Members of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles and their supporters protest during a news conference March 19 at Berendo Street Baptist Church to denounce hate against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Crescenta Valley High School

Column: We are human: The consequences of hyper-sexualization and infantilization of the Asian community

Yong Ae Yue. Suncha Kim. Soon Chung Park. Hyun Jung Grant. Daoyou Feng. Xiaojie Tan. Six beautiful Asian women and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, and Paul Andre Michels, 54 were killed on March 16 in Atlanta at the hands of a man who blamed the massacre on his “sexual addiction,” attacking massage spas in specific to eliminate a personal “temptation.”

As a daughter of two Korean immigrants, it enrages me that four of those women were of Korean descent. However, these events are heartachingly not unique: in an age of fear-mongering rhetoric that plagues the world since the COVID-19 pandemic, hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed.

According to Stop APPI Hate, 3,795 hate incidents were received by their reporting center the over the course of about a year during the pandemic, with women being targeted at disproportionate rates.

But why is this? Aren’t Asians one of the most successful minority groups, even superseding the white population at times?

The answer is clear: America has always been xenophobic, sinophobic and racist.

We have built the institutions of America off of harmful rhetoric, even with the model minority myth — the rhetoric that Asian peoples are the superior ethnic minority group because of their ability to “overcome” oppression — one of the key building blocks to uphold white supremacy in today’s society.

In films and TV, Asian women are often infantilized, portrayed as meek, subservient, and “easy.” Movies like “Full Metal Jacket” and “Austin Powers” are notorious for this, with the latter popularizing the phrases “Me love you long time” and “Me so horny,” both said from the lips from a Vietnamese woman caricature.

Asian men have also been commodified into objects of “cuteness” through K-Pop and Anime, making their masculinity breed toxicity due to their inability to ever be ‘manly’ enough in the eyes of the world. In politics, rhetoric such as “Chicom,” (an abbreviation for Chinese communist) and “Chinese Virus” have painted a sore bullseye onto the Asian community’s backs.

In imperial wars, we have seen the forced sexual labor of our women. Legislations such as the Page Act of 1875 targeted East Asian women — particularly Chinese women — and generalized them all into prostitutes.

When the United States raged war against Asian countries, soldiers in the U.S. military would partake in its sex industry to assert dominance, with camp towns around United States bases hosting these workers.

This violence and gross sexualization has embedded itself into the racism perpetrated against us, generalizing our entire community, especially our women, into vices for the white man.

I naively thought I would be able to escape the racism I faced in suburban Colorado when I moved to California. Calls of “chink” or the pulling of skin around the eyes ceased, but it came with microaggressions and stares when the COVID-19 pandemic started to gain traction. With the influx of targeted hate, I worry that my mother, my aunt, my dad, my brother, or even myself will be next. Next to be dismissed, next to be ignored.

The historical and current dehumanization and fetishization of Asian people have seen the consequences unfold today: in all these situations, we are disposable, forgotten, inhuman. We are possessions to be overtaken, not humans who grieve and hurt.

Sitting with my mother at the dinner table, I couldn’t look at her as she recounted the story of the elderly Korean woman who was brutally attacked by a white man in Koreatown. In her broken English, she stared at her bowl of rice and asked, “What is going on?”

There is fire in my blood. To see my people killed mercilessly, and to be diminished as isolated incidents with no racial motivation is sickening. Racism is sexualized. Dominance is oppression.

In a vigil hosted by Red Canary Song, a grassroots movement focused on migrant worker labor rights and aid, Co-Director Yin Q shared a testament that is shared amongst all our fellow sisters and brothers: “We are asking for rights and a place under the sun to peacefully labor, to prosper, and to survive.”

For the eight we lost in Georgia, we will continue to fight for you. For the elderly who have suffered violence and lost their lives, we will continue to fight for you.

We will say your names until our throats hurt, and until we are seen for who we are: human — whole, beautiful, complete, worthy humans.