Michael Coonce, a junior broadcasting major, heard people insulting him on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus about COVID-19 because he is Korean-American. He’s one among many Asian-Americans dealing with racism during the pandemic.
“People were saying that I was probably the person who ate the bat that brought COVID[-19] here, and people would spit in my direction,” Coonce said.
According to the United Nations, xenophobic attacks against Asians escalated in 2020 with more than 1,800 cases reported between March and May in the United States. Asians have faced refusal of service and access, vandalism and physical attacks. The violence has risen to the point where the New York Police Department started an Asian Hate Crimes Taskforce, and California is allocating $1.4 million to track anti-Asian hate.
Ruoxi Liu, a Chinese-American freshman international business major, said racism is something she’s been cautious of growing up, but now it’s unavoidable as people blame her entire ethnicity for the pandemic.
“My family and I would be walking in a grocery store, and people would just glare at us as if we’re guilty,” Liu said.
Christine Trinh, a Vietnamese-American sophomore economics and political science double major, said she experienced racism at her workplace in Lincoln whenever she asked customers to put on a mask.
“There was an older gentleman in a suit, and you would expect him to be mature, but he started angrily yelling racial slurs at me,” Trinh said. “I just stood calmly and took in his outburst.”
Asian communities are demanding to be heard, as the recent incident of an 84-year-old Thai man’s murder in San Francisco sparked outrage. Using social media platforms, Asians all around the world, including celebrities like Daniel Dae Kim, Naomi Osaka and Awkwafina, have trended the hashtag #StopAsianHate to address the cruelty.
“Asian racism has been prevalent for the past century or so, but it has always been unnoticed,” Coonce said. “In 2021, we are finally using our voices to say this has been a problem.”
Katie Tran, a Vietnamese-American freshman pre-health student, said that Asian communities are scared, especially for the elders. She said part of her family is living with caution in southern California, which is becoming a hotspot for Asian hate crimes.
“Attacks are happening on the most vulnerable group because people know that our elders like to be very independent and not bring attention to themselves,” Tran said.
Although social media has been impactful by bringing the matter to light, Liu said more measures need to take place. Coonce said anti-Asian racism is a long-standing issue, not a coronavirus issue.
Coonce said that acknowledging the history of anti-Asian racism in the nation is needed. He believes that education on past discriminatory practices used, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, is vital to understand that Asians are not a ‘model minority’ without struggles.
Besides advocating in the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, Liu and Trinh have been spreading awareness through dialogue. Trinh said she has been giving speeches to people in her sorority, a predominantly white space, to help them understand why Asians need outside advocacy now.
“Instead of just reading about it, people need to interact with Asians or people who support Asians to get the scope of this situation,” Liu said. “Interaction is more educational to get different perspectives.”
Tran said the best way to combat anti-Asian racism is to represent the Asian clubs on campus more. She said getting involved in these organizations and understanding the culture is a way for people to symbolize their support.
“Solidarity is important in a time like this,” Tran said. “The Asian Student Union and clubs like the Vietnamese Student Association give people a lot of opportunities to learn, so if more people participate, it will show their support towards our community.”
The Asian Student Union held an anti-Asian racism meeting on Feb. 23, and members shared their perspectives on the recent attacks. They discussed strategies to spread awareness and will donate 25% of their T-shirt sales towards STOP AAPI HATE.
“Coming together as an Asian community as a whole is important,” Coonce said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re East Asian or Southeast Asian. We’re all Asians, and we need to be here together for each other.”