A rally against anti-Asian violence at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Feb. 20. The rally was organized partly in response to the fatal assault of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, in San Francisco. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
La Cañada High School

Opinion: The history of racism against Asian Americans

On Thurs., March 11, just five days before the Atlanta spa shootings, President Biden condemned the surge in violence against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic in his first address to the nation.

“At this moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, are on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives and still — still are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” he said. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.”

And while it is a relief that he even addressed the racism Asian Americans have had to endure through the past year, to say that it is “un-American” is at the very least, an exaggeration. Whatever America he might be referring to — one where everyone is living together in perfect harmony, regardless of differences in beliefs or backgrounds — simply doesn’t exist. 

Whether we like it or not, racism specifically toward Asian Americans has been around since as early as the 1850s, when many Chinese immigrants came primarily to California and other Western states to work in mining and railroad construction, according to the Washington Post. It wasn’t long until those immigrants were blamed for “stealing white jobs,” a dangerous trope that still persists today.

And by 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act — the only United States law to this day to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race — which restricted Chinese immigration until it was finally repealed in 1943.

In 1900, San Francisco’s Chinese population was blamed for a bubonic plague outbreak and forcibly quarantined in their homes, simply because the first recorded victim was a Chinese immigrant, according to the Washington Post, a turn of events that is eerily similar to the scapegoating of Asian Americans for the pandemic today.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and America joined World War II, the US government forced all of their Japanese residents into internment camps for the duration of World War II out of suspicion that any one of them could aid the enemy. When they were finally freed, many returned to their lives to find their homes and businesses vandalized or confiscated. 

On June 19, 1982, 27-year-old Vincent Chin was in a bar celebrating getting married with his friends, when two white men beat Chin to death with a baseball bat, blaming him for the “Japanese” taking their auto-industry jobs, according to History.com. As a result, the men were given probation and a $3,000 fine, a mere slap on the wrist.

And of course, most recently: the spa shootings in Atlanta, a tragedy that devastated Asian communities everywhere. Despite the fact that six of the eight people killed were Asian women in a city that’s only 4.4% Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Cherokee Police spokesman Captain Jay Baker denied racial motivation, and instead attributed the shooter’s crime to his sex addiction and the fact that he was having a “bad day.”

Now, hate crimes against Asian Americans in major U.S. cities alone have risen by nearly 150% in the past year. It’s hardly difficult to see how such a sharp surge could have occurred when even the former president himself, one who many citizens looked up to especially during times such as these, referred to COVID as “the China virus,” “the Wuhan virus” and the “Kung Flu,” according to the Washington Post.

And again, while it is refreshing for President Biden to actually condemn violence against Asian American violence when just a couple of months ago, we had a president who was saying things like “It’s China’s fault, it should never have happened”, this is far from “un-American.” In fact, there are few things more interwoven in our country’s history than the constant prejudice against others.

If anything, it doesn’t really get more American than this.