Yan: Lunar New Year xenophobic attacks show the effect of anti-Asian rhetoric

Celebrations+for+Lunar+New+Year+are+dismal+in+light+of+the+COVID-19+pandemic+and+rising+number+of+hate+crimes+against+Asians.

Alexander Synaptic, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Celebrations for Lunar New Year are dismal in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising number of hate crimes against Asians.

By Jessica Yan, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

Red envelopes, dragon dances and firecrackers — a telltale sign that Lunar New Year is here. But what was supposed to be a celebration of a new year for Asian communities quickly became a time of fear, especially for those living in the US. 

When COVID-19 reached the US last January, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose significantly. NYPD-reported data indicates that anti-21 recently grew by around 1,900% nationwide compared to pre-COVID. More specifically, nearly 3,000 separate hate incidents directed toward Asian Americans have been reported since the start of 2021. This matter is only continuing to become more violent, which is why we need to speak up against the hate and stereotypes recently created.

But how did all of this hate and violence toward Asians start in the first place? Ever since former President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”, many Americans followed suit, name-calling it the “Kung flu” or the “Wuhan virus”. As if verbal insults and slurs weren’t enough, people have also started to physically assault Asians, particularly older Asians, and with some attacks becoming fatal. 

For instance, an 84-year-old Thai man named Vichar Ratanapakdee died after being pushed to the ground by a 19-year-old man. Nothing that Vichar did on his routine morning walk would have provoked anyone to cause his demise — it was all out of hatred for simply being an Asian American. Similarly, a 91-year-old man was attacked and shoved to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown. In addition, a Filipino man named Noel Quintana was slashed in the face with a box cutter while riding a subway train in New York City. No one on the train came to his defense or helped him, and he only received medical help after speaking to a ticket booth attendant.

These repeated attacks occurred within a span of a few weeks around Lunar New Year and have instigated fear among Asian Americans. This has caused many Asians to hide in their homes, away from public view. There is no reason for Asians and other underrepresented communities to live in terror of being discriminated against. We reside in a country that was once called the “land of the free”, but that meaning seems to have quickly strayed away for people of color. 

Sadly, racially charged coverage media sources are what ultimately caused this rise in xenophobic violence and division amongst races. Over the past few months, some news outlets have been using biased terminology in their COVID-19 news to gradually develop a stigma surrounding Asians. This has resulted in distorted generalizations surrounding Asian communities, which has caused races to turn against and point fingers at one another. 

In addition, with the ongoing attacks against Asians, there has been a lack of media coverage for various occurrences. As an Asian American, I am appalled at the lack of coverage and response from major news outlets, lawmakers and politicians. Even though anti-Asian racism has been around for many decades, this sudden wave of attacks has startled me. Just because I’m Asian does not mean that I hold true to these stereotypes associated with COVID-19, and it pains me to see that some continue to act indifferent when these hate crimes are blatantly obvious and they deserve recognition. People are being attacked and murdered for simply walking down the street, yet many of those who have the voice remain ignorant — a truly unpleasant sight to see.

Fortunately, some influencers, activists and celebrities have used their platforms to bring attention to and condemn these xenophobic harassments. Many have called out the media and public to bring awareness to the recent racist assaults towards Asians. Others are presenting money rewards to those who have information or are willing to identify the suspects in the various attacks. President Joe Biden signed an executive order that denounces the rising number of anti-Asian sentiments and attacks. There are still those who are willing to stand up and shed light on the growing matter, but it’s not enough. 

We still have a long way to go before finally eliminating the bigotry and stigma surrounding Asian Americans following the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that there will one day be a time where Asians and other people of color won’t fear the possibility of being attacked, murdered or discriminated against. 

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on February 25, 2021.