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Older Asian Americans and the History of Anti-Asian Violence

This episode talks about how they are coming together and providing resources for the community

Flowers and candles outside

AARP/Megan Varner/Getty Images

Wilma Consul:

The mass shooting in Atlanta last week killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. The shooter claimed it was not a hate crime, but the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities strongly disagree. Vice-President Kamala Harris, who's of Indian descent, noted that the crimes committed against AAPIs is nothing new. The community has been suffering from attacks, especially on elderly Asians since the pandemic. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino found that attacks on Asian Americans surged 149%, and President Joseph Biden even addressed this six days after his inauguration.

But it wasn't until the Atlanta shooting that the country paid attention, and the incident, horrific as it was, sparked a movement to stop blaming Asians for COVID and the hateful acts committed against them. On today's show, we'll talk about what AARP is doing on this issue and what members are saying.

Wilma Consul:

Hi, I'm Wilma Consul with An AARP Take on Today.

We're sitting down now with Daphne Kwok, AARP Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Asian American and Pacific Islander audience. Hello, Daphne. Welcome to Take on Today.

Daphne Kwok:

Thank you so much for having me today, Wilma.

Wilma Consul:

Daphne, how are you feeling in the wake of what happened last week in Atlanta?

Daphne Kwok:

Well, I think that for me personally, having been involved in the Asian American community for the last several decades, having worked on anti-Asian violence hate crime cases especially during the 1990s, this is unfortunately all too repetitive of what the Asian American community has continued to face. Not only over the last several decades, not over the last several weeks, but over the last several centuries as well too. I do think though that would happen in Atlanta last week though really has galvanized the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community.

Daphne Kwok:

Hearing from people, hearing from friends, just reading all of the op-eds and the posts on social media, the tremendous pain, a true pain that our community is experiencing right now is at a level I've never seen before. I have to also say that the level of solidarity from communities of all colors, people of all colors, races, backgrounds, social economic backgrounds, coming out to speak out to support our AANHPI community has been one that I haven't seen before as well either. I think we are at another major point in our American history, in our AANHPI history unfortunately.

Wilma Consul:

You are Chinese American, right?

Daphne Kwok:

Yes. Yes, I am.

Wilma Consul:

For you personally, how did it feel when you first heard this news?

Daphne Kwok:

As an Asian American, Chinese American woman, hearing of another massacre of Asian Americans is just heartbreaking. I keep saying to people, I don't know how much more our nation can take. Every single day we're hearing of another mass shooting, and it doesn't matter what the color of our skin is. It's just, when is our community going to ever come together once again? When does this nation come together?

Daphne Kwok:

But I think, once again, it strengthens my resolve as an advocate that I need to continue to speak out as I have my entire career, to continue to educate around the model minority myth of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community and how we are perceived as the perpetual foreigner. These are two major issues that in all my speeches, in all my conversations, in all my discussions over the decades, we have constantly having to educate people here in the United States that Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders have been in this country for centuries. Some of us already sixth generation Americans. And when people ask me where am I from, I very proudly say that I was actually born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, currently one of the birthplaces of the United States, right? How much more American can that get?

Daphne Kwok:

I think continuing to educate how that model minority myth that uses our community as a wedge against other communities of color is absolutely not acceptable. And the continued education, how we have been here for two, three, four, five, six generations already. Some of us are even more Americans than some of the most recent immigrants to the United States. And that just because we look different, look Asian, people cannot assume that we are foreigners, and we should not be treated as foreigners.

This unfortunately is where we need to continue to educate, especially in the school system. I want to make a special ask for people who especially have children in the school systems. We constantly have to fight to get our Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander history into the curriculum. We need to start teaching it at a very young age.

Wilma Consul:

Well, there's a whole lot there in what you said, but first, let's get to the issue of just not being a foreigner. The attacks went up 150%, right? 150% during the pandemic.

Daphne Kwok:

Absolutely.

Wilma Consul:

So, it's not just being a foreigner, but the fact that, let's be clear, Asians or people who look like Chinese, right? Because not all Asians are the same. We all come from different countries, but the virus has been blamed on the Chinese. Therefore, a lot of these attacks is because of that, correct?

Daphne Kwok:

Absolutely words matter. Absolutely words matter. That's why with COVID-19 from the very beginning, how important it was to address it as COVID 19, the coronavirus, and not the China flu, not the Wuhan flu, not Kung flu. Those words conjure up images against anyone that looks like myself. I think, unfortunately, hate crimes is the one major issue that binds the AANHPI community together, because people can't tell us apart. And so we all become targets. Therefore, it's so critical that leaders, whether it's at the community letter level, whether it's at the political level, words matter. They have impact, and they can drive people to do horrific acts.

