On March 16, a 21-year-old man committed a hate crime in which he killed eight people in a series of mass shootings at three different spas and massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia. Of those eight people, six of them were Asian women, four of whom were of Korean descent.
On March 22, Multicultural Student Affairs held a virtual vigil and discussion that was interrupted minutes after it started by participants who started verbally attacking others in attendance. A few days later, Technician released a staff editorial addressing the shootings in Georgia as well as this occurrence at NC State, condemning the racially-motivated hate that is seen across the country and even here at our own university.
This recent act of violence is not the first in recent times and, even more so, it is not the first instance of racial violence since the pandemic started. In his last term in office, when COVID-19 was deemed a severe threat, President Trump referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” inspiring a wave of blame not only towards those of a Chinese ethnic background but also anyone who appeared to be of East Asian descent. Since this irrational blame has taken root, hate crimes against Asian Americans, particularly the elderly, have taken place all across the United States.
In my attempt to address this issue I find that, at first, it seems simple in the sense that it is morally wrong and infuriating. Racism in any form should be condemned, every day and every where it takes place. This issue is also incredibly complex, however, in ways that I don’t have the space to address in this article alone. From the fetishization and sexualization of Asian women, the morality complex of certain religious values, the way this country treats immigrants, the idea of the model minority and the performative activism that takes place after an act of racism occurs, there are many facets to this racial issue.
I find that though all of these are important sides of a sprawling problem that needs to be addressed and thoroughly discussed, the one that I continue to find myself returning to is the idea of who belongs here. What makes someone American and how hard does someone have to try until they have proved their worth? When does America stop reaping the benefits of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders without giving them the respect they deserve?
As a college student of South Asian descent, I find that many other Asian American students have a story that has some similarities to my own. Many are first generation Americans with parents or grandparents who immigrated here. Many have experienced people ridiculing the language they speak, the accent they may have, the way they look or the cultural food they eat. They are expected to be the smartest or most hardworking person in the room, without any faults. Some of them even experience their native lands being stripped and turned into hotels to benefit white tourism. Many Asian American students at NC State have heard stories from family members of what it was like to move to the United States and how hard it was. The reality is that Asian Americans, old and young, try incredibly hard to prove their worth in a country that does nothing to validate it.
In truth, I’m not sure where we go from here. The simple answer is the discrimination and racism must end, but it is naive to consider this as a possibility when these issues are rampant across the country. In this society, and in our community at NC State, it is imperative we uplift Asian American stories, not because it fills the activism requirement, but because they are important and inherently part of this great American story. We cannot passively accept the work of Asian Americans and consume their various cultural contributions; we must recognize they make this country better, and without them, America would be a very different place.
Asian Americans are American. They are our authors, doctors, athletes, artists, musicians and students. They take care of us, whether that’s by painting our nails, making some of our favorite foods or fixing every possible problem with a computer you could think of.
In order to combat the racism against this minority group, one of our first of many steps must be to address what it means to be American and realize it is a different story for everyone, but one is no less important than the other.