By Dylan Manfre
Asian-Americans have been battling two pandemics: The new coronavirus and racism against their community.
Members of the Asian Students at Rider Club (ASAR) felt deeply upset at the increase in hate crime.
“I think it’s very common for everyone in the Asian community right now… we’re heartbroken,” sophomore biology major Nicole Chen said. “I think it’s really sad to see how it’s the most vulnerable people that are receiving all the hatred.”
Racist incidents have been extremely prominent toward the Asian community and Asian Americans over the past year.
Eight people were shot at massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, and most of the victims were Asian women. Multiple reports have come out over Asian Americans being brutally beaten across the United States. One incident in New York showed a 65-year-old woman being attacked on the streets, and some bystanders simply watched the assault take place.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been subjected to racist rhetoric from individuals in the nation’s highest office. Former President Donald Trump routinely referred to the coronavirus pandemic as the “China virus” or “Kung flu.”
Rider students involved in ASAR believe there is a direct correlation between Trump’s sentiments and crimes against the Asian community.
“I do think it starts with Trump,” said Chen, who is the public relations chair and historian at ASAR. “If you just see such a high-powered being, someone with so much authority, saying such racist things, those people who have the same ideology think it’s OK to come out of the shadows per se and just act on their racist mindset. I think it comes with COVID becoming such a big problem.”
Pamela Pruitt, who is executive director of Rider’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, agreed there could be a correlation between the rhetoric Trump used and racist sentiment toward Asian Americans.
“He was the president, the leader of the free world,” Pruitt said. “From my lens, there was a lot of permission given to do different things … I think from my vantage point I see a connection.”
According to the World Health Organization, “a cluster of cases of pneumonia” was discovered in Wuhan, China, and a novel coronavirus was discovered. This cluster evolved and transpired into what is more commonly known as the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of April 10, the number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 31 million in the United States, and the nation is closing in on 561,000 deaths.
Rider University has recorded 121 cases since the University began tracking the cases for the spring semester in January 2021.
Chen believes there could be a correlation between the increasing COVID-19 cases and the number of hate crimes.
According to a national report published by Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate Coalition, there were 3,795 reported hate incidents from March 2020 to February 2021.
The report says that 68% of the incidents were “verbal harassment”. Acts of shunning amounted to 20.5%. The report defines “shunning” as “the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans.” These were the two largest categories of incidents.
Racism against Asian Americans has spread to businesses too.
Sophomore elementary education major Melanie Tsai, who is the president of ASAR, recalled an experience going to a Mariachi’s Mexican Grill on The College of New Jersey’s (TCNJ) campus.
She walked to the restaurant and saw a poster blaming the Chinese Communist Party “saying that if they had taken the right precautions this would not have happened,” Tsai said.
“It was crazy that a school so close to Rider would have this poster … I just felt very excluded that they didn’t want to serve us.”
Model Minority Myth
Chen was adamant that racism toward Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders was occurring in the United States long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the nation’s history, there have been hostility and discrimination against the Asian community, such as the Japanese internment camps during World War II in the 1940s.
Over the years, she said a derogatory myth developed called the model minority myth, that shows Asians as the “model minority.” Ultimately this hides the reality of racism that many Asians face.
“People, when they’re stereotyping Asians, they think they’re smart, that they’re doctors, that they’re playing musical instruments that they live a certain life,” Pruitt said. “That conceals the reality, of really, the broad Asian experience, especially in America.”
Chen said she believed racism toward Asians derived from “false ideologies.” citing that many Asians are either “good at math” or “Asians are CEOs.” These ideologies provided the framework for what she called “the model minority myth” Essentially, this is a false perception of Asian Americans to be the “model minority.”
“I don’t know why Americans decided to create the ideology,” Chen said “So then now that’s kind of why Asians were labeled [as] we have to be quiet or complacent.”
Tsai, said the model minority myth is “America’s way of putting Asian Americans and Black Americans together, instead of fighting the root cause of the conflict.”
It is a frustrating mindset that she says has been “normalized” through the years. Chen adopted some of these views as she went through school. She admitted she was wrong for buying into the myth, but at the time, she was not as knowledgeable as she is now.
“In high school, I remember saying, ‘Asians, we work hard, and that’s why we’re able to succeed in the ways that we can,’ and that’s kind of why we are the models,” Chen said. “But now that’s not true at all. Even though we work hard, it’s not like society is built for those who work hard to succeed.”
Tsai did not directly acknowledge the existence of the myth growing up because she was exposed to a higher level of diversity in her town. She said the past year opened her “third eye” to the hardships of other minorities but claimed the myth Asian Americans “have a lot of privilege” because of the myth.
“I found out there was a lot more that other people, other minorities, didn’t have because we were having all of it,” Tsai said. “I learned parts of my Asian American history, as well as Black history.”
What can be done
Tsai said she was afraid to attend a March 2021 rally in Princeton, New Jersey, about stopping Asian hate crimes because she was “afraid of outwardly sharing my beliefs to the public.”
Her mom felt empowered to go, and that inspired Tsai to attend as well. She knew going with her mom would help her feel comfortable.
“Growing up, I had always felt uncomfortable in larger crowds,” Tsai said. “By attending, I was able to break that fear and empower others.
“I am not really sure what I was afraid of,” Tsai said. “I ended up going with my mom, and it felt really empowering. When we were walking up, I couldn’t see the speakers but I could hear them through the microphone. … I think by going to this rally it has [given]me more courage to actively speak up in public and not just online.”
Pruitt summed it up best with what she calls the “golden rule.”
“You should treat others like you want others to treat you,” Pruitt said. “Once we see something, we should say something. … Getting to know people, understand who they are and accept them and adapt toward whatever it is they need to be, you let people be who they need to be and you be who you need to be. At the end of the day, the respect should come forth.”