When Shang-Chi was a mega-hit at the box office, there was a lot of excitement in the Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. It proved that an Asian-led film could be successful with broader audiences. During a pandemic that has brought some of the worst facets of Asian hate back to the forefront, this was a much-needed victory.
Describing COVID-19 as "Kung flu" and "China virus," former President Trump's rhetoric had real, and violent, consequences. Hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 major cities rose 149% in 2020. Between March 2020 and June 2021, more than 9,000 incidents of racially motivated attacks against AAPI community members were reported in the U.S. Over 60% of those were directed at AAPI women.
Asian Americans represent approximately 6% of the U.S. population, but are projected to become the largest minority group by 2055. But, for most Americans, we are largely unseen. In a 2021 online survey, when asked to identify a well-known Asian American, 42% answered Don't Know, 11% Jackie Chan and 9% Bruce Lee.
In this invisible space, AAPI people have largely borne racism in silence. A prime example is how lauded Japanese Americans were after their quiet return from concentration camps after World War II. Internalizing that experience and not vocally seeking justice has led to generational trauma that still ripples through the community. An act of racism now — a side glance or scooting away on the bus, a question about whether you understand English, a broken window at a restaurant on 82nd Avenue — reverberates through time.
But we are quiet no more. As in the 1960s, when the African American-led Civil Rights Movement spurred Japanese Americans to seek redress for World War II internment, so have the 2020 protests of police violence against people of color triggered a new strength and will in the AAPI community to speak out.
Part of this comes from a truth that there can be no justice for one community without justice for all communities; without acknowledging and rectifying the horrors done through the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of African Americans, we cannot hope to find the same. There is great power in embracing our shared experiences as marginalized communities, both outside the Asian diaspora but also within. Tribalism has long served white supremacy in dividing us against each other, but racists don't distinguish between an elderly Chinese American and a Filipino one, as we've seen with the recent attacks.
That's the goal of Oregon Rises Above Hate, to highlight AAPI issues to the broader community while uniting our diverse and distinct communities of Asian descent together into one voice. That is why we have partnered with The Immigrant Story to document community members' experiences with racism in our state, because it's not just happening in Atlanta or San Francisco. It's happening here, and we can only stop it when we acknowledge it.
Only when victims are heard and feel seen can we begin to create the welcoming community that we believe ourselves to be. Asian Americans have long been a part of Oregon and will continue to be here, enriching neighborhoods whether they are first-generation Laotian or fifth-generation Chinese.
It's time we hear their voices and embrace their presence.
Erica Naito-Campbell and Anne Naito-Campbell, organizers of Oregon Rises Above Hate, are fourth- and third-generation Japanese-Americans respectively, and are bearers of the family legacy begun in 1917 by Hide Naito and cultivated by his sons, Sam and Bill Naito.
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