A few weeks ago, I called my mom, as I often do, on my way to the Japanese market to ask what she wanted me to pick up for her. The market has been a vital source of connection to our culture and community, often the only place we can find the foods that are essential and important to us. But being in a high-risk group for COVID-19, my mom has not been able to go there since the beginning of the pandemic, making the trips I make there more important than ever. Fresh mochi can be balm for the spirit when you’re stuck at home.
She said she didn’t want anything and asked me to reconsider going. She’d seen the news, the videos of violent attacks on Asian Americans, and she was scared of what might happen to me in a place where Asian Americans were gathering. Anti-Asian hate and violence is not new, the recent increase fueled by the racist rhetoric of the past administration has returned my family to a place that we’ve been before, afraid to connect to our own culture and community, reminiscent of when many Japanese American families destroyed precious heirlooms and hid or stopped cultural practices entirely during WWII from fear of violence and oppression. Seeing this fear of connecting with community and engaging in cultural practices like buying the food we love reminds me how deeply embedded the trauma of this violence can be.
As a biracial yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American, the recent spike in violence shows up for me in an increased, overwhelming fear and concern for my mother, my elders and my AAPI community. I feel this when I see the broken windows in beloved community businesses, some of which have been hit twice since the beginning of the year. I feel this when a family member tells me how they were verbally harassed as they walked alone into their doctor’s office. I feel this when my elders express their fear of leaving the house and the deep, continued isolation even as the vaccine provides opportunity for independence.
Many activists like Amanda Nguyen of Rise have talked about the importance of visibility in addressing anti-Asian violence, “in order for us to be treated as human, people need to speak us into the consciousness of this country.“ I’m grateful to GOSW and Meyer Memorial Trust for uplifting AAPI voices in an important first step. I hope that philanthropy will continue to listen to the AAPI community, let them lead and invest in community-driven responses like the mutual aid networks we’ve seen for elders in Oakland, coalitions like Portland United Against Hate and community organizations like APANO who call for focus on and investment in transformative justice and community-centered solutions.