If you told me two years ago I’d be this uncomfortable commuting to work because of the tangible risk of being assaulted for the way that I look, I wouldn’t believe you. Had you said that I’d eventually get a call from a close family member telling me she was attacked in broad daylight, I’d be sick. But this is my reality, and it’s one I share with members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
As we begin to emerge from a tumultuous time in our country, many are eager to experience the world ahead—free of curfews and public health mandates. For our community, in particular, the future is hazy. With spikes in anti-Asian incidents, we’re processing the impact the last few years have had on our identities and reflecting on what our futures could potentially look like.
Ahead lies a snapshot of the AAPI experience, as told by experts in psychology, thought leaders, and community tastemakers.
Meet the Expert
- Linda Yoon, LCSW, is a Korean American psychotherapist and founder of Yellow Chair Collective, a California-based psychotherapist group composed of predominantly AAPI professionals. Prior to the pandemic, Yellow Chair Collective began support groups for the AAPI community, anticipating the need for a safe space for the AAPI community to process collective trauma. The organization continues to have support groups geared toward the AAPI experience.
- Soo Jin Lee, LMFT, is a therapist and the director of the Yellow Chair Collective.
Yoon and Lee are co-authors of Where I Belong: Finding Compassion and Building Community for Asian Americans, a narrative educational workbook about Asian American cultural and racial trauma that will be released in 2023.
First, AAPI Hate Isn’t a New Concept
A reminder: While Stop AAPI Hate—an organization that gathers data on anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate incidents—was founded in 2020 (the hashtag that signified the start of the eponymous movement started just a year later), anti-Asian sentiments are not new. “If we look through the historical lens, Asians have always been seen as perpetual foreigners in this country,” says Lee, who cites the Yellow Peril sentiments and legal actions like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
This existing racism has only fueled the anti-Asian attacks we’ve observed more recently. “Asians received the blame for the pandemic,” says Yoon. “Of course, we can’t neglect to highlight Trump nationally mentioning anti-China rhetoric,” adds Lee. “If whoever is representing this country is nationally announcing this hatred and violence, it becomes normalized for every other citizen to do the same.”
Statistically, Anti-Asian Violence Isn’t Slowing Down
Between 2020 and 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received 10,905 reports from across the nation, and 16.1% of them (approximately 1766 incidents) were physical assaults. Despite the 2020 election results and declining COVID-19 numbers, we’re experiencing a surge in anti-Asian hate incidents. The start of this year yielded high-profile, violent anti-Asian attacks, and a survey conducted by AAPI Data claims that one in 12 Asian American adults has experienced a hate crime or incident. “On the ground, we’ve heard stories [of hate crimes], but people are often really reluctant to report it and share it,” says Yoon, noting that, in reality, these numbers are likely much larger.
Lee describes this rise in violence as an aftershock of the pandemic. "At the end of the day, the data reflecting the pandemic’s decline is just data," says Lee. “People have lost their family members and jobs. People have experienced serious financial difficulties that are going to impact them and the next generation. If there’s still suffering, there still needs to be someone to blame for it.”
AAPI Leaders on Demonstrations of Resilience and What’s to Come
The community has experienced a spectrum of feelings from sadness, anger, and fear to hope and radical empowerment. Ahead, thought leaders, activists, and tastemakers reflect on the last two years and what it might take to stimulate change.
“A year after the Atlanta spa murders, I'd describe my mood as a roller coaster. I'm angry. I'm confused. I'm frustrated. I'm scared for my loved ones. I'm exhausted. Logically, I knew that this was a situation that would not be resolved quickly. But emotionally, it's taken a real toll. A year ago, so many of us were determined to just get anyone outside of the AAPI community to pay attention to these stories. But we knew back then that awareness was only a small step toward a solution.
“In the past year, many of us committed to building awareness, raising funds for community organizations, and building cross-cultural alliances. All those actions certainly contribute to a long-term solution. And it's going to take time. But it doesn't make it any easier when a new wave of attacks happens and we're all seeing these incredibly traumatic videos of Asian women being brutally beaten and murdered who look like they could be our relatives. I've had to take a step back from the internet at times to protect myself emotionally because witnessing all the trauma and violence makes it very easy to get pulled into a downward spiral.
“Unfortunately, it's not easy to come up with a solution because the root cause is tangled up in so many different issues, including racism, sexism, mental health, socioeconomic issues, a pandemic, and the legal system. But we have to explore why most of the victims of these violent attacks are Asian women. Untangling the roots of racism and misogyny against Asian American women is so complex.
“Even though there have certainly been times this year when I've felt helpless, I'm still not hopeless. I've seen the strength and resilience of the AAPI community come out in full force, and I know that the new bonds we've created are never going away. We are fucking strong together. Knowing that keeps me going.”
Lisa Ling, veteran journalist, activist, and host of This Is Life with Lisa Ling on CNN
"The past couple of years have been challenging ones for the Asian American community. The scapegoating that’s transpired in the wake of the Covid pandemic and the seemingly never-ending reports of attacks on members of our community have been too much for so many of us to bear. We fear for our parents’ safety, and we’re constantly looking over our own shoulders to make sure we’re okay.
"But out of this crisis, something powerful has happened. Our disparate and diverse community has become galvanized and come together in a way that I have never experienced in my lifetime. We are holding one another’s hands and providing support to one another. We have been grieving together and are championing each other’s successes. Ultimately, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in ways we may have never been able to because we realize we’re not alone. We’re together."
