Brutal anti-Asian American attacks across the country have hit home in Michigan. Now these local women are paving the way for change.
HAMTRAMCK, Mich.—Laura Misumi is anxious when out in public. She runs through scenarios in her mind like what would be her plan if she were followed or chased.
The rise in attacks against Asian American over the past year hits home for Misumi, whose family members were victims of Japanese internment in World War II. And Misumi points out that Asian American women report more than double the number of hostile instances than men.
“There are overlapping systems of oppression at work,” Msumi, executive director of Michigan Asian American Progressives, told Bridge. “This is not different than the sentiment that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882’, that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, that led to the beating death of Vincent Chin in the ‘80s here in Detroit.”
And those worries were brought into crystalline focus by the attacks on three massage parlors in Georgia. Those attacks have galvanized the effort to end hate against Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent nationwide, including in Michigan.
The Michigan House and Senate adopted resolutions condemning the rise of hate on March 18. Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) introduced the resolutions as a result of the Atlanta-area attacks, which claimed the lives of eight people, including six Asian women.
“Asian American women across the country were horrified and woke up the next morning feeling scared, sad and worried,” Chang told legislators Thursday.
The troubling similarities to the scapegoating of Asian Americans for the coronavirus pandemic raised by Misumi were echoed by Chang on the Senate floor during discussion on the resolutions.
Chang told the story of an Asian American employee at a Michigan store who was told to “go back to China and take the virus with you.”
That kind of sentiment was fueled by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly spoke of the coronavirus using anti-Asian rhetoric.
Puri explained that such rhetoric and scapegoating during a crisis are not new.
Puri compared what the Asian American community is facing today to his experiences after the September 11 terrorist attacks, being judged by his skin color and facial hair.
“I can speak firsthand to hateful rhetoric and the effect that this has on vulnerable communities,” he told the House Thursday. “The general lack of awareness of anti-Asian hate crimes and violence exasperates their impact.”
Michiganders who witness anti-Asian hate or bias can report those instances at StopAAPIHate.org. Advocates also encourage supporting groups like Red Canary Song, a New York City-based organization that supports Asian sex workers and allies.
As Red Canary Song organizer Yves Nguyen explained to NPR, “If these women weren’t sex workers, the person who killed them certainly thought that they were,” referring to the accused shooter’s comment that he had attacked the businesses because they contributed to his “sex addiction.”
But even just acknowledging anti-AAPI hate in the first place, as Thursday’s resolutions do, is a critical step. There is a myth that Asiancommunities represent a “model minority” and do not experience harmful biases, andthat myth has consequences, Michelle Kim, CEO of the diversity training provider Awaken, told CNBC.
“Part of the myth is that we stay quiet, we’re apolitical, that issues we’re experiencing are not valid or are not attached to our race,” said Kim. “There’s a continual investment in upholding this myth, and we need to question who benefits from it, because it’s not us or other marginalized people.”
To Misumi, the recent rise in anti-AAPI sentiment shows clearly who benefits from the “model minority” myth.
“It’s a reminder that this country has yet to fully grapple with its history of racism and white supremacy,” she said.