Anti-Asian Hate Isn't New, But the Pandemic Made It Much Worse

"It's horrifying that Atlanta and the last year have been such a rude awakening for so many people in regards to anti-Asian racism, but I'm hoping it might, finally, signal a change."

I can't tell you how much of my life has been spent proving to others that I'm American and that I belong — only to now be yelled at by strangers on the street (and in a neighborhood I've lived for the last eight years) that I should "go back to where I came from." Like, go back to Tennessee, where I was born? Or to Michigan, where I spent my formative years? But this perceived otherness — which is officially called the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype — is why most Asian Americans have been conditioned to believe that in order to assimilate, one mustn't cause trouble nor speak up and speak out, even when being subjected to racial microaggressions or outright racism. But in light of the recent shootings in Atlanta that targeted Asian women working in survival jobs, coupled with the wave of violent and intimidating acts against the elderly, staying silent (and for non-Asians, staying complicit) is no longer an option.

AAIP-racism
Alex Sandoval

It begins by recognizing that racism toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has existed for centuries (see: the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps in the '40s, or the murder of Vincent Chen in the '80s). Or understanding that gross stereotypical depictions of Asians in the media, specifically the sexualization and exoticization of women, have dehumanized Asian women into mere objects. Or knowing that combating AAPI hate crimes must also include lower-income Asians, who are most vulnerable to these attacks.

Asian Americans have been invisible for so long. I held my tongue when white acquaintances have previously said my "English is, like, so good," when a friend thought it was okay to tell me that "Chinatown is so gross," when a former boss remarked that "there are too many Asians" as an excuse for mixing up names, or when I was once asked to do a tutorial on how to wear chopsticks in my hair. But now that we're so incredibly, and finally, visible, as the result of being thrown into the spotlight, it's time that our stories are heard. It's still hard for me to articulate how I feel, which during this time has been a combination of inconsolable grief and abject terror, but what I have been doing is donating to the families of the victims who were attacked and amplifying the voices of others in the community. So, to that end, I spoke with three extraordinary Asian American women on their experiences, how they're feeling, and how they're using their platform to effect change.

AAIP experiences
Left: Rei Lo, Center: Mina Im, Right: Kim Tran.

Rei Lo, 26, New York

The first time I ever experienced anti-Asian racism was when I began commuting into Manhattan from Queens to attend LaGuardia High School in 2008, and random people on the subway would lash out, calling me "Asian bitch" or "Cheena." I didn't know how to react: What do you say? How do you act in the moment? When it happens, when it catches you completely off guard, you're left stunned. And at the same time, you don't want to say something that might escalate the situation to a point where you don't feel safe.

After these incidents, I'd feel even more upset and frustrated that I didn't do anything at the moment. During quarantine, I started drawing again — the first in a long time (my mom likes to joke that I was drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil). I drew a portrait of Bawi Cung Nung and his 6-year-old son, who were attacked last March outside of Sam's Club in Texas. I hadn't been able to shake their images from my head, so I thought I'd try drawing, and what I thought was going to be a quick sketch turned into a detailed illustration that took hours. And by the end of it, it was like a form of catharsis, and it helped me process what was happening.

My second was a self-portrait, which took me three days to complete, and it was the first artwork I shared openly. It was inspired by three events: 1) The violent anti-Asian hate crimes that were largely ignored by mainstream media. 2) The five-part PBS docu-series called Asian Americans, which made me realize just how deprived I was of the history of my own people in this country. Watching proactive Asian American students in the '60s encouraged me to be more vocal in the present. 3) The Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, who did a series of striking photographs with powerful messaging for the Netflix show She's Gotta Have It when the main character experiences a sexual assault. To see someone turn a traumatic attack into an act of empowerment was so badass.

As a petite Asian American woman, it was important to communicate the inextricable link between racism and sexism, which we saw with the Atlanta shootings. In the last year, I've been sexually harassed more than I've been racially attacked, but it's impossible to separate one from the other. And through my self-portrait, I was able to funnel those feelings — that sense of helplessness and defenselessness from years of verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and microaggressions — into a visual representation of defiance.

