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China Daily Global / 2021-03 / 19 / Page016

Will Asian Americans ever be accepted as Americans?

By Kara Schroeder | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-03-19 00:00

Check any media outlet in the United States and articles about physical attacks and hate crimes against Asians are being reported more than ever, especially since COVID-19 was first announced in Wuhan, Hubei province. While speaking to a friend from upstate New York recently, she told me a harrowing story about a Hong Kong man who was assaulted outside a Chinese restaurant just a 15-minute drive from her home. The man was beaten unconscious, rolled under a car, and left in the cold until he was discovered the next morning. Having severe hypothermia and frostbite, he remains in an intensive care unit in a hospital.

Other attacks have caused some Asian Americans to be permanently injured, and some have even died. But was it the virus that caused this xenophobia? In my own experience and also from speaking to others in the US, it seems the pandemic has only exacerbated and brought the uneasiness that was always there toward ethnic Asian people to the surface.

When I visited my hometown Minneapolis in Minnesota last year, just as the virus was starting to become a worldwide concern, I felt the tension. Growing up as a Korean adoptee in a Caucasian family, racism for me was blatantly prevalent. Even in Asian countries, I have faced microaggressions and stereotyping every day. But during my trip home in February last year, I experienced a racist aggression I had not faced since high school.

At the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport about to board a flight to Guangzhou, I donned the mandatory face mask that China was requiring. As I walked through the airport, a woman stood up from her seat, approached me, stuck her finger in my face and yelled, "F*** Chinese!"I was not fearful. I was angry. Angry that anyone would speak to another human being in this manner, be it a US citizen or not.

"Is this really anything new?" I wondered to myself. Taking a step back and putting things in perspective from childhood to present day, I realized that although I have lived in the US since I was 11 months old and a naturalized citizen since 4 years old, I have never felt accepted as an American. I was reminded of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang's op-ed in The New York Times that was published in April last year when attacks on Asians were rising.

According to him, the way for Asian Americans to avoid harassment and assault was to prove their "American-ness".

"We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red, white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need," Yang wrote.

These words coming from a fellow Asian American felt insulting. Instead of holding criminals responsible, he went on to blame victims. You're being physically and verbally attacked? Act more "American"! What does that entail? Dressing in red, white and blue, and volunteering! And people will forget about a virus discovered in China and treat Asians as equal! However, the sentiment that Asian Americans are not "real" Americans has always run deep and former president Donald Trump's rhetoric and racist remarks seemed to confirm this notion for his followers.

The wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans has recently increased again. News outlets report attacks occurring across the US with four taking place in one day in New York City. Why do these continue? Why aren't Asians accepted as Americans? In a recent interview, Chris Kwok, a board member for the Asian American Bar Association of New York, said,"The political and social invisibility of Asian Americans have real-life consequences. The invisibility comes from Asian Americans being seen as permanent foreigners-they can't cross that invisible line into becoming real Americans."

When I meet new people from the US, they often ask me where I am from. The response "America" will almost always be followed up with at least another question. Where are you originally from? Where are your parents from? Why do you look Asian? With the US being one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, it is discouraging that having a certain appearance prevents others from accepting the simple answer you have provided. Feeling that lack of acceptance throughout life and having left the US almost a decade ago, it leaves me to examine the notion of never returning. I likely will not spend the rest of my life in China, but why would I return to my country when I cannot just be American?

Kara Schroeder

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