It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and My Life Is Still in Danger

Volunteers with the Oakland Chinatown Blue Angel Patrol Team during a news conference on Aug. 10, 2021, on rising racially motivated violence in the city. (Santiago Mejia / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

With Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic appointment to the Supreme Court as the first Black woman justice, it’s time to talk about representation and visibility in other forms. Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are consistently underrepresented in leadership positions and underpaid even with higher qualifications—a phenomenon known as the bamboo ceiling. In the meantime, Anti-AAPI hate, correlated with racialized rhetoric about the coronavirus, rose by 339 percent in 2021—over two times the rise in 2020 of 124 percent.

Anti-Asian hate is still a problem, and it needs to be solved, now. I am a Taiwanese American woman and a psychologist living in Dallas, Texas—a four-hour drive from the Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas, where a Burmese father and his two young sons were nearly stabbed to death in March of 2020. Last month, on the anniversary of the Atlanta shooting rampage by a young white man that killed six women of Asian descent, I wept reading about a 67-year-old Asian woman in New York being punched over 125 times by a stranger. 

The silence of news headlines about the alarming rise in hate against my people should come as no surprise, unfortunately, since AAPIs have always been shoved aside to a silent corner of American society. For example, when I look at articles claiming to discuss the mental health of racial minorities, I feel the stifling force of invisibility as AAPIs are often not even mentioned. Before 2021, AAPI history was not required to be taught in public schools; it’s not required to be taught in Texas where I live.

Many Americans still believe the false model minority myth, which claims that Asian Americans have ‘made it’ and don’t experience discrimination; 37 percent of white Americans are not aware of the recent increased attacks against Asians. In reality, nearly half of AAPIs report having experienced a race-related incident since the pandemic. I am one of the three-quarters of Asian American women who report experiencing discrimination.

The impact of anti-AAPI hate is staggering. I am one of almost one-third of Asian adults who live in fear that someone might threaten or attack them. AAPI women are especially prone to experiencing physical and mental health challenges when faced with discrimination, like the intrusive memories, nightmares and hyper-vigilance I experience. AAPI women lost their jobs during the pandemic at a rate that far exceeded that of other racial groups. Even children are affected, with 16 percent of anti-AAPI hate incidents being reported by AAPI youths ages 12-20.

Nearly half of AAPIs report having experienced a race-related incident since the pandemic. I am one of the three-quarters of Asian American women who report experiencing discrimination.

And the impact isn’t just on the AAPI community, because, despite attempts at shoving us into a corner, we are actually in every corner of the United States. Asian Americans, the fastest growing racial or ethnic population in the U.S, have always been critical to America’s economy and well-being. From working in hospitals caring for patients with COVID-19, to cooking and delivering food from your favorite restaurants, to serving in nail salons, AAPIs are undeniably essential to America. 

So, stop trying to shove AAPIs into a corner, because it’s not going to work. Continuing to do so will actually harm all Americans. Instead, give AAPIs a platform for our voices.

  • Leaders of organizations, from small nonprofits to large corporations should give more serious consideration to promoting AAPI employees. Currently, AAPIs are the least likely out of any racial group to be promoted into leadership.
  • Check for pay disparities between your white workers and AAPI workers, especially for women.
  • School administrators and staff should mandate that AAPI history be taught, support teachers in anti-bullying strategies, and use restorative justice practices.
  • AAPIs are not a monolith and researchers can acknowledge this by making sure that data regarding Asian Americans is collected and disaggregated accordingly.  
  • Everyday citizens can also take an active bystander class or read the book Minor Feelings to learn more about the AAPI experience.
  • Do you think one of your AAPI friends might make a good city council person? Go and tell them tonight.
  • If you are in a position to nominate a judge, help make history like Justice Jackson did and nominate an Asian American Pacific Islander judge.

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Aileen Fullchange, PhD is a public voices fellow of the OpEd Project and a licensed Taiwanese American psychologist who serves diverse teens, individuals, couples and families on Caddo, Witchta and Comanche land in Dallas, Texas. She works at the crossroads of psychological well-being, education and equity as a clinician and speaker.