Americans were in favor of affirmative action.
The divide is real — and the cracks are visible in C-suites. Even though there are 1.6 times as many East Asians as South Asians in the U.S., South Asians are more likely to climb the executive ladder. The CEOs of Alphabet, IBM and WeWork, who ascended to their jobs within the past year-plus, are all of Indian origin. MIT Sloan assistant professor Jackson Lu, who researched the issue, maintains that the “bamboo ceiling” comes from culture, saying that “East Asian cultures encourage humility, harmony and stability,” while South Asian cultures encourage debate and argument. But the fact remains that even separating the community into East and South Asian doesn’t do justice to the massive religious and economic diversity across America’s fastest-growing demographic group, now at 5.9 percent of the population.
6. Fighting Back
Asian Americans have proved that they will not take the racist backlash lying down. While groups like the United Peace Corps have started patrolling streets, others have promoted the hashtag #HateIsAVirus and held online rallies and workshops to educate people about xenophobia. And Stop AAPI Hate, a website started by groups at San Francisco State University, is helping ensure people from the community report the crimes. Celebrities are also chiming in. While Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu offered a reward of $25,000 to anyone providing information leading to the arrest of the person who shoved the 91-year-old in Oakland, Gemma Chan tweeted that “too often these attacks are ignored.”
It’s part of OZY’s DNA to tell important but overlooked stories, which makes it an honor to team up with Lifetime for our first foray into film, sharing the chilling true story of a mother and daughter separated at the U.S.-Mexico border in Torn From Her Arms. We are thrilled to help bring the story of Cindy and Jimena Madrid, as reported by OZY's Nick Fouriezos, to the screen.
Invented in the 1800s in China, mahjong has evolved over the years, but three white women in Dallas recently tried to execute a dramatic turn by redesigning the tile game for a white Western luxury market. Marketed as “not your mama’s mahjong,” the sets replaced Chinese characters and symbols on the tiles. The sets were exorbitantly expensive, running as much as $425, and drew intense social media pushback for appropriating and twisting Chinese culture for profit, leading the founders to apologize.
2. Kung Fu Fail
You might have heard the term “jade egg” in 2017, thanks to the Gwyneth Paltrow-Goop controversy, but the trend took a new turn a few weeks ago. So-called sexpert Kim Anami, a white woman, made a stereotype-filled music video titled “Kung Fu Vagina” to promote her $1,197 course about using ancient Taoist practices to enhance your vagina. Putting the weird video aside, inserting jade eggs into your vagina isn’t an ancient Chinese practice, and the claim that it is has been debunked several times over.
3. Fox Eyes
The playground insult of pulling your eyes into slits has undergone a glow-up thanks to Instagram. A new trend called the “fox eye” has emerged on the platform and involves using makeup to mimic the classically Asian feature of a lifted, slanted eye. The movement is yet another example of co-opting Asian features and turning them into a fashion statement.
Asian Americans make up the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., so why are they so underrepresented in the media? The filmmakers of the post–Crazy Rich Asians era are working to fix that. That blockbuster movie has been both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, it increased the appetite for Asian American stories; on the other, some producers see Asian-led films as nothing more than a marketing jackpot.
making a mark
1. Vivek Murthy
This Indian American “voice for science” was the youngest surgeon general in U.S. history under President Barack Obama at age 37. The Miami-raised Murthy, whose parents hail from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, is set to resume his former post under Biden. His top job will be to address the coronavirus pandemic, but expect Murthy, 43, to also tackle a disease he once described at OZY Fest as being the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes per day: loneliness.
In 2019, at age 30, she became the first woman in the U.S. Secret Service motorcade support unit. The 5-foot-4 Illinois native whose “dad is 100 percent Indonesian” and whose mom is “all sorts of mixed everything” is beyond excited to be a role model for young girls. Gunawan’s love of motorcycles started at age 18, with her longing to be part of a bike-owning clique.
Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, the child of Korean immigrants, Sophia Chang changed the American hip-hop scene as manager of the Wu-Tang Clan. New York hip-hop, she says, was “expressing myself in a way that was raw.” Chang won credibility with the groundbreaking Black artists who integrated Asian culture into their music. The music business matriarch and author (The Baddest Bitch in the Room) plans to make life better for women like her: She recently founded Unlock Her Potential, a program to provide mentorships for women of color.
We return to one of TV’s most successful franchises of the 21st century with one of its most successful stars. Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Kenya Moore shares intimate details of her journey as a mother — and whether she’s “brave enough” to think about a second child — and insights into how to build a multimillion-dollar business as a side hustle to her full-time job and parenting duties.
Led by women from both political parties, Asian Americans saw huge gains in 2020. A trio of West Coasters became the first Korean American women elected to Congress: Young Kim and Michelle Steel, California Republicans, and Marilyn Strickland, a Democrat from Washington state. Along with Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother is from India, they are leaders of a key trend: More Asian Americans are running for office than ever before.
2. Andrew Yang
Yang came out of nowhere to be the surprise of the 2020 presidential race, almost single-handedly pushing universal basic income into the mainstream. Now he’s taking his unconventional star power to the New York City mayoral race, where he is polling atop the Democratic field despite his late entry. He has also attracted considerable early criticism for living outside New York City during the pandemic and not having voted in the past four NYC mayoral elections. For now Yang is off the physical campaign trail, sidelined by a COVID-19 diagnosis.
According to exit polls, 31 percent of Asian Americans voted for Trump in 2020, another sign of a diverse voting bloc that is up for grabs. Conservative Chinese Americans, in particular, are emerging as a political force as they challenge liberal orthodoxies like affirmative action and organize by the thousands on WeChat. As Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, told OZY last year, Vietnamese Americans are drifting right as well. As is the case across the racial spectrum, the pro-Trump shift is largely driven by men.
COVID-19 isn’t the first time Asian Americans have been scapegoats. During the California gold rush of the 19th century, which sparked a massive flood of immigration, Chinese miners were deemed “coolies” and used as pseudo-slaves, indentured to white miners. Both California and the federal government passed laws specifically designed to deny citizenship to people of Chinese descent.
2. The Stain of Internment
After the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps. The camps were dusty, dismal, isolated and surrounded by barbed wire. When internment was lifted after three years and the imprisoned were allowed back into their communities, it was difficult for them to readjust. They faced violence and prejudice as they tried to reclaim what had once been theirs.
3. Remembering Vincent Chin
In 1982, 27-year-old Chin was killed in Detroit while celebrating his upcoming wedding with friends. His killers, autoworkers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, were angry about Japanese car companies taking jobs from Americans. Chin wasn’t even of Japanese descent — he was Chinese American — and his killers didn’t spend a single day in jail for his murder. Chin’s death galvanized the Asian American community, creating a panethnic identity and a wave of multiethnic support for civil rights causes. His murder is remembered as a crucial turning point when Asian Americans entered the civil rights movement.