Of course, I was initially reluctant to share it with the world. I've always been protective of my work, and this particular piece was so deeply personal and vulnerable, I was scared of pushback. But a few friends told me it was important, and within minutes of posting, it got reshared and it continued to rack up likes — into the thousands. I think it resonates with people because we've been gaslit and ignored for so long, and to put those wounds — both internal and external — on paper, in a very raw, explicit, and graphic manner while being intentional about it — validates their experiences.

Rei Lo

"In the last year, I've been sexually harassed more than I've been racially attacked, but it's impossible to separate one from the other."

— Rei Lo

When I posted my self-portrait, I didn't have grander ideas of what it could become. I simply wanted to share what was on my heart, hoping that it would speak to someone. And the fact that it has, it's only pushed me to do more, to connect with the individuals affected by hate crimes, and to draw their portraits in their honor. The most rewarding moment: FaceTiming with one grandma after sharing her portrait with her, learning her story, and letting her know that we care, that no elder should be treated that way.

I'm an empathic person, and it does weigh heavily on me, depicting these traumatic instances. I sometimes question even how helpful it is when we've been subjected to a series of violent imagery aimed at our community. I do want to shift my focus and create more work that not only uplifts, empowers, and validates the AAPI community, but also encourages people to speak out, which for many, defies the way in which we've been brought up. It's rare to see Asians in the diaspora depicted, especially in activist art, because the Asian American movement is still so new — we're still solidifying our political views.

Right now, we're at a pivotal moment, and it's discouraging to know that six Asian women had to die in the Atlanta shootings in order for people to pay attention. We can't let them die in vain, so it's an important time to galvanize and help in any way they can, whether that's through creating art or putting together a "How to Report a Hate Crime" handbook. I constantly ask myself, "What more can I be doing? What more can I bring to the table to help the AAPI community?" And I ask you to do the same.

Kim Tran, 34, Oakland, Calif.

My mom loves to call me a protest baby — I was 3-years-old when I went to my first protest. There weren't any bathrooms at the park we frequented, so my mom — a single parent — threw me on her back and said, "We're going to the City Council meeting; I'm demanding a bathroom."

I grew up in a community on the eastside of San Jose, Calif., called Alum Rock, which is predominantly working-class and largely made up of people of color. There's a misunderstanding that people who live in ethnic enclaves don't experience white supremacist violence — we absolutely do; it just takes different forms. I've had my share of people say to me, "Go back to your country," but I've also experienced systemic racism, which is how ethnic enclaves are formed in the first place.

There was never a moment in my life when I didn't know social justice was going to be a part of what I did, especially since my mom is much more of an activist than I am. She was an active member of her union, and she's worked with incarcerated Vietnamese men at San Quentin for 15 years. My family are Vietnamese refugees — my mom and a number of her siblings arrived in 1975 as the war was ending — and they were in refugee camps before landing in Brooklyn and eventually moving to California. My mom has always been more progressive than her siblings, who are mostly apolitical and religiously conservative, and I think she's this way because she's a rabble-rouser by nature, and had to raise a child by herself. For my mom, it was: What does it take to survive? What does it take to get a friggin' bathroom in the park? It was very organic for her to be like, "If there's no bathroom, I'm going to ask for one. If I don't have good working conditions, I'm going to fight."

So, I don't think it's possible to talk about the work I do without acknowledging that it was made attainable by seeing someone who is community-oriented. So much of how I understand what it means to show up in my community, whether that's at a protest or supporting other people in my community, comes from my mom. She's great on a bullhorn. For the last 12 years, I've done community-based political education because I think there needs to be a catalyst for folks to understand why the kind of protests that my mom does is necessary. It took her a long time to figure out what I did, but once she understood that community-based political education is another form of social justice, there's a tremendous amount of pride in seeing her kid carry on her legacy.

