Ocampo: Why Asian-American Hate Crimes Are Overlooked

Aidan Ocampo, Columnist

Since the domestic arrival of COVID-19, Asian-American hate crimes have reached an all-time high. Fears of the virus, conflated with widespread misinformation, have placed Asian Americans at the center of an unprecedented national crisis. However, it is imperative to recognize that COVID-19 was not the only source of the recent rise in hate crimes. Rather, the xenophobic characterization of COVID-19 was merely another iteration of anti-Asian sentiment that has persisted in the United States for centuries.

From the moment Asians first set foot in America, they have consistently been alienated and ostracized. In 1869, the successful completion of the Transcontinental Railroad depended solely on exploiting 20,000 Chinese immigrants for their intensive labor in often fatal working conditions. After enduring brutalizing labor and hundreds of fatalities, the Chinese were excluded from attending the inauguration ceremony — a fitting culmination to the years of abusive treatment.

Once thoroughly utilizing Chinese laborers to fulfill their own economic ambitions, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively restricting further immigration for decades. The bill cited declining wages and economic ills, despite Chinese people only composing 0.002 percent of the population.

Blatant abuse of Asian Americans has consistently been overlooked in American history. World War II also brought a surge in anti-Asian sentiment into every sphere of American society. Though the U.S. government participated in overt acts of abuse, they were “justified” under the guise of supposed national security. The fear-mongering language used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to justify Japanese internment offers an uncanny resemblance to President Trump’s Chinese travel ban and racist characterization of the virus as “Kung Flu” or “Chinese Virus.”

Such parallels suggest that America has not progressed past the anti-Asian attitudes that pervaded the country almost 80 years ago. Asians have always been portrayed as foreign, dirty, exploitable assets that pose a threat to the racial purity valued by White Americans. The coronavirus merely provided an opportunity to manifest these sentiments into acts of violence and discrimination.

Despite thousands of reports of Asian-American hate crimes across the country over the past year, these incidences have garnered limited national attention from the press or the government. The lack of acknowledgment can largely be attributed to the recent regarding of Asian Americans as the “model minority.” This stereotype largely assumes Asian Americans maintain a higher class status and receive better education, thereby deeming them exempt from discrimination. However, not only does this invalidate the experiences of millions of Asian Americans, but it also pits minorities against one another in an attempt to further the mechanisms of White supremacy. Rather than confront the mistreatment of Asian Americans that is deeply rooted in in our society, America would rather continue to benefit from their economic contributions and invalidate any claims of discrimination.

Due to the intentional disregard of Asian-American hate crimes, many Asian-American communities have emphasized the need of added security. However, more policing is not the answer.

To continue the discussion of the model minority, removing this preconceived notion would also build a broader coalition of Asian-American solidarity with other BIPOC communities. Asian Americans have often been under the impression that the police simply exist to “protect and serve.” However, increasing the presence of police in Asian-American communities would only serve to advance a racist system that disproportionately incriminates and brutalizes Black and brown individuals. Promoting this system of policing would contribute to the division between racial minorities in America, thus strengthening the position of White supremacy.

It is important to note that Asian Americans are not exempt from brutalization by the police in America. Just two months ago, police officers killed Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Navy veteran and Filipino immigrant. Quinto was experiencing a mental health episode when police knelt on his neck for five minutes as his mother and sister watched him die in their own home.

Now, Asian Americans are left with few answers on how to address the rise in violence in their communities. With a lack of considerable action from the government, Asian Americans require a broader movement to recognize and remove this bias from American society. Like COVID-19, every individual plays a role in preventing the virus of anti-Asian views from taking the lives of more Americans.

Aidan Ocampo is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.