From the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society:
May is Asian American Pacific Island Heritage Month, a time to reflect, honor, and celebrate the contributions people of Asian and Pacific Island descent have made to the U.S. Asian Americans can trace their roots to at least 19 countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent and this diversity of cultures, nationalities, and experiences is reflected in the rich diversity of God’s tapestry of humanity.
While we take this moment to celebrate the diversity and ways AAPI persons have enriched our churches and communities, we must pause to reflect on the sobering reality of the ongoing acts of violence and hatred towards people of Asian descent in the U.S.
That is why, in this moment, we commend the United States Senate for passing the anti-Asian hate crimes bill by an overwhelming margin of 94-1. This bipartisan bill, called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, seeks to address the drastic increase in hate crimes towards people of Asian descent in the U.S during the pandemic. The bill would designate an official at the Justice Department to oversee and review hate crimes. The Justice Department will also work with local law enforcement and community-based organizations to facilitate and raise awareness about hate crime reporting.
Indeed, they are right. Former President Donald Trump used people of Asian descent as scapegoats for the COVID-19 pandemic. For over a year, he trafficked racist, anti-Asian rhetoric when he spoke about COVID-19, calling it “Kung flu,” “the Wuhan virus,” or “the China virus.” This dangerous rhetoric exacerbated the racist ideology of the yellow peril and the long history of racist scapegoating of people of Asian descent. Though the recent media attention to anti-Asian hate crimes means we are now paying more attention, it is important to remember these acts of violence are not new.
For centuries, people of Asian descent in the U.S. have been racialized as “other” and the “perpetual foreigner.” For example, the Chinese Exclusion Acts of the 1800s restricted Asian immigration to the U.S. at the same time European immigration surged. The Supreme Court deemed people of Asian descent “ineligible for citizenship” in U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, (1923) because they were not white or black. The U.S. colonized and “acquired” Guam and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War of 1898. During WWII, Executive Order 9066 forced the relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans into internment camps because they were deemed a security risk and a threat. The U.S. took great effort to disperse Vietnamese refugees in the 1970’s and 1980’s for the fear of having too many Vietnamese refugees in one place. And today, military, economic and commercial entanglements between the US and the Asia Pacific region further adds to the othering of AAPI persons and communities.
This racialized othering is the root of anti-Asian violence in the U.S.
I think of the young Korean exchange student that my family hosted. She stayed with us for a year, and we did our best to help her feel “at home.” But I am certain that living in Columbia, S.C., eating southern food, finding her way to her school, and learning English as a young adult was difficult. I think of all the first-generation immigrants that planted their families here, envisioning a new home only to experience the pain and hurt of being othered. I think of the Asian American students I met during my tenure at Emory University that experienced othering even though they were second- or third- generation Asian Americans being asked, “So how long have you been here? Where were you born?” I think of my Asian American colleagues that fear stepping out of their house this past year, not because of the pandemic but because they are of Asian descent.
For these reasons, I strive to be an ally. And as an ally, I understand that it is important to use my privilege to stand for communities of color. This AAPI Month, I call on you to contact your Representative and urge the House of Representatives to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Together, we can bring about a more just and peaceful world where all God’s children are valued, safe, and loved.