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A nationally traumatizing moment for Asian Americans

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

An adult holds a candle at a nighttime vigil.
A person holds a candle at a vigil.

Along with the nation, ParentCorps is following the recent, horrifying news of a 21-year-old white man in Atlanta killing eight people, many of whom were women of Asian descent. This news comes in the midst of a steady uptick in anti-Asian violence since the beginning of the pandemic — violence inextricably tied to unchecked white supremacy. There have been 3,795 reported cases of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since March 2020, according to an analysis by Stop AAPI Hate, with the likelihood that the number of cases is actually much higher.

In youth-led interviews with more than 900 young adults of Asian and Pacific Islander descent during the pandemic, the Stop AAPI Hate Campaign painted a vivid picture of how this violence is affecting young people. Twenty-five percent of those interviewed had experienced an incident of racism since the beginning of the pandemic; verbal harassment made up the largest share of these incidents (43%), followed by shunning (26%), online bullying (21%), and being coughed at, spit upon, or assaulted (10%). In this context, youth expressed anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, depression, concern for their family, and fear.

San Francisco State Professor Russell Jeung, who led the participatory research campaign, summed up the cumulative toll of anti-Asian attacks and rhetoric: “For the past year, I felt more and more like we were under siege,” he said in an interview with NPR. “So this is sort of a nationally traumatizing moment for Asian Americans.”

Anti-Asian discrimination and violence in the United States is not new. There is a “long, contextualized history of how Asian Americans have been a part of this country, and have been marginalized. And that history… is often not taught,” said Dr. Anne Anlin Cheng, professor of English and American Studies at Princeton, in an interview with American University Radio.

In this moment, we’re eager to amplify efforts -- across media, education, mental health, public health, and organizing -- to center Asian American children, families, and communities. For early childhood educators, Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is a profound picture book that supports positive racial identity formation among Asian American children, featuring a young girl who learns to embrace her “eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.” A recent episode of the podcast Girl Tales imagines Chinese-American civil rights activist Helen Zia in conversation with a young Korean-American girl today, providing a bridge for children to connect past and present struggles. The Asian Mental Health Collective is building a community for Asian mental health support, with a focus on normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental illness, while honoring centuries of culture and traditions. Public health researchers, like Dr. Stella Yi, are boldly calling out long-time issues in research and health policy: for instance, that aggregating data across the diverse umbrella term “Asian American” results in large numbers of Asian Americans being ignored, under-served, and under-studied as communities of color that experience health disparities. Now more than ever, dozens of organizations can use our monetary support to deepen their work for Asian communities. Throughout this work - learning and un-learning, building our consciousness, committing to new actions - we must remember the importance of simply showing up for each other.

In our work at ParentCorps — to help schools partner with families in historically disinvested neighborhoods — we know it is essential to recognize the emotional and traumatic impact of recent events on Asian American children and families. Asian American children have the right to safety in their educational experience, and to learning environments that affirm their uniqueness and brilliance. Asian American families, and all families of color, are owed freedom from fear, racial bias, and violence.

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