This is something that we have to speak up against and condemn.

Wilma Consul:

And historically, I'd like to point out that in this country, there has been an exclusion of Asians in this country, right? For one, there was the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Daphne Kwok:

1882. The Exclusion Act of 1882. Absolutely.

Wilma Consul:

And then we have the Japanese internment camp, seeing that even the Japanese Americans born here were seen as enemies. Therefore, they were put in internment camps.

Daphne Kwok:

Absolutely.

Wilma Consul:

We hear about the massacres and the Wall Street massacre for the African-American community. There were those happening in Watsonville for the Filipino workers in the Central Valley. I think in this time right now, people are going to hear a lot about Vincent Chin. That's the most recent one that I could remember, which was where the Asian American community came together to fight this anti-Asian... In those days, it was just called anti-Asian sentiment, right? And now it's become violent and deadly, just like what Vincent Chin...Can you talk a little bit about Vincent Chin and how that sparked the community?

Daphne Kwok:

The Vincent Chin case, which happened in Detroit in 1982, really was the spark of really the Asian American movement and especially in hate crimes. At the time, Vincent Chin was out the night before his wedding with some of his friends. And he was at a bar and two laid-off auto workers came into the bar and started blaming him. Now, this was at the downturn, a recession time, and Japan was being blamed for a lot of America's economic woes at the time.

Daphne Kwok:

Detroit being the auto industry, these two individuals came into the bar and started to blame Vincent Chin for their economic woes, accusing him of being Japanese American while he was Chinese American. Unfortunately, it ended up that they killed him. They never served a day in jail. They paid $3,000 fine. And to this day was a mobilizing, galvanizing case that brought the AAPI community together, not only in the Detroit area, but nationwide.

Daphne Kwok:

Everyone points back to the Vincent Chin case of how the injustice of that case is one that we cannot forget, and we continue to have to fight. The Vincent Chin case absolutely was an inflection point in AANHPI history. I think this time, again, unfortunately, the Atlanta massacre along with this past year of this constant hate against Asian Americans will be another major inflection point in AANHPI history, as well as American history.

Wilma Consul:

You're talking about Vincent Chin. If people are interested, there's a book that is coming out or will be published soon about this that people can find out more about by Paula Yoo, and that's called From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement, if you so want to learn more about the work in the community that's been happening on this issue.

Daphne Kwok:

Can I also mention, I would really encourage everybody, all the listeners to please go to the PBS and watch the Asian American series that came out a year ago. AARP actually helped fund in the initial stages, but this historic piece that premiered last year is quite comprehensive about Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander history. It's hard to do in 10 hours of a documentary, but it is being provided by PBS right now free for streaming for a limited period of time.

Daphne Kwok:

That really will provide a very solid background of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander history in the United States. The Vincent Chin case is discussed quite at length in there as well too. And I think as we all reel from the hate against AANHPIs that we should really inform and educate ourselves about the contributions of our community. I would really point people to watch that PBS Asian American series.

Wilma Consul:

Our producer, Danny Alarcon. You hear his name all the time. We can put a link to that because we did talk to Renee Tajima-Peña, the filmmaker and producer, and also Tamlyn Tomita, who was one of the narrators of the series. It's a very informative series.

 

Wilma Consul:

In a moment, we'll return to Daphne Kwok and how AARP members are responding to the Atlanta shooting.

 

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Wilma Consul:

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Wilma Consul:

Let's continue now in my conversation with Daphne Kwok of AARP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Daphne, you're out there, what are you hearing from our AARP members?

Daphne Kwok:

Well, I think there's just real concern. There's real interest and need in order to be involved, be engaged, to support the community and really to be able to express themselves for those that want to really express their experiences as well too. We really want to encourage people to participate tomorrow, March 26th, this Asian American Day of Action. It is a social media opportunity to be able to be part of a movement.

Daphne Kwok:

Also, at 7:30 PM I think it's Eastern Time, there's a worldwide vigil for people to be able to participate as well too. People really want to help support. People are always asking where and how can they support and donate to the community. I would encourage people to go to asianamericandayofaction.com, that website, where a lot of the community's resources, information, places to donate are all been located.

 

I think one thing that's really very important is in order to support, there are a lot of fundraisers for the families of the eight individuals that were killed, but there's also tremendous need as a result of this past year of the COVID impact on our community to help support our communities. And that still is very much the basics, food, providing food for those in need, and that includes our elders.

