Hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 2,500 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the United States related to the pandemic between March and September of last year. However, officials believe that the actual number is greater because most instances go unreported, President Jane Close Conoley said in a recent message to the Beach campus community. Cal State Long Beach is almost 30% Asian/Pacific Islander.
“Our country cannot thrive when whole populations of people are targeted because of the color of their skin, the shape of their faces, or because of whom they love or how they identify. We know from history and logic that a ‘house divided against itself cannot stand,’" Conoley said, quoting Abraham Lincoln. "We also know that humans will not thrive if they indulge their weaknesses rather than their strengths.”
The work against racism is ongoing and intentional. The Beach continues to combat and unpack hate against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the classroom, through workshops, discussions and artistic expressions.
“Any intimidation is unacceptable, and we must redouble our commitment to combatting racism and discrimination,” Conoley said.
Stop AAPI Hate workshop
The April 14 Stop AAPI Hate workshop, among the Beach activities for AAPI Month, will feature Dr. Russell Jeung, co-founder of the Stop AAPI Hate project and professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. The virtual workshop will discuss how incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination and racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. have increased over the past year. There will also be information on how to support and advocate for the AAPI community.
The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center was launched in March 2020 by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University in response to a rise in xenophobia resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The center tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Stop AAPI Hate received 3,800 reports of anti-Asian incidents between March 2020-February 2021 and 68% of those incidents were toward women.
Students create zines about racism, stereotypes
Kelli Nakamura was in high school when she saw “Miss Saigon” on Broadway. She was excited to see a musical with a majority-Asian cast and loved the performance, but said she left the theater feeling uncomfortable with the way the show misrepresented people within the Asian American community.
"I felt like the white creative team did not make an effort to accurately reflect my lived experiences,” said Nakamura, a second-year Asian American Studies major. “It wasn’t until I started taking Asian American Studies courses at Cal State Long Beach that I could truly contextualize the misrepresentation of Asians in Miss Saigon.”
Nakamura was among a group of students who researched and created their own zines to spread awareness about contemporary Asian issues for lecturer Lan Nguyen’s Fall 2020 ASAM 121 course. Nguyen created the project so students could practice communicating their knowledge in both academic and community settings. Many of the zines focused on the rise of hate crimes, stereotypes, gentrification and media representation.
Nakamura’s zine, “Deconstructing Dreamland,” discussed the hyper sexualization of Asian women in the musical, which depicts Asian women as the “lotus blossom” — meek, submissive and subservient to white men.
“Art is an incredibly powerful medium that can be used to address issues that are meaningful to creators,” she said. “Media depictions have often been used to uphold systemic racism against marginalized communities, but by creating our own art, we can push back against these narratives and place ourselves at the center of our own narratives.”
Class explores racism and discrimination of Asian Americans
Lawrence Hashima, a lecturer in Asian & Asian American Studies as well as American Studies, teaches ASAM 120: Asian American History — one of many classes at The Beach that delves into the racism and discrimination Asian Americans have faced since immigrating to the U.S.
The class looks at how 19th-century print media and the dissemination of racist caricatures of Asians were an effective tool for creating anti-Asian fear and hysteria across the nation even when Asian immigrants totaled less than 0.5% of the total population in this country.
Hashima’s class also explores scientific racism against Asian Americans, which resulted in legal precedents like People v. Hall (CA 1854) and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the first and only U.S. law that specifically prohibited naturalization for people from a specific nation.
“It’s important to dispel the notion that the United States is a nation without a racist past and origin story, and that origin story is not limited to anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and anti-Mexican/Latino historical episodes," Hashima said. “It is a nation that unfortunately that is born out of a white supremacist ideology, and anti-Asian racism was an important element of that white supremacist past.”
Students also learn how Asians were targeted by state laws that restricted their rights as business owners and landowners, and how they resisted these exclusionary measures through direct challenge or evasion.
Hashima said these topics are important to teach students because reconciliation and healing can only occur when there is a full accounting of the truth behind historical events.
“We’ve never had a full effort towards 'truth and reconciliation' for all that has happened in the United States, so what this class and other classes in ethnic studies are providing, is some of that 'truth' – the 'reconciliation' will only come when the nation accepts the truth of its origins,” he said.