AAPI students condemn Asian hate and describe years of microaggressions

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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.
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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.
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    ARHS senior McKenzie Fitz at the rally. Photo: Sophie-Zoe Schreyer
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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.
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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.
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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.
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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.
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    Attendees at the rally to Stop Asian Hate in Amherst, photographed by Sophie-Zoe Schreyer.

On Saturday, March 27, the Amherst Common bustled with activity as people gathered, holding signs of support for the Asian community with slogans like “Hate is a Virus,” “Stop Asian Hate,” and “USA For All.” The rally began with AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) people sharing their stories into microphones set up on the side of the road. A chant for justice for the victims of the deadly Atlanta shooting on March 16 was later led by two protestors. 

Then the microphones were opened to the crowd and community members stepped up to speak. Sadness, anger, determination, and a call for solidarity and change were echoed by each speaker.

ARHS senior McKenzie Fitz, a member of the Women’s Rights Club and an attendee of the rally, said, “As an Asian American woman, I have been incredibly upset with what has been happening with the uprising of Asian Hate crimes in this country. It scares me that this is what my AAPI community has to, and continues to face. What scares me the most is that people are not recognizing it as the huge problem it is.”

Fitz said she was really moved by the support of everyone who showed up to the rally. “It felt good to have a place to express my anger and frustration about what has been happening with other fellow members of the AAPI community as well as supportive allies,” she said.

Addy Lepak, a ARHS sophomore also part of the Women’s Rights Club agreed. “I feel rallies are important in terms of spreading awareness on a large physical scale,” she said. “Authorities can only ignore a situation so much especially if footage of stop Asian hate rallies are being shared all over the media.”

The rally was one of many protests spreading across the country in the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings where a lone gunman opened fire on three spas and massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, 2021, killing 8 people: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Xiaojie Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Soon Chung Park, 74, Suncha Kim, 69, and Yong Ae Yue, 63. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent. 

Authorities had not classified the deadly attack as a hate crime as of April 5, 2021, saying instead that the suspect, who has since been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, struggled with a sex addiction. 

Lepak said she was enraged. “I believed the authorities would claim the motive was racial but they chose to fabricate the crime as one caused by a sex addiction. Do six dead Asian women at Asian-owned massage and spa parlors not equate to a racial motive?” she asked.

After the shooting, news coverage alerted the public to an alarming spike in anti-Asian violence as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. The United Nations issued a report that recorded an estimated 1,800 racially motivated incidents against Asians in an eight-week period from March to May 2020. Crimes included vandalism, denial of access to services and public spaces, verbal harassment, physical assaults, and fatal attacks. 

Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization that tracks incidents of discrimination and hate against Asian Americans as well as Pacific Islanders in the U.S. more than doubled that number; they received roughly 3,800 accounts of anti-Asian hate. More than 100 of those involved Asian Americans over the age of 60. 

In January of 2021, an 84-year-old Thai man named Vicha Ratanapakdee was body-slammed onto the ground and later died from his injuries in San Francisco, California. 

The suspect was charged with murder and elder abuse. But Chesa Boudin, San Franciso’s district attorney, said there was no evidence it was racially motivated.

It has also been noted that many believe the recent uptick was incited by the language of former President Donald Trump, who gave the COVID-19 virus a variety of racist names including the “Chinese virus,” the “Wuhan Flu,” and the “Kungflu,” all the while dismissing concerns that his language would lead to any harm, according to a New York Times article entitled “Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety.”

In Amherst, Massachusetts, violence on that scale is rare. However, that does not mean aggression toward Asian Americans is not present and many in our community took action to make sure that hate like this is countered in our community. On March 23, the Regional School Committee in Amherst put out a statement denouncing anti-Asian violence in the wake of the shooting, condemning racism and xenophobia towards the Asian community. 

ARHS administrators later held a meeting with students to discuss how the school could work with students to raise awareness and create support for the AAPI community.

On March 30, in a social justice lunch hosted by the International Students Club, ARHS students discussed anti-Asian racism and their experiences. ARHS junior Rebekah Hong opened with a poem she wrote titled “Anesthesia.”

“In elementary school I was introduced to a world of blissful ignorance. My white peers pulled their eyes back to mock mine and parodied my mother tongue. Each syllable more insulting than the last,” she recited. “Sometimes it would hurt so much I would laugh and holler with them. Each bellow perhaps a step closer to blissful ignorance. Anesthesia that soothes the wound they perpetually open.”

One student recalled their experience of being placed into a class for students who needed help with English despite English being their first language, and how other students who actually needed help were ignored. And another speaker added that since the Atlanta shootings, they have been wary of going outside and fear for their family’s safety. 

In an interview with Hong, who runs the International Students club, she talked about her own experiences and thoughts on the recent events.

“I feel like I’ve become numb to the idea of Asian American racism when it’s not in the form of something like a shooting,” she said. “For the usual Asian American, microaggressions are really common, like being asked about your background, [people] making ignorant faces [at us], and talking weirdly.”

Hong continued that she felt the recent movement against Asian hate would not have happened if an event like the Atlanta shooting did not happen. 

Hong also described seeing a post online that talked about what the Asian American experience was.  “It was described as getting paper cuts continuously,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh she got a paper cut, the whole world is gonna come to her rescue. No one is going to say that.” 

The real pain of this kind of racism, Hong noted, was that “nobody can point out a specific incident unless it’s a serious verbal or violent incident, and create a movement to stop it.”

ARHS senior Emily Wang shared how culture can play a role in Asian racism being downplayed. “I feel like the culture that Asians have to just keep quiet and move on, to let it pass, is real,” she noted. “[The idea that there’s] no need to make things harder really played into the amount of attention that this issue was getting.”

She added that in the wake of movements such as BLM, she feels people are much more willing to be vocal and proactive regarding issues surrounding Asian American hate. 

“Speeches made at the rally were really eye opening for me, an Asian person, so I wonder how eye opening those speeches would be for someone with no relation or connection to the Asian community,” she said.“It exposes people to the issue as well as gives context to why people feel the way they do.” In a statement made in the morning announcements, The Women’s Rights Club encouraged everyone at ARHS to take a stand against anti-Asian hate. 

They wrote, “We urge our teachers and classmates to use your voices to actively speak out against and disrupt racist violence. If you are neutral, if you are silent, you are hurting us. To our allies: we cannot fight this alone, and we need you to find ways to get involved, informed, and educated. To the Asian American community here at ARHS, we support you, we stand in solidarity with you and we will fight for and alongside you.”