Daphne Kwok:

There have been ongoing year-long efforts at this point, especially in the major cities, New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago of Asian American community organizations that have been raising continually to raise money so that they can provide the food and deliver food to our elders. And as we know, with the rise and unemployment, this is hitting our AAPI community, especially hard as well to our communities among the...

Wilma Consul:

Especially the small businesses.

Daphne Kwok:

The small businesses had been tremendously devastated. That means our communities have been tremendously devastated. While we have all been trying to help support those small businesses, we need to do even more. There's a tremendous effort to really give back and support our community.

Wilma Consul:

I want to say thank you to all those folks who are in this fight and have been helping supporting the communities. I've been reading a lot of posts in social media about people who are coming to the aids of someone who's attacked, especially the elderly. This is very close to us here at AARP, that the elder Asians who are not sometimes able to fight are being attacked out of the blue. Some people are coming to aid some families that have been harassed. Some of the community, the neighbors are there.

Wilma Consul:

Some vigilantes and police in Oakland are roaming around the Chinatowns. A lot of the people who support Black Lives Matter, they come to Chinatown saying that they're supporting the community. Those are things that touch your heart, right?

Daphne Kwok:

Absolutely. The outpouring of volunteers, especially in those major cities to really support, to escort our elders as they are living absolutely in fear, not wanting to go out, not only because of COVID, but now the racism and the attacks and assaults is just frightening. Not only for elders, but for all of us as well too.

Wilma Consul:

Believe me, I am kind of sometimes like, well, should I go out? I'm a little worried, right?

Daphne Kwok:

Absolutely. Absolutely. All of these volunteers willing to help protect our elders and our seniors is extremely important. Especially now during the vaccine where we are really hoping that people that want to be able to take the vaccine are able to, but with our elders being so frightened to even leave their homes, this is putting them at risk too if they haven't been able to get their vaccines. This is having so many ramifications for our community.

Wilma Consul:

I want to end with the grandmother who actually fought her attacker in the Bay... She's in the Bay area. Xiao Zhen Xie.

Daphne Kwok:

Right.

Wilma Consul:

Her grandson, John Chen, had put up a GoFundMe.

Daphne Kwok:

Yeah, tremendous.

Wilma Consul:

To help, right? And it came up to, what, more than...

Daphne Kwok:

A million dollars.

Wilma Consul:

More than a million dollars. And guess what she wants to do with that money?

Daphne Kwok:

She's giving it all back into the community.

Wilma Consul:

Exactly. "To combat racism," she says. She's still having... And this is important. She's having still post-traumatic stress, right? And still afraid to go out. But her heart tells her that, you know what? This money, I will give so that this doesn't happen again, or people are educated.

Daphne Kwok:

I think that that's... Especially during this time, being selfless, right? And really to be giving to others, that all of us need to be doing this, every single one of us, in order to rebuild not only the AANHPI community, but this nation. There's so much work to be done and hopefully that we can all continue to pull together.

Wilma Consul:

Daphne, thank you so much for being here. Daphne Kwok is AARP Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Asian American and Pacific Islander audience. Daphne, thank you for talking to us.

Daphne Kwok:

Thank you so much.

Wilma Consul:

We know from our conversation with Daphne Kwok that stereotyping Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians can lead to violence. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, the group Stop AAPI Hate has collected 236 firsthand accounts of hate directed at older Asian Americans age 60 plus. In total, the group received nearly 4,000 reports. We have two episodes that can provide a greater insight into the AAPI experience. In episode 95, we hear from the team behind the groundbreaking PBS series Asian Americans.

Wilma Consul:

We talked to producer Renee Tajima-Peña and one of the series narrators, actress Tamlyn Tomita. In episode 111, Isabel Tom discusses her book, The Value of Wrinkles: A Young Perspective on How Loving the Old Will Change Your Life. She was the primary caregiver for her Chinese grandparents. We've linked these episodes and more resources for Asian American history on our show notes.

 

That’s it for this week’s Take on Today. 

 

I want to thank our news team.

Producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

Production Assistant Fernando Snellings

Engineer Julio Gonzales

Executive Producer Jason Young

And my co-hosts Bob Edwards and Mike Ellison.

Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well. For an AARP Take on Today, I’m Wilma Consul, thank you for listening.

The mass shooting in Atlanta last week killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. This week on 'Take on Today,' we hear about the response from older Asian American people on the tragedy, the history of Asian-targeted hate crimes in the U.S., and resources available to support the community.

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