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  • Writer's pictureSovena Ngeth

Asian Hate Crimes in America: Then and Now

Updated: May 22, 2021

People protesting in front of a building.
People protesting in front of a building. (Jason Leung on Unsplash)

Asian American History

The Asian American and Pacific Islander population have a deeply rooted background in American history that spans over 150 years.

Many Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants arrived in 1850-1905, mainly settling in Hawaii and California as unskilled workers. Following the Vietnam War, many more Asians, including Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hmong immigrants, arrived in the United States.

Chinese immigrants played an essential role in developing this country through work as miners, railroad builders, farmers, and factory workers. About 20% of California's labor force in the 1870s were Chinese people, despite being less than 0.002% of the entire United States population.

The only law in United States history to prevent immigration on the sole basis of race was the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882. Chinese immigrants were restricted for over 60 years, and immigration declined from 39,500 to 10 in 5 years.

With the decline of Chinese labor, many Japanese, Koreans, and Indians immigrated to the West Coast as fishers, farmers, and railroad builders. In 1907, the government restricted Japanese immigration.

By 1924, all Asian immigrants, including Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Indians, were banned from citizenship, marrying anyone Caucasian, and owning land.

Filipino immigrants began working on farms as other Asians were being excluded because the United States already annexed the Philippines from the 1898 Spanish-American war.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1935 restricted Filipino migration as a result of severe anti-Filipino violence.

Asian Americans have a history of being viewed as:

  • Clumsy

  • Lacking social and community skills

  • Lacking desirability

Many Asian Americans are the most likely to be left out of the socialization process, rejected by peers, and an easy target for racial harassment.

Considered not genuinely American and forever seen as a foreigner, Asians tend to be "invisible" in American history and workplaces. They are rarely seen as leaders, much less as individuals.

Despite stark differences in culture, traditions, and languages, Asian nationalities have been grouped and treated similarly.

Model Minority Trope

The "model minority" stereotype gained traction during the 1960s, which attributed Asians' achievements to Asian culture as a means of success. White Americans praise Asian Americans for being the "model" minority to alienate them from the Black and Hispanic populations.

It protects White privileges, dividing racial minority groups by marginalizing the Asian population to pit Asians against other minorities.

Yet, simultaneously, Asian Americans are also seen as "forever foreigners." Throughout American history, Asian immigrants were considered a "disease," threatening the White population.

The duality of both stereotypes erases the Asian voice from speaking up. On the one hand, many Asians embrace the model minority stereotype due to years of systemic oppression. However, at the same time, they are still erased from leadership positions, history, and as individuals.

Asian Hate Crimes

Since the coronavirus pandemic was discovered to have originated in Wuhan, China, anti-Asian discrimination has been rampant. Asian Americans have become targets for increased micro-aggressions and racial hostility.

Many doctors and nurses with Asian backgrounds are subjected to verbal slurs or experienced patients refusing treatment from them. Many people have avoided Chinatowns since the outbreak, and other Asian businesses are being hit hard.

The FBI warned of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans "based on their assumption that a portion of the U.S. public will associate COVID‐19 with China and Asian American populations" (Thorbecke & Zaru, 2020).

Political leaders and the media contribute to anti-Asian sentiment by referring to coronavirus as the "Chinese Virus" or "Kung Flu," and more than 50% of Americans said they agreed with these terms.

The hostility has turned deadly, as seen in recent shocking news of Asians being racially targeted.

A white gunman killed eight people in three different Atlanta massage parlors. Six of those eight victims were Asian women.

This attack was the sixth mass killing in the United States this year and is the deadliest since the August 2019 Dayton, Ohio shooting.

Also, elderly Asian Americans are being attacked and subjected to physical violence. Recent attacks occurred in New York City and the Bay area, inciting fear in the Asian community.

The senseless act of murders and violence have rocked the Asian American community. Many Asian Americans are coming together to protect and support their community.

However, AAPI racism is not new. The best way to dismantle systemic racism is by addressing racism from an individual, community, and political standpoint.

How Can You Help?

Stop AAPI Hate is working to collect, report, and understand the data of racism against Asian Americans. They will work to bring awareness to this problem and provide resources to the Asian community dealing with racism.

Red Canary Song is the only grassroots Chinese massage parlor worker coalition in America. The organization was founded to demand justice and accountability for the death of a massage worker, Yang Song, killed in a police raid in November 2017.

Join us in taking action to stop Asian American and Pacific Islander hate.

You can educate yourself further here or by donating to non-profit organizations here.



Sovena Ngeth is a Philadelphia-based writer who is passionate about using her words for change. She is also a content writer at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.

Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.


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