On March 28, Mina Fedor, 12, organized a rally in Berkeley, California, with her friends Bee, Anna, Juno, and Mila. More than 1,200 people joined them. After the rally, the girls led a crowd onto a bridge over a freeway, where they posted signs that spelled “♥ Our Asian Community.” Cars passing below honked in support.
“We were grateful that so many people showed up,” Mina told TIME Edge.
Like many others, Mina and her friends are troubled by recent attacks against Asian Americans. Discrimination and violence against Asian Americans have risen sharply since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020. Often, elderly people have been the target of attacks.
The attacks are fueled by a false belief that Asians are responsible for the coronavirus. The virus was first detected in China in late 2019, but no one person, group, or country is to blame for the pandemic.
Russell Jeung cofounded Stop AAPI Hate (AAPI stands for “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders”). The group started noticing more hate incidents in the United States in January 2020. “We were immediately flooded with hundreds of incoming incidents” on the group’s website, Jeung recalls. From March 2020 through February 2021, the group received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents.
A Troubling History
Discrimination against Asians in the U.S. isn’t new. It began in the 1850s, when Chinese immigrants arrived and were seen as a threat to white workers’ jobs. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first in a series of laws that banned most Chinese immigration until the 1940s. The laws told Asians they were not wanted, says Ellen Wu, a history professor at Indiana University. “Sometimes, Americans told Asians they were unwelcome through violence,” Wu told TIME Edge. “Ultimately, they expressed it in the law.”
Chinese people fought the Exclusion Act in court, and to this day, Asian Americans continue to advocate for themselves. “They have pushed back and stood up” for respectful treatment, Wu says.
Still, many people are unaware that Asians experience racism, because of a myth that Asians are more successful than other minority groups. In fact, Asians have been unfairly held up as an example to other groups (see “The Model Minority Myth”).
All of Us Together
Jessica Owyoung is a cofounder of Compassion in Oakland, in California, a group that pairs Asian-American elders with volunteers who accompany them around town. “Elders feel alone and scared,” Owyoung says. “The only way they are going to know that we hear them and see them is to physically be there for them.”
On March 30, President Joe Biden announced anti-discrimination actions to benefit the AAPI community. “Hate can have no safe harbor in America,” Biden said on March 19. “It’s on all of us, all of us together, to make it stop.”
For Mina and her friends, showing you care can go a long way. “It’s important to be an ally ,” says Mina’s friend Mila. “We’re all doing our part to help the cause.”
The Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth is a widespread idea that Asians work harder and value education more than other minority groups do. This idea is harmful because it creates false beliefs about other minority groups and leads to the false belief that Asians do not face racism and discrimination.
The myth also creates false beliefs about other groups. “Working hard and valuing education and family—these are values common to all communities,” Wu says.