The Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays in many East and Southeast Asian cultures. For most families, it is ordinarily a time for celebration. This year, for many families, it became a time for mourning.
These celebrations come in the wake of a wave of violence against Asian Americans. A rise in assaults and hate crimes against Asian Americans. A series of murders against Asian-American elders. A 1,900% increase in one year in New York City.
The brunt of this violence has been sustained in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region with a long-standing Asian-American community. I grew up there. In high school, I would travel across the Bay Area to perform Chinese music and teach people about Chinese culture. Bright-eyed and naive, I wanted to share and celebrate my culture as part of the fabric of America.
Yet, no matter where I went, there would always be an undercurrent of distrust. When I performed, I heard only patronizing comments toward my music and culture. For years, I was made to feel that I was not part of America the way that everyone else was, but rather completely foreign.
These sentiments are reflected in the structural violence that many Asian-American communities face. In California, there has been a drastic increase in English language illiteracy in the Asian-American community. Now, 1 in 3 Asian Americans in California face limited English proficiency.
In New York City, America’s multicultural metropolis, Asian Americans experience the highest rates of poverty, above all other racial groups. Even pre-COVID-19, Asian-American poverty has increased nationally, while social programs for the Asian-American community have been continuously underfunded.
The racist violence from the past year is irrevocably tied to this structural violence. Last spring, during the national reckoning about the myth of the model minority, I was hopeful that some changes would be made to recognize the discrimination against us. Yet less than six months ago, 164 House Republicans voted against a resolution recognizing the hate violence against Asian Americans. And little has been done to address the continued violence against us during the pandemic.
Ultimately, this is because there is still no memory of Asian American struggles in America. Our voices are met with silence. Our deaths are met with silence. With no one mourning but ourselves.
Now, more than ever, it is time to remember our painful history. And it is also time to remember how we fought back.
From the burning of our first towns in Washington, Oregon and California, to our expulsion and segregation from white society, to concentration camps and to our murders, our history is tied with America’s racist past.
At the same time, the history of Asian Americans is endurance. We endured through our expulsion. We endured through concentration camps. We endured through racism thrust upon us, we endured beatings for being Asian, and we endured murders. We endured through all this.
But we never endured silently. Time and time again, we endured through history by uniting. We united in Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Japantowns and more, refusing to be divided again. We united in the late ’60s and ’70s through organizations like the Asian American Political Alliance, fighting for the recognition of our struggles in education and for racial justice. We united after Vincent Chin’s death, laying the foundation for the recognition of hate crimes across the country.
Last March, San Francisco State University launched the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center to track and respond to incidents of hate, violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
This Lunar New Year was a time for mourning. It is also a time for remembering and uniting. Now, once again, we must fight for justice. So that we may live free.
Jeffrey Xiong is a Chinese-American student from the San Francisco Bay Area who pursuing East Asian Studies at Columbia University in New York. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.