Community-based political education is the kind of racial and gender justice learning that you would do, say, in a repurposed school cafeteria on a Sunday afternoon. One of the things I've done is give young Vietnamese-American folks a sense of their history outside of what's available in textbooks (an example: Before colonialism, we had a transgender king who would sleep with men, and that's liberating if you're a queer and/or trans Vietnamese person, and you've never heard that narrative before).

My academic research was on the Asians 4 Black Lives political formation, and that's what I'm writing a book on, tentatively titled, The End of Allyship: A New Era of Solidarity. The point being: to shatter the notion that our communities — AAPI and Black — are diametrically opposed to each other, that we can't fight for racial justice together, and that we don't appreciate nuance in our different experiences. Cross-racial solidarity actually goes back decades, but the reason why a different — and false — narrative exists is because of the model minority myth, which is definitively anti-Black. The myth makes it seem like Asian Americans are class privileged, biologically predisposed to success, and positioned above and against Black folks. The reality is that multiracial communities experience homelessness and economic disenfranchisement.

Kim Tran

"This is the first time I've seen people really willing to talk about the fact that racism articulates itself in different ways in different communities."

— Kim Tran

The most visible people in the Asian American community are also the most privileged, and while it's helpful that celebrities are trying to shed a light on anti-Asian violence, their issues aren't the same as ours, such as decriminalizing sex work and abolition. The closer you are to privilege, the further you're going to be from those issues.

For a long time, it was believed that to invest in Asian American organizing was to invest in invisibility because we just weren't interested in anything other than the model minority myth — it's nice, it's convenient. As a result, crucial organizations (such as Asian Pacific Environmental Network or Asian and Pacific Islander Equality — North California in Oakland, Calif.) are seriously underfunded. Now, we're at a point that highlights how much we've previously failed at having an effective national conversation about race and how it's applied to different communities of color. And as someone who's been talking about this for a while, it's exciting.

This is the first time I've seen people really willing to talk about the fact that racism articulates itself in different ways in different communities. It's disappointing that it's taken this long, and it's horrifying that Atlanta and the last year have been such a rude awakening for so many people in regards to anti-Asian racism, but I'm hoping it might, finally, signal a change.

Mina Im, 35, Atlanta

Growing up in St. Louis, my twin sister and I were called Twinkies, because we were "yellow on the outside, white on the inside." We immigrated to the U.S. from Seoul when we were 5-years-old. After a couple years of taking ESL classes, we had fully, successfully assimilated: We were enrolled in all-white schools, we had white friends, we landed spots on the cheerleading squad, and we played tennis. And then we pursued desirable, professional careers — I went into finance marketing; my sister became a doctor. By all accounts, we did everything "right," leading lives that our parents wanted for us by sacrificing their own.

And yet, it hasn't shielded us from years of microaggressions — and then hateful comments once the pandemic hit. When we first moved to the U.S., we were young but old enough to understand that we looked different. My mom used to pack us kimchi and kimbap for lunch, and white kids used to scrunch up their noses and ask, "What's that smell?" There were times when I felt like I was stuck between two cultures, and I just remember so desperately wanting to fit in, to be white. I was embarrassed to be Korean, so there was a phase in high school where I went blonde and wore blue contacts.

MIna IM

"I'm proud to be Korean-American, and it's sad that it took me 35 years to get here. But every year, as I get older, I feel more comfortable in my skin."

— MIna IM

It was just so much easier to not say anything if someone called me a chink or made a "joke," such as when I got a B+ on a chemistry final and a classmate said, "You didn't get an A?" Or at work, fielding comments such as, "You're a pretty Asian girl," which is not only problematic because of its fetishistic undertones, but also because it trivializes the work I did to get to where I am. I had been conditioned to accept unspoken and casual racism.