“As a society, we’ve made some progress when it comes to combating AAPI hate. It seems that most people are generally more aware of the rise in anti-Asian attacks as of late. However, this awareness has done virtually nothing to stop the attacks from continuing to happen or worsen.
“It also seems as though local governments aren’t taking the attacks as seriously as they should and aren’t offering the support or protection the AAPI community needs, especially for women and elders. I’ve always been hyperaware of my surroundings for fear of my safety. Now, the anxiety has heightened. I worry more about the safety of my parents and sisters. I worry about what the future will be like for my daughter and my nieces. I feel helpless and heartbroken, but one positive that I’ve felt and seen over the past year has been within the AAPI community. I feel that we’ve grown stronger and closer. In the absence of support from others, we’ve found support from one another. The tragedies have taught us to lean on each other. I’ve never wanted to love and protect and celebrate my brothers and sisters more. I’ve never been prouder to be an AAPI.”
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation of New York
“Young people are angry and demanding solutions. Even people who don’t typically engage in social justice are [angry] because their safety is at risk and because many of the victims look like their family members. They’re saying ‘Wait, it’s happening too many times, and that person could’ve be my mom, my aunt, my sister, my wife, or my best friend.’ And I hope we never go back to when we were sitting quietly. We know that if we want something badly enough, we have to get up and scream.
“This anti-Asian hate is not going away any time soon. This is just the start. We need to work together. Be unified. Be civically engaged. We need to call out bullshit and engage in the system that tries to keep us out. We need to push back and we need to push hard because, literally now, we’re fighting for our lives.”
"Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go when it comes to stopping AAPI hate. The ongoing violence and abuse toward Asians in this country is sickening, and we can’t let these acts stop us from speaking out and using our power. I think it hits me the hardest when I hear my kids come home with questions about misinformation they hear from the other children at school. But among the many things that I’ve learned from the incredible and resilient AAPI leaders around me, I’ve learned that it's more important now than ever to stand strong in your beliefs and show up.
"I’ve been vocal about #StopAsianHate on my own platform and on @tower28beauty, plus I’ve been joining in the conversation and rallying my own community behind the scenes whenever possible. You must let people know where you stand on the issue and help dispel the stereotypes using whatever tools you have, including images on social media, the words you use, and the people you hire and choose to promote. It all makes a difference.”
“The AAPI community feels like it’s more united than ever when it comes to speaking out against AAPI hate. We are continuously bonding together to fight against racism. Personally, I’ve bonded so much with my AAPI sisters and brothers over the last year. We understand and lean on each other, even when we’re not otherwise feeling heard. I’ve also been so much more energized to make a difference, use my voice, and speak out for certain AAPI organizations like NAPAWF. Previously, I was so much more comfortable being silent, and I’m learning to use my voice in a way that feels authentic and genuine to me when it comes to AAPI hate.
“However, it still feels like the rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do. By ourselves, we can only accomplish so much—no matter how hard we try. We need everyone to amplify the anti-AAPI hate message. We need more support from everyone else and the mainstream media. We see our AAPI leaders who have large platforms continue to lead the conversation (people like Lisa Ling, Olivia Munn, Jeremy Lin, Phillip Lim, etc), but we need our allies to recognize and acknowledge what’s happening and bring this message to their platforms as well. Unless you are in a very specific corner of the internet right now, you might not even know that AAPI hate is happening all over the country. We need more people to rally with us.
“In so many ways, I’ve been inspired by the AAPI community. In the face of a very difficult past two years, we’ve come out stronger as a community and bonded together in ways I’ve personally never seen before. I’ve noticed so much more openness and collaboration with this community, whereas before we might have been more competitive. The strength and resilience I’ve seen from the AAPI community have opened up an entire support system for all of us—we don’t have to do it by ourselves anymore, and we can jointly make such a difference. I’m so proud of that.”
The AAPI community has been under attack, thanks to the xenophobia that resulted from the pandemic, and there has been a quantifiable surge in different forms of anti-Asian violence. While it has proven traumatic, the last two years have been a moment of extreme solidarity for us. “We’re really not just asking but demanding to take up space,” says Yoon. “Now we are here and we’re taking space for our community, our safety, our family, and our voices. That will continue.”
This has manifested in the start of support groups specifically for AAPI needs during this time (like those of the Yellow Chair Collective and the Asian Mental Health Collective) and the start of groups that help ensure we feel physically protected and safe (like SafeWalks in New York, Compassion in SGV and Oakland, and more). This is also seen in those who have large platforms (both within and outside of our community) taking a very public stand against AAPI hate.
As I mentioned at the start of this essay: Two years ago, I had no idea what kind of a world I would be stepping into. I’ve examined the micro-aggressions (and straight-up aggression) I’ve experienced. I have considered how the tropes associated with my Asian identity—particularly the idea of the “model minority”—have impacted my reactions to violence.
It’s 2022, and being a “model minority” or silent about violence will not spare our parents, grandparents, siblings, and AAPI loved ones from violence or even the fear of violence. We’re at a critical point in the fight against AAPI hate. And it’s these sentiments I share with my AAPI brothers and sisters that fuel my desire to spread awareness and fight for a better future.
AAPI community members can use the below resources to protect themselves both physically and mentally. Allies can use them to learn more about the Asian experience.
- Yellow Chair Collective (California)
- Asian Mental Health Collective
- Asian American Psychological Association
- Inclusive Therapists
- Asian American Federation (see: safety resources)
- SafeWalks (New York, NY)
- Compassion In SGV (San Gabriel Valley, CA)
- Compassion in Oakland (Oakland, CA)
- Soar Over Hate
- Meals for Unity
- Knockout (safety accessories)