Anti–Asian hatred, violence and discrimination from the neighborhood to the workplace has been deeply sown into the soil and roots of this nation. The threat of harm and worrying about potential harm has always loomed over my experience as an Asian American since I came here from India at 4 years old. My mother worked as a nurse in New York City and brought my grandmother and me from India to be reunited with the family. My grandmother and I did not speak a word of English but very quickly learned that some in this country did not welcome our arrival. I remember sensing anger from a white neighbor in our apartment building—and feeling confused by it as a child. I asked my dad why does the lady down the hall yell at us and slam her door when we walk by. That first memory of hate left an imprint on me—44 years later I can still remember vividly the hallway we walked down, the sound of her door slamming, and the thunderous reverberations heard all the way down that hall.
As we still reel from the Trump era—we know the Trump style hate mongering was being cultivated over many generations. Growing up on the East Coast, in NY and NJ, I lived through numerous episodes of Anti Asian harassment and violence. Living in Jersey City in the 80’s where a dangerous movement of racist skinheads targeted South Asians like me people—attacks left an elderly man dead and another brain damaged for life. I remember having a family outing in our new car when a group of white teens hit our car with their fists while yelling racial slurs. It was terrifying, we felt alone and isolated. There were more incidents like this and heightened tensions again when we made war in Iraq the first time and after 9/11. In the following months the violence and hate spiked again, this time, with an orchestrated state sponsored rounding up of South Asian, Muslim and Arab American peoples for detention and deportation. As South Asian Leading together (SAALT), a national South Asian civil rights organization explains “Since September 11th, South Asian, Sikh, Muslim, and Arab Americans have been the targets of numerous hate crimes, as well as employment discrimination, bullying, harassment, and profiling. In addition, places of worship have been vandalized and attacked” The organization coordinates the Acts of Hate database that lists hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander individuals—the hate is comprehensive –impacting every aspect of peoples’ lives—at school, at work, recreating and just being out in public.
Even as these incidents seem so common place, there are those moments when an incident rocks you to your core. The 2017 murder of Srinivas Kuchibotla in Kansas bar was one of those for me. Kuchibotla was a 32 year old tech worker from Hyderabad, where my family is from, who was just hanging out with coworker after work, which I too loved to do. In just a few minutes, he was gunned down by a white man ,who before pulling the trigger, yelled to him “get out of my country.” This murder followed just 6 months after a highly toxic political campaign period where the state’s Republican party distributed inflammatory anti-Muslim, xenophobic fliers claiming new immigrants in the state are terrorists living next door.
For our API communities, as for others , violence isn’t just interpersonal –it’s systemic. In Oregon’s history, from Astoria to St. John’s to Hells Canyon, Ashland and beyond, Chinese, Punjabi, Japanese immigrants and workers have faced harsh conditions and violence—from state sponsored violence to vigilante with guns and weapons. As with our Black and Indigenous communities—Asians faced expulsion and extortion through violence and laws limiting our rights. Immigration and economic policies that feed the narrative that we are always the other to be feared and kept out-dead or alive. In a particularly cruel example–Kuchibotla’s widow, who relied on her husband’s work visa, was placed under deportation order after his death—traumatizing her another time. And under the Trump administration’s forced imprisonment of asylum seekers, over 100 Asian asylum seekers were held in Oregon’s Sheridan prison. These men had families in the United States ready to take custody of them, but it took an epic fight of community and faith leaders to force the administration to release.
The strategies for transformation are forged in the painful learnings from past movements for resistance and resilience; Invest in community and workplace organizing—so that API communities build community power to shape their lives for the good and change policies that harm them; Invest in building multi-racial coalitions across race, gender and class lines to build solidarity and to effectively challenge those who seek division and exploitation-API communities must advocate for themselves and see that we are part of a broader effort for justice; and, Invest in making sure government is accountable for the violence by repealing laws that assist white nationalists and also making perpetrators of hate mongering and violence fully accountable for their crimes. Full power and full voice for all oppressed peoples will ensure the next generations are free from harm and truly thrive.