But when lockdown first started last year, there were two separate incidents that made me question my silence. I lived in downtown Chicago at the time — which was my home for the last decade — when these white men, one at Whole Foods and one in the elevator in my building, warned me "not to bring the Chinese virus here." I was completely shocked, something switched, and I went off.

I think that's when I started to get angry, especially after so many years of suppressing my emotions. The recent rise in hate crimes to our elders, to our halmeoni (the Korean word for grandmother), is extremely upsetting, and it gave me the push to use Chicago Food Girl — the blog I launched seven years ago to review local restaurants and share my family's Korean recipes (kimchi jjigae or galbi) — as a platform to bring attention to anti-Asian racism and to speak out against the hate. Being able to vocalize how I'm feeling has been incredibly liberating.

What has also been frustrating is the deafening silence from white women food bloggers, who aren't standing up for the AAPI community when they have no qualms about appropriating our culture or our food for profit. For them, it's business as usual as they continue to share bibimbap, chicken teriyaki, and pad Thai recipes. And the sad thing is, I don't think they care because they're comfortable with their whiteness. They have no issues with what happens to anyone else unless it directly affects them.

That's precisely what I want to see: for people to acknowledge that anti-Asian racism is real and to care. The Atlanta shootings really shook me because we had just moved to the city, and this act of terrorism took place 10 minutes from our house. I'm not one to show emotion, but I broke down crying after I saw the GoFundMe for the two boys who lost their mom.

I'm hoping that at the end, all of this will unify us and bring the change we need. And I hope that we can heal. I'm proud to be Korean-American, and it's sad that it took me 35 years to get here. But every year, as I get older, I feel more comfortable in my skin. My Korean mother has been telling me to be careful, to not walk outside at night. Yes, I will be careful and will be even more on high alert, but at the same time, I'm not going to live in fear. I'm not going to let those people win.

By Faith Brar

What took place in Atlanta two weeks ago sent waves of fear, grief, and anger through the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, but this wasn't a stand-alone incident. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's been a significant increase in racially-motivated violence against Asians, according to Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group and online self-reporting tool for victims of racial violence. Between March 2020 and February 2021, the organization received nearly 3,800 reports of anti-Asian discriminationa 150 percent increase from the anti-Asian hate crimes reported in 2019.

As a daughter of a first-generation immigrant who spent a decade growing up in Punjab, India, my heart hurts for the AAPI community. This type of racially motivated violence is not unfamiliar to me. The abuse the Asian American community is facing today is reminiscent of post-9/11 when Indian Sikh immigrants (like my own family) became targets of hate crimes, too.

I recall stories of friends and family members, specifically those with turbans and beards, being stared at or harassed in public. I remember my dad getting pulled out of the security line at the airport and questioned extensively for no other reason than the color of his skin. These incidents, combined with the racism the Indian community faces every day, are the reason why I bent over backward trying to hide my heritage. As a white-passing half-Indian girl, I spent hours rehearsing and perfecting an American accent so no one would ask me where I was from. It's not that I wasn't proud to be Indian; I was and still am. But I saw the way the other Indian children were treated, and I didn't want to be laughed at or told to go back to where I came from, that my food reeked, or that my customs were abnormal. I felt as if I had to pick one identity in order to feel like I belonged.

Racist attacks against Indian-Americans have continued long after 9/11. There was a noticeable surge following the 2016 election when xenophobic political rhetoric was used to target our communities. In fact, attacks against Indian-Americans and South Asian Americans went up by 45 percent between November 2016 to November 2017, according to a report by South Asian Americans Leading Together. Not only that, but one in five assailants invoked the former President's name or his "Make America Great Again" slogan.

Racist rhetoric has dangerous, and sometimes, deadly consequences — something the AAPI community knows too well, especially given recent events. But one cannot understand the reality and gravity of that burden until you put yourself in our shoes. To give you a glimpse of what this experience is like, I spoke to six Asian American women to share their dealings with racism and oppression in the U.S. right now. Taken together, they reveal the humanity behind the statistics shared above.

