Monday, October 25, 2021

MSU community reacts to anti-Asian violence

March 23, 2021
David Tran wears a shirt with the word "REFUGENE" on March 20, 2021. According to the Refugene website, "‘REFUGENE’ is the extraordinary resilience in refugees—the trait we hope to pass from generation to generation. It is in our DNA, either dominant or recessive, and therein lies our mission: Find it in yourself, look for it in others, and live by it for life.”
David Tran wears a shirt with the word "REFUGENE" on March 20, 2021. According to the Refugene website, "‘REFUGENE’ is the extraordinary resilience in refugees—the trait we hope to pass from generation to generation. It is in our DNA, either dominant or recessive, and therein lies our mission: Find it in yourself, look for it in others, and live by it for life.” —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

In light of Robert Aaron Long’s recent murder of eight people including six Asian American women — Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng — Michigan State University students spoke out against racism, violence and hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Earlier this week, Long went on multiple rampage shootings in the Atlanta area and killed eight people. Authorities charged Long on Wednesday, March 17 with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. The first four counts and assault charge are connected to the first shooting at a massage parlor in Cherokee county, while the other four counts related to two other shootings at spas in northeast Atlanta. 

The Cherokee county sheriff’s office said that Long confessed to the shootings and they were not racially biased, but rather an outlet for his sex addiction. Members of the MSU Asian American and Pacific Islander community and many others across the nation disagree.

“It’s tragic,” business finance sophomore and member of the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) and Hmong American Student Association (HASA) Thomas Vue said, “It’s taken away eight livelihoods. It’s torn apart eight families.” 

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However, these racist acts are not just limited to the Atlanta area.

When addressing racism against Asian-Americans, students at MSU specifically cited racist comments from MSU alum Larry Gaynor. Following a $3 million donation to MSU in 2017, Gaynor is celebrated with an entrepreneurship program, The Larry and Teresa Gaynor Entrepreneurship Lab, in the Eli Broad College of Business. 

“There’s a few enemies in the business and if you’re in the nail business, the biggest enemy is the Vietnamese salon,” Gaynor said in a video removed from his website.

He then went on to disparage their sanitation, pricing and “the way they talk” — citing English as the language to speak in America. 

Gaynor has since apologized for his comments. However, Asian American members of the MSU community urged for name change, but MSU has yet to budge.

Social relations and policy junior and Vice President of Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO) Jonathan Suan said that rhetoric like this contributes to racist culture and encourages violence. 

“It’s all connected,” Suan said.

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Suan also said the dehumanization of Asians in America is not helped by the media. Depictions of Asians as sexualized, a homogenous “race,” weak or virus carriers are all factors in many internet spaces. 

Since the pandemic began, Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition addressing anti-Asian hate throughout the pandemic, reported nearly 3,800 hate incidents against members of the Asian American community. In just 2021 alone, there have been 503 incidents reported. These incidents involve verbal harassment, shunning (deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans), physical assault, civil rights violations and online harassment. 

These are only a fraction of the true number of incidents occurring in the United States but give representation to the kind of racism Asians have been experiencing throughout the pandemic and historically. 

After the events in Atlanta, many students said they were scared for their safety.

“I was very fearful,” international relations junior David Tran said, his voice wavering. “I will be honest with you. I went back home to Detroit and from all the news about coronavirus and how it got more exponentially worse throughout the summer, I saw a very increased hatred for the Asian American community.” 

Tran, who is a member of the VSA and APASO, said he has been experiencing racism since the pandemic began, but has felt the historic pressures of anti-Asian sentiments his entire life. From hateful comments on the street like “it’s [the pandemic] because of your people” or microaggressions about his true “home,” it has been a daily presence and struggle.

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“They’ll ask questions that may seem okay to them, but are also very demeaning to us,” Tran said. 

Tran believes that these kinds of actions are deemed acceptable because Asian American hate crimes have been normalized in society. In his eyes, historically there hasn’t been any real action and it has always been dismissed. 

There also isn’t a way to get help because of Asian Americans status as the “model minority.” 

“We’re recognized by the white, but we’re not fully recognized because we are considered a minority,” Tran said.

