Updated: May 16, 2021
A Personal Perspective in Tulsa
The month of May is officially recognized in the U.S. as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As we enter into May, let’s not forget to reflect on the recent events that have transpired over the past year.
It’s been nearly two months since the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings. A tragedy that gave rise to the #StopAsianHate movement. If you’re like me, you were probably overwhelmed by its coverage on the internet and social media. Unfortunately, the publicity of the movement has started to die down, which is a shame, because hate crimes against Asians have persistently continued nonetheless. As an Asian-American myself, I want to take this time to uplift and personally speak on the matter, as we also celebrate the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements in the United States.
The Recent Rise in Asian Discrimination
On March 16, 2021, a series of mass shootings occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. That day, six Asian women senselessly lost their lives as a result. Like many Asian-Americans, I was struck with a sense of grief, anguish, and anxiety. The rise in anti-Asian violence increased almost 150% in 2020 from the previous year. Anti-Asian rhetoric and xenophobia in the U.S. has been rampant throughout the past year, a mindset that has been around since the days of the “yellow peril” ideology that started from the 19th century. This is not something new, and recent events gave rise to the peak of an underlying symptom that began and has heightened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As somebody that follows Asian-American news, mainstream media has been largely ignorant to these crimes taking place. I started to feel powerless, mentally and emotionally numb seeing the hatred aimed at my community. I started to ask myself, What can I do? When will it stop?
Examples of anti-Asian hate crimes being overlooked: Asians getting harassed and beaten while walking home, 89-year-old Asian woman being attacked and lit on fire in NYC, Asian-American small businesses being vandalized and destroyed. The most disturbing part is these attacks were often aimed at Asian elders. Respect for the elderly is an important part of Asian culture, and the blatant targeting of the most helpless and defenseless members of our community was downright upsetting. Since mainstream media has now been forced to acknowledge racism unlike before. With human lives having been lost, these crimes can no longer be ignored. Our families didn’t come to this country to suffer this kind of mistreatment. They came for a better future. They came for better conditions. They came for survival.
A Peak Into My Family History
My parents came to this country more than 40 years ago. Like many others, they were among the “boat people,” refugees that fled Vietnam by boat and ship near the end of the Vietnam War. I recall stories told by my parents and the hardships they endured to resettle in a new and more developed country. My dad escaped gunfire raining down at him while fleeing. He dove into unknown waters from the shoreline, and swam for an inconceivable amount of time to reach his escape boat. He was a youth at the time and didn’t even know how to swim, but he did what had to be done for survival. Separately, my mom spent an undetermined number of days in the lower deck of a ship, sleeping in complete darkness and packed in like sardines among her family and other escapees. When they reached their refugee camp somewhere in Southeast Asia, she and other refugees spent months living off of salty water and rations that consisted of unfiltered grains of what she could only assume to be rice. Soon after, my dad was among the first group of refugees that boarded a charter flight to the U.S. The first place that he arrived? Fargo, North Dakota. He was immediately in for a rude awakening, coming from a primarily tropical climate to a dry and frigid environment. To make a living, my dad spent many months thereafter residing and migrating between a couple of states, before he ended up settling in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he met my mom. This is where they started our family.
Growing Up in Tulsa
I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have spent most of my life here. Growing up in East Tulsa, I (fortunately) have never been in a situation in which I feared for my life. I’m grateful to be living near Asian Mart food market, and the “Asian” district marked by the Nam-Hai oriental market is a short drive away. I’m very thankful to be among a diverse community. Although racist name calling and micro-aggressions were common growing up. My parents gave me the common name “Brian” to protect me from being made fun of, but kids still found ways to use my last name to belittle and bully me. Some of my Asian classmates and friends didn’t have the same privilege. Many of them took it upon themselves to adopt English names or nicknames to assimilate to white, Western culture. Others, like my best friend, chose to use his unique name and celebrate his culture despite the bullying. Looking back, I’m very proud of him. At the time, we couldn’t react to the bullying. We were told to keep our head down and, “take the high road.” Today, people still ask, “Where are you from?” I’m from Tulsa. It’s quite frustrating when people ask, “Where are you really from?” Um, Oklahoma? “But where are your parents from?” Well, that’s none of your business. If you ask me as a friend or close acquaintance, I probably would have shared with you about my heritage already. If you’re a nosy stranger, then I’m no longer interested in having a conversation with you. Nowadays, as rude as that may seem, I would rather be blunt than uncomfortable.
The Model Minority Myth
The “model minority” myth is one that characterizes Asian-American people as studious, successful, well-educated individuals who follow rules and have achieved success through hard work and immigrant perseverance. Though it may seem like a positive stereotype, the myth of the “model minority” is pervasive and does real damage. The myth has been used in the U.S. to create a racial wedge between Asians and Blacks. It creates tensions within inter-Asian people as well. Southeast Asian and South Asians are often seen as “lesser than” in comparison to East Asians. That is false. We are ALL Asian. To fight racial injustice, we must come together in unity. When we come together as a community, we can address systemic racism on the larger front. It doesn't matter where you're from. We stand together.
Depiction of Asians in Western Media
The depiction of Asians and our culture in the media plays a big part in the public perception of our race. Yellowface in cinema was once rampant, and the lingering threads of racial predisposition still remain. As recently as in the last decade, we are still getting Asian characters in film and television played by white actors. I’m looking at you, Scarlett Johansson (I still like you as an actor though, and the memes where we constantly disavow you are hilarious). Why do we have Asian characters on TV still doing accents? If the actor actually has an accent, okay, no problem. Authenticity is good. But does nobody notice how cringey and racist it is for an Asian-American actor who is fully fluent in English to forcibly do accents? This needs to stop. Fortunately, with recent public outcries and victorious accolades in Asian media, it's gotten better. One of the reasons why I transitioned to a career in film was to do what I can to make changes. Representation matters.
Solidarity Amongst BIPOC
One aspect that gave rise to the #StopAsianHate movement is the precedent set by Black Lives Matter. Black and Asian solidarity has a long and storied history in the U.S. The killing of George Floyd that reignited the BLM movement occurred in May of 2020. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and during this time of celebration for Asian-Americans, we were met with a tragedy. Though circumstances are not completely the same, Asian-Americans understood what it meant when the Black community and many Asian-Americans made deep commitments to standing up for Black lives. Now, the Black community is doing the same and coming together to support their Asian-American neighbors, and we truly appreciate the reciprocation. On behalf of the Asian-American community, we thank you.
The # StopAsianHate Movement
To my Asian brothers, sisters, parents, aunties, uncles, and elders. The time has come to stand up and have our voices heard. We will no longer keep our heads down. To our Asian allies, we will unite to combat racial injustice and fight for equality in our country. America is a melting pot, not a bowl of white soup. Let’s keep it diverse.
If you see or encounter an Asian person out in public, be kind. If you see an Asian person in public being harassed, speak up and don't sit silent. We can’t let the movement disappear. #StopAsianHate #StopAAPIHate #HateIsAVirus
Brian Du, Digital Media Specialist, Websites4Good
Brian Du is a Tulsa-based screenwriter, filmmaker, and composer. He is also the Digital Media Specialist for Websites4Good. Say Hi if you see him on a video shoot!