AAIP-racism
Left: Minna Lee, Center: Ruth Chan, Right: Youri Cho. Alex Sandoval

Minna Lee, 30, New York

As an Asian American woman, my senses have always been heightened whenever I'm out in the world. From the moment I leave my apartment, I'm on guard and very aware of my surroundings and the people around me. But in March 2020, that fear intensified after I started getting looks that lingered beyond reason and noticed people murmuring under their breaths around me. With phrases such as the "Kung flu" and the "China virus" being tossed around by the previous administration, it was only a matter of time until the Asian American community began suffering the consequences. We just didn't know it was going to go this far.

Over the past year, Asian Americans have reported hundreds of hate crimes against them — and we all know there were dozens that people chose not to report. These violent incidents have been happening everywhere. So regardless of whether you're in a hustling and bustling city or in the quiet suburbs, it's hard to feel safe. Personally, the Atlanta shootings pushed me over the edge; they made me realize that this danger isn't going away any time soon and is likely only going to get worse.

What was even more terrifying, however, was watching the events unfold after the shootings in real-time. Listening to the Atlanta Police Department stand up for the murderer and make excuses for him and seeing the media and our country's leaders refuse to assign the murders as a hate crime was jarring. I understand that there's a certain amount of politics that goes into choosing your wording when you're addressing a crime like this, but from my experience in America, that whole "innocent until proven guilty" concept really only applies to white people. If this crime had been committed by a person of color, the words "thug" and/or "terrorist" would dominate headlines. Whereas in this case, the guy was just "having a bad day."

What's unique about the racism against Asian American communities is that they tend to be very gender-specific because of the way the media has hyper-sexualized and fetishized Asian women. That's why people were more willing to accept that these crimes were sexually-motivated versus racially-motivated. This man believed that he was going to rid himself of his sex addiction by disposing of these women, but didn't think that it was actually his issues and his problems that needed addressing. This type of objectification of Asian women is very real in our society today. (Related: We Need to Talk About Women & Gun Violence)

minna lee

"Seeing articles about how Black people can be better allies to Asian people is completely detracting from the main issue at hand. It's not on us minorities to do the work. It's on you."

— minna lee

Oddly enough, though, it's all been validating. As an Asian American, you're used to people thinking this way. Watching our leaders and media refuse to view these murders as an overt act of racism was proof that we've been thinking all along is true.

So how can we work toward putting an end to this hate? With any anti-racism work, it's about calling it out. Not just being a bystander, but learning how to intervene and taking it upon yourself to speak up for others. Then there's taking the responsibility to challenge these media companies and leaders for the way they choose to portray some of these events. Seeing articles about how Black people can be better allies to Asian people is completely detracting from the main issue at hand. It's not on us minorities to do the work. If non-minorities don't start stepping up, then nothing is going to change. Reading books, sharing posts, and donating are excellent first steps toward the work that needs to be done, but it doesn't stop there. With activism, I feel like a lot of people can just check one box and say, "Well, I did my part." But all the anti-racism education in the world is not going to do you any good unless you start applying it to real life.

Ruth Chan, 40, New York

My parents have been telling me to "be careful" ever since I left for college. But it wasn't until the Atlanta shootings that for the first time, multiple friends and family members reached out to me, concerned about my safety. I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn where everyone knows everyone — and since quarantine began, I haven't really left. So, honestly, I've felt safe, but I'd be lying if I said my guard wasn't up now.

When COVID-19 first hit, I suspected that there would be some sort of racism against Asian American communities, but I never imagined that it would go this far. Over the past year, I've felt the anger just build and build until it finally came to the surface after hearing about an Asian woman in New York being pushed to the ground by a stranger while walking with her son. It made me think, "What does it mean to be an Asian in this country?" Right now, it means feeling very, very afraid.

Ruth chan

"It made me think, 'What does it mean to be an Asian in this country?' Right now, it means feeling very, very afraid."

