Just a little over a year ago, my mom and I were called chinks for the first time. Nothing changed.
Just a little over a year ago, wave after wave of violence against Asian Americans rocked America. Nothing changed.
Just a little over a month ago, attacks on Asian Americans during Lunar New Year shattered communities and families. Nothing changed.
Just a little over a week ago, 6 Asian American women were murdered in cold blood. Nothing will change.
There will be no justice for the murdered women in Atlanta. We will be offered nothing but platitudes until we are massacred again. Three weeks from now, America will have forgotten all that happened, a convenient amnesia that clouds the road forward.
Over the past year, many promises were made to the Asian-American community. None have been kept. Violence against us has not yielded. In fact, violence against us has surged, while America listens in silence despite the lofty statements given to us about unity and peace.
It is clear that the institutions of the present are disinterested in protecting us. They do not protect us because, to them, we are not Americans. I am never American. I am never even Asian American. I am only Asian.
I grew up in America for most of my life, yet as soon as I step outside I am taken to be a clueless “foreign” student. My comments and conversations, my speech and writing, everything about me is invariably colored by an underlying assumption that I am nothing but an unintegrated Asian foreigner, never truly American. Every single one of my interactions, from the grocery store, to police officers to the man calling me and my mother chinks, has been colored by this assumption.
This attitude bleeds upwards; look no further than the decision by the Golden Globes to categorize Minari as a foreign language film. My culture is not a part of America. My stories are not part of America. And fundamentally, I am not a part of America.
The Atlanta massacre is just one instance of the ceaseless violence which is based upon the perpetual assumption that anyone of Asian descent is foreign. This has been documented time and time again. And because we are “foreign”, our lives matter less.
Normally, the question is, “How do we fight for our place in America and protect our communities?” But this has been addressed through our own vigorous efforts and nothing has changed. We partner with elders to protect them, organize communities in Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and so forth, and fight for our place in the American economy from the moment we are born. Yet still, Asian Americans face disproportionate degrees of poverty while being more likely than any other racial group to have social programs cut. Our suffering is neglected while hate crimes against us continue to rise in silence.
Over the past year, tremendous efforts by Asian American figures and activists have poured their money, energy, and time into getting America to pay attention and do something. Asian American celebrities like Daniel Dae Kim have offered rewards to catch perpetrators of hate crimes and testified in Congress detailing issues facing the Asian-American community. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations like Stop AAPI Hate have been keeping close track of the hate crimes and publishing reports that address key issues. But also, over the course of the past year, despite all these efforts, America continued to turn a blind eye, only now looking when the violence can no longer be ignored.
The White House called this violence “senseless.” So too did the mayor of Atlanta. But given America’s attitude towards us over the past 150 years since the first major wave of immigration during the Gold Rush and the subsequent murder of Chinese-Americans, it is clear that the violence in Atlanta was not senseless. It was purposeful. It was motivated.
It is time to end the idea that this violence is senseless. This violence is a deliberate consequence of America’s dialogue and approach to people who look like me. The murder of 6 Asian American women in Atlanta was an inevitability in the face of constant demonization of Asians in general.
This is not a call for Asian Americans to fight on. We have fought enough. This is a call for the rest of America to start treating us like people. This is a call for governments across the United States to include us in the conversation rather than push us aside when convenient. This is a call for the recognition of us beyond the color of our skin. This is a call for the impacts of policy on Asian Americans to be considered -truly considered- rather than abolish programs for us on the erroneous assumption that we are all rich and successful.
This is a call that has been cried since the first Asians set foot on American soil over 150 years ago. This is a call that America can no longer ignore. Make us truly Americans. Or we will die waiting.
Jeffrey Xiong is a Chinese-American writer, immigrant, and undergraduate student at Columbia University.