Outrageous is the racism unleashed both physically and verbally against the Asian community since the pandemic began in 2020.
A year ago, Santa Clara County adopted resolution BOS-2020-43 supported by Supervisor Cindy Chávez denouncing xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and confirming that this county supports and is committed to protecting the safety of Asian American communities. The reasons are clear and just, Santa Clara County is one of the first minority-majority counties in the nation, and as such, Asians have been the largest racial group since 2014. The Asian community represents about 38 % of the population in this county. However, despite the workforce that this community represents, incidents of discrimination, hatred, crimes, and aggressions against Asian Americans concerning other ethnic groups have increased in the country and worldwide. According to some people, they are guilty of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.
Against the racist incidents, the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of San Francisco, in collaboration with other organizations, created an Internet site where victims can share their stories of incidents of violence: hatred, harassment, persecution, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the State of California and nationally.
These expression platforms are essential to support victims and pass the information that they are not alone in this fight for social justice. However, immediate social actions are needed to generate respect, compassion, and equity in an organic and non-judgmental way. So where do you start if, throughout history, incidents of racism against African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and against everyone have not been stopped?
With this in mind, we had the opportunity to interview Tiffany Chao, the Director of Student Services at The Girls’ Middle School, a progressive education school located in Palo Alto, California. Tiffany has a BA in psychology and an MA in counseling from the Harvard School of Higher Education. Tiffany was born in the United States and is of Chinese descent. In fifteen years in the education field, first, as a Chinese instructor and counselor, Tiffany shared her feelings of sadness, anger, and fear in the face of all the aggression that the Asian community is suffering, “These incidents of racism have been going through for a long time. Only now are they in the news. There have been movements against Asians since 1820. But people don’t comment on it. Everything has focused on the protest that the life of African-Americans is important. And until now, they realize that the same has happened with the Asians.”
Tiffany Chao openly told us that she had many experiences of discrimination and rude questions based on assumptions about her appearance throughout her childhood and youth. She was never physically assaulted, but Tiffany could not understand the rudeness of many people. It was until she got to college, started studying, and tried to rationalize these racist incidents. “You have to focus on how to prevent the problem; once a hate incident has happened, it is too late. I work in a school, and one of my functions is how to provide a safe place for the Asian student community. We need to educate children and young people in understanding cultural diversity. Teach them the value of each culture. It’s not too late to make a difference with simple things like reading a novel that focuses on different races, sharing stories in the media. Also, people who cause hate incidents must be stopped immediately. For this reason, I dedicate myself to education, change stereotypes, not attack people for their physical appearance, and be more open to what is happening in the world. We need to have more knowledge of racial diversity, emphasize and show more organic empathy as human beings”, emphasized educator Chao.
Counselor Tiffany and other teachers have been organizing open forums on their campus where all students and interested individuals can share their stories or hear testimonies of recent incidents against Asians and share a moment of solidarity.
We also spoke with Olivia Seto, the 8th-grade student at The Girls’ Middle School. Olivia and her parents were born in the United States, but the grandparents are from Hong Kong; they emigrated in 1940 on the maternal side and in 1970 on the paternal side; so Olivia considers herself Chinese-American. Asked how she feels about the incidents against the Asian community, she told us, “First I tried to deny and ignore that something serious was going on. I was born in this country, and I feel American, which can worry me. But then, I felt a lot of pain. My mother mentioned that her aunt, who lives in New York, is afraid to go outdoors and be attacked. These feelings are unsettling. I have a lot of talks about it with my parents at home, and they recommend that I take care of myself. My mother says that we have to be vigilant when we go to the market and choose open positions where we can see around to avoid possible attacks from the blind spots. At school, I feel safe because there is an understanding of what is happening, and we have accurate information on the facts,” said Olivia.
In elementary school, Olivia Seto commented that some white children called her by racial derogatory names; and she felt fear and pain that she could not express openly. Olivia perhaps gives us a testimony of the mixed feelings and sadness that many young Asians are experiencing at the moment and that they do not have the opportunity to express themselves openly. Partly because the subject is not discussed at home or the educational system does not support platforms to talk about this incident.
“I think there is no easy solution to ending hate incidents. But we can make a difference on an individual level; by making the community aware of what is happening, surrounding ourselves with people of different cultures and races, not following the stereotypes established for years. Let people share their life experiences. Donate money to organizations that protect human rights, sign direct petitions to the government to make reforms to protect citizens. It is important to be empathetic with everyone and educate ourselves on racism to help people. My message is that we have to take care of ourselves, support Asian friends, and confront racism,” commented Olivia Seto.
We agree with the student Olivia and the educator Tiffany; what can we contribute individually to raise awareness in our close circle of friends about racism? We call on the educational system, local, state, and national governments to invest in students’ future. Reform is needed in the units of study. Classes directly from the elementary to high school level need to address racism, equality, fairness, civil conscience, empathy, and respect. The education system implemented the history classes to learn from the past, improve the present, but no, to be repeating the same behaviors of racism, hatred, and attack on cultural diversity, which have existed since the arrival of European immigrants at the end of the 15th century in this country.
The life of African-Americans is essential. The life of Asians counts, the life of Hispanics or Latinx counts, the life and dignity of a human being should not begin to be respected every time there is a march that causes chaos, and because it is fashion. We want to talk about individual conscience that has repercussions at the social level. It can be shaped and acquired, first at home. If the family environment is not conducive, the educational system has the moral and social commitment to address racism, identity, immigration, etc.,
We appreciate the courage and courage of educator Tiffany Chao and student Olivia Seto in sharing their stories. We end this article with a remark from Martin Luther King, an African-American activist (1929-1968), “We have learned to fly like birds, to swim like a fish; but we have not learned the simple art of living as brothers.”
If you believe that your civil rights or someone else’s have been violated, you can fill out a report. The Civil Rights Division has an obligation to enforce laws that protect you from discrimination based on your race, color, national origin, physical disability, sex, religion, family status, or loss of other constitutional rights. Visit the
site: https://civilrights.justice.gov. For immediate help call 911.