— Ruth chan

Afraid to walk the streets, afraid to go to the grocery store, afraid to be anywhere alone. But more than myself, I'm genuinely scared for the well-being of my fellow Asians, especially the elderly. So many of them left everything they had to come to this country and try to make it so that their kids could have better lives and the promise of America. Then to think that after decades of struggle, they can't even live safely in this country they've adopted is preposterous.

You can't help but feel hopeless. Racism against Blacks, Middle Easterners, and Asians is ingrained in the foundation of this country, and it feels like we're just in the beginning of dismantling it. Even though people are more aware now than they've ever been, it still feels like we're only scratching the surface. The situation is still escalating, and it makes me nervous to think about what needs to happen to force all people to come together and face the issue head-on. (Related: Why Wellness Pros Need to Be Part of the Conversation About Racism)

I make children's comics for a living and so far, they've been about various personal experiences I've had, from going on walks with my mom to learning how to swim with my aunt. Recently, though, I created a five-part series about what it really means to me to be an Asian American in this country. I recalled the first time I experienced racism at 11-years-old, how I was ashamed of my "Chineseness," and how the recent violent acts have made my community feel unseen. I was amazed to see how many people felt seen and heard through my stories. It made me realize how important it is for us as a community to speak up and share our truth. Not only does it bring our community together (something I quickly learned by the comments), but it also offers non-minorities the opportunity for you (non-minorities) to listen and learn from the accounts we share.

Youri Cho, New York

Racism has been woven into the fabric of my life. When I was a little girl, I didn't see children who looked like me. I was born in America, but as a child of an immigrant, I was brought up in a completely different culture with a completely different set of values. At home, everything was Korean, but in school, everything was American — and the two worlds never mixed, which often left me feeling ashamed of who I am.

At a young age, children at school started to slit their eyes and call me chink. And as I grew older, people told me and my parents to go back to our country. When I became an actress, I was turned away for not looking Asian enough and for looking too Asian. It comes to a point where you get so used to it that you just stop reacting. It's easier to just numb the pain and frustration. But that doesn't make you any less afraid of being subjected to this kind of harassment.

Youri cho

"It comes to a point where you get so tired and used to it that you just stop reacting. It's easier to just numb the pain and frustration."

— Youri cho

After quarantine began, I rarely left my house. If I did leave, it was to run very quick urgent errands, and I always stayed close to my neighborhood. At this point, I'd read dozens of stories about Asians being targeted and attacked and that terrified me. So, I was always on guard, but one day, in the midst of the George Floyd protests, I was on my way back home when two guys began trailing me saying, "I can't breathe; I can't breathe." At first, I thought they were a part of a protest, but when I turned around, they laughed at me and said, "Why don't you breathe on me mama ching chong ching chong?" I was so horrified that I sprinted home and cried for two days straight. (Related: How Racism Affects Your Mental Health)

Since then, I've stopped leaving my house alone. I don't go for a walk around the block for fresh air, and I'm scared to even go to the grocery store by myself. I also had to completely tune out of social media and the news because I found it so debilitating. It sounds cliché, but what was happening to the AAPI community felt so unfair. I subconsciously kept hoping and praying that things would get better, but then the Atlanta shootings happened.

When I heard the news, it was like everything I held in from the beginning of the pandemic, and in some ways, my whole life, came erupting to the surface. I had no option but to deal with it. I couldn't ignore the anger, sadness, frustration, and grief anymore. For the first time in my life, I began sharing my experience as an Asian American with my friends and people on social media, and the response I got was overwhelming.

On one hand, I was grateful for the support, but on the other, I was couldn't help but wonder, where were you before? Why does it always land on the oppressed to take the first step and educate? Why is it that we're expected to speak up when we're in a state of vulnerability and helplessness? Why do we let it get this far?

People often tell me that they don't see my color and that they love and accept me for who I am. But the thing is, I do look different, and I have had a completely different experience in this country. So I wish people acknowledged and validated that. Instead, I've never ever been asked what it's been like or what I've been through.

