(Courtesy of Celine Choi)
Cleveland Charter High School

Opinion: The history of Asian American discrimination goes beyond COVID-19

Asian American hate crimes have recently gained the attention of many large media sources due to public outcry. In Los Angeles alone there has been a 114% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes since 2019 and even these numbers fail to capture the magnitude of the anti-Asian sentiment that has been pervading the country for an entire year.

Many hate crimes have been left unreported and some have been verbally charged rather than through physical violence, though still just as harmful. Much of this anti-Asian sentiment has been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and political leaders pouring gas on the fire by using terms such as “Kung-flu” and “China plague.”

Anti-Asian hate crime has been increasing since the first cases of COVID-19 in the United States and protests against it have been performed since last February yet, it wasn’t until the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee that media sources addressed the issues of discrimination and hate against Asian Americans. What many Americans even further fail to acknowledge, however, is the immense history of racism against Asian Americans in the United States.

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first major immigration law to be passed that created restrictions based on race. About a decade before, the racially motivated Chinese Massacre of 1871 took place in Los Angeles, Calif., contributing to the 200 lynchings of people of Asian descent between 1870 into the 1880s.

On Feb. 19, 1942, during World War II, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to put any person suspected of being from an enemy country into incarceration camps.

With the passing of the order, Japanese Americans were targeted at a substantially greater rate than German and Italian Immigrants and many of those incarcerated were second and third-generation Japanese American citizens. Caricatures of Asian Americans as rats or a faceless enemy became popularized and racial slurs such as “yellow peril” and “gooks” surfaced during WWII and during the Vietnam and Korean War. 

It was only within five years that the racial stereotype of Asian Americans altered from traitors and faceless to the “Model Minority” with the purpose of delegitimizing the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, beginning the perpetuation of the subservient and high-achieving stereotype.

Not only did the development of the “Model Minority” invalidate the historical and ongoing oppression of Asian Americans but it also caused the erasure of activism and resistance such as the Asian American Movement and the role of Asian field laborers during the Farm Workers Movement led by César Chávez. The image of the “Model Minority” has also taken away from the individual ethnic identities, put at risk the mental health of Asian American youth,and pitted minority groups against each other resulting in, for example, the events of the LA Riots.

Without reckoning with the racial realities of United States history, the solution we all strive for will be difficult to achieve. Even after the infographic is reposted on social media and the news headlines fade, racism will still be a part of our history and continue to be perpetuated into modern society.