Tran’s mother owns a nail salon in Detroit and the Atlanta shootings brought to light the reality of how racism takes its form in deliberate violence, and how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at risk. He said there’s an overwhelming awareness that it could be his own mother announced dead on the news when he gets home. 

“We are tired of it,” Tran said. “And we are tired of seeing our fellow community members dying. We are tired of seeing mothers being lost and sons that are literally struggling because they no longer have their parents.” 

Comparative cultures and politics sophomore and member of APASO Annie Hamaty said she broke down Friday after holding it in all week.

“I wish that they would label it as a hate crime,” she said. “Because it most definitely was.”

She said that it gives more power to the situation if it is labeled as a hate crime and that there is transparency. This isn’t a singular, disconnected event — it is a culmination of racism and anti-Asian rhetoric over the past century. 

Hamaty also said that the loss of these women is especially poignant to her. As an Asian American woman, it brings up the discussion of both the fetishization and discrimination specifically against women in her community. 

“Being in the body of a woman, you don’t feel safe,” she said. 

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And by being a woman and Vietnamese, she said she feels the weight of both. 

Suan said this kind of anti-Asian rhetoric has been ingrained in American history and the last presidential administration continued the trend. Former President Donald Trump coined the term “China virus” and racialized language moving forward in the pandemic. 

“We don’t know if these people in power are against us or with us,” Vue said. 

Many institutions, from education to healthcare, uphold anti-Asian feelings and rhetoric, and lack sympathy for Asian American violence in comparison to other tragedies. He feels as if it is being swept under the rug for all marginalized Americans. 

Student organizations such as VSA and APASO bring comfort and support after tragedy, but also are a resource for other students on campus to learn about different communities.

“Staying close to your roots and your heritage, keeping all of those aspects of who you are as a person alive -- I think that is important,” Vue said.

The history of anti-Asian racism in the U.S.

Moving forward, all four students believe that reaching out, learning and understanding historical context are factors in breaking down racial discrimination and barriers. This is not something they can do by themselves though. In particular, these students cited the history of racism directed towards Asian in the U.S. over centuries.

In the 1850s, men from South China and other Asian immigrants came to California to play a vital role in developing the nation. They were contracted laborers that worked as miners, railroad builders, farmers, factory workers and fishermen. By the 1870s, the Chinese represented 20% of California’s workforce despite representing 0.002% of the U.S. population, according to the Center for Global Education. 

In 1876, a depression hit and Chinese immigrants were falsely blamed for “taking away jobs.” Reports from the Senate Immigration Commission in the early 19th century said that Chinese immigrants were depicted as “an inferior race” and “degraded people.” 

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act -- a law that prevented immigration and naturalization based on race. Following the decline of Chinese immigration, many Japanese, Koreans and Indians came to the West Coast to replace the workers for even cheaper labor. By 1924, all Asian immigrants (with the exception of Filipino “nationals”) were excluded by law, denied citizenship and naturalization and had no rights concerning marriage or owning land. 

Between 1910 and 1940, Chinese and other Asian immigrants were held in Angel Island for months on end -- experiencing grueling medical examinations and interrogations. Soon after the impacts of Pearl Harbor and World War II, more violence, restrictions and internment camps for the Japanese and other marginalized Asian Americans ensued. 

It wasn’t until 1965 that Asians were allowed to immigrate to the United States as families. But soon the Vietnam War gave way to another wave of anti-Asian rhetoric and racism in the U.S. 

Tran said even though he knows they are not alone, it is time for others to start educating themselves and stepping up.

“As much as I am a really proud Spartan, I also feel like sometimes my voice is not heard enough because of my identity,” he said. 

Listening is the first step, but accountability is the next. Asians are being targeted and students want action — whether that be from Michigan State University, individual states like Georgia or the nation as a whole.

“Not everyone likes the color of your pigment on your skin,” Vue said. “Not everyone likes the shape of your eyes. Not everyone likes the way that you talk or the color of your hair. And because of that, it’s kind of unsetting to say the least.”

This article is part of our Stop Asian Hate print issue. Read the full issue here.

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