And that's not okay. Going forward, we need to have more conversations with people from different backgrounds about their experiences in this country. Finding commonalities can be hard, yes, but let's remember that each and every one of us, regardless of race, has felt like an outsider at some point in our lives. That's something that should breed more compassion — not less.

AAIP-racism
Left: Priscilla Tsai, Center: Prin Bacalan, Right: Debbie Yi Madhok. Alex Sandoval

Priscilla Tsai, 32, San Francisco

"In this country, this is how we do things." I remember people telling my parents that all the time when I was a child. It didn't register as racism at the time, but now I know better. Growing up as an Asian American, I too became the recipient of several seemingly harmless comments about my facial features and how I looked "exotic." It didn't matter that I was born and raised in this country, since I didn't look the part, I didn't belong.

That's why the surge of racially-motivated attacks against Asians this year hasn't come as a surprise. What is surprising, however, is that it's taken this long for the rest of the country to catch on. As soon as the coronavirus became a real concern, I began hearing stories about people in our community getting attacked. Reading and listening to these accounts was debilitating, but it really only hit home when I found out that my best friend's father was shoved to the ground by a stranger in Toronto. All of the sudden, I was afraid for my parents who live alone in Michigan and for my little brother who I need to prod to be extra careful and cautious.

Since a young age, I always accepted racism when it confronted me — it just seemed easier than fighting it. But after learning of the Atlanta shootings and seeing the police department's response, that all changed. The time to be tolerant was over. That said, after years of staying quiet, I wasn't going to grab a microphone and start voicing my outrage and personal experiences. So, I decided to take actions where I could make the most difference. For years, I'd been nervous to share that more than half the employees in my company are Asian. (I'm the founder of the beauty brand, Cocokind.) I was worried about the message that might send and if people would judge us negatively based on that. But now, my biggest priority is to make my employees feel supported and to let them know that they are a key part of our success and that I'm proud of that. I also, for the first time, acknowledged the recent hate crimes and years of anti-Asian racism on social media and have since spoken up about how others in the beauty industry can step up and support Asian-owned businesses.

The AAPI community is speaking up more than it ever has before, and while that's incredibly empowering, I also can't help but worry and wonder: Is talking about this and drawing so much attention to it going to incite even more violence? People in this country are so frustrated and tense right now. The pandemic, the political environment, and the fight for social justice have everyone on edge. In the midst of chaos, some people are just looking for something to take their anger out on, and I'm afraid they're going to use our people as a scapegoat.

Priscilla tsai

"It didn't matter that I was born and raised in this country, since I didn't look the part, I didn't belong."

— Priscilla tsai

That's why we need to face the reality of what is going on. The AAPI community needs to be alert and cautious. We can't change this systemic racism right off the bat, so we need to put our safety first. In the same vein, others can really help us by stepping up and offering us the physical act of protection — whether that's walking or driving an elderly person home or saying something when you see a racist act taking place around you.

As an Asian American, even if you're born here, you feel like an outsider because people treat you as such. To change that, we all must make a conscious effort to learn about the Asian American experience and try not to minimize it or compare it to other minority experiences. At this point, it's not so much about you using your voice, but rather creating room for us to share our stories and supporting us by celebrating and highlighting them.

Prin Bacalan, 34, Atlanta

In March 2020, I remember walking into the elevator of my apartment building and seeing a sign with some COVID guidelines and safety precautions. The very first fact on the sheet was that Asians are not more likely to transmit the disease. I was in shock. I felt so insulted that people would even need to clarify such a thing. Little did I know that was only the beginning.

The past year, I've kept a pulse on all the anti-Asian hate crimes that have been taking place but I never expected that it would hit so close to home — literally. I live very close to one of the salons that was attacked and the other is near a neighborhood where we've been planning to build roots in the future. I was devastated, fearful, and angry as a woman and a mother to a daughter. In an instant, it took away all the sense of peace and security that I had.

It was also appalling to see the Atlanta Police Department try to humanize the shooter by blaming his actions on his sex addiction and claiming he was having a bad day. In my mind that was a completely missed opportunity to denounce all of this racism. Even after that, the city as a whole had not made much of an effort to make the AAPI community feel safe. We have such a thriving Asian American community here in Atlanta and the neighboring suburbs and it feels like the city is putting the responsibility on us to protect ourselves. That said, I've received an outpouring of love and support from the company I work for and my family and friends, which has made me and my pain feel acknowledged.

Prin Bacalan

"It's not Black versus Asian versus other minorities. It's everyone versus white supremacy, and we need to work together to dismantle it."

— Prin Bacalan

I want to be a strong figure for my daughter, and I don't want these violent acts to stop me from living my life. But at the same time, there is an undeniable element of fear. So I go back and forth between the two. And I think it's okay for people in our community to feel this way. It's okay to be angry and scared, and it's also okay to speak out and stand up for yourself. There's no wrong way to deal with this kind of thing.

In order to be an ally for the AAPI community, you need to understand that you're an ally for racial justice — and that includes everyone who is marginalized and oppressed. Right now, in the media, we're seeing a lot of comparisons between what's happening to us and the Black Lives Matter movement, but it's all intertwined. It's not Black versus Asian versus other minorities. It's everyone versus white supremacy, and we need to work together to dismantle it.

Debbie Yi Madhok, M.D., 41, San Francisco

I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not surprised by the racism the AAPI community has faced since the coronavirus came into the picture, but I'm also not surprised by how the Asian community has dealt with this overt racism over the past year. It's only now, after so much time and so many tragedies that we're finally speaking out, and I believe there's a reason for that.

As Asians, we're conditioned to believe that it's okay to be bullied, tormented, and persecuted. We're taught to turn the other cheek. Asian American culture is built on respect for other individuals, elders, and people of authority. You would never disrespect your own President. As such, we were all put in a really uncomfortable position because going against the people who were spewing racist rhetoric and inciting racist acts, is against our values and everything we're taught as children.

Debbie Yi Madhok

"It's amazing that you can commit a crime in America and scapegoat it as whatever you want to — as long as you're white, of course."

— Debbie Yi Madhok

I experience racism every single day. For me, it hasn't been in the form of an assault or abuse, but more so daily microaggressions. I live in San Francisco, a highly segregated city, in a predominantly white neighborhood, and on a daily basis, my neighbors will see through me and my children. They'll walk by and say hello to our white neighbors, but when they pass our house, they won't even make eye contact with us; they just keep walking.

Being an Asian woman only amplifies the level of racism I experience. Asian women are constantly objectified and expected to be quiet and subservient. For example, the other day, I was at my local supermarket and a man walked straight into me. He did so while looking at me square in the eye, as though I was expected to move over for him while I was in the middle of picking out fruit.

This act of seeing through us is exactly what happened when neither the police nor our President was willing to say that the Atlanta shootings were racially-motivated. To take things a step further, people were more inclined to believe the murderer who claimed his crimes had nothing to do with race and that he was only trying to curb his sex addiction. It's amazing that you can commit a crime in America and excuse it for whatever reason you want — as long as you're white, of course.

There's a lot of work to be done, but right now, we can't allow vulnerable people to suffer while we wait for change. My plea to everyone is to stop seeing through us and stop walking by us. As Sandra Oh recently said in a speech at one Stop the Asian Hate rally:If you see something, will you help me? If you see one of our brothers and sisters in need, will you help us?

I was once told by a therapist that I'm someone who keeps a very clean house, but that I have one messy closet. I constantly add to that closet and quickly close the door so no one notices. The fact is, all Asians do this. We all live in that house and we're all tired of the dirty closet. Everyone reaches a tipping point. I've gone through four decades of this and now, I'm ready to open the door with my Asian brothers and sisters and start working on cleaning up the mess.

Please consider donating to the AAPI Community Fund to #StopAsianHate.

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