American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang analyzed the recent rise in hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander community at a virtual event on Monday.
The event, titled, “Examining the Current Escalation of Anti-Asian Racism with Cecillia Wang,” was part of Penn Law School's Achieving Racial Justice Series. It was moderated by Asian Pacific American Law Students Katelynn Catalano, a Penn Law first year, and Maya Reddy, a Penn Law second year, who led the discussion about the causes of anti-Asian racism in the United States.
Asian Americans have faced a high rate of violent crimes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition documenting and addressing anti-Asian hate and discrimination, received 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate crimes from March 2020 to December 2020. The incidences included physical assaults and verbal harassment, and spanned 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Wang called for an analysis of the anti-Asian attacks and the actions of the U.S. government, pointing to the correlation between anti-Asian attacks and former President Donald Trump’s comments about COVID-19. Trump had previously called COVID-19 the "Chinese virus" and "kung flu," in addition to blaming China for the pandemic.
Wang said anti-Asian discrimination is also related to the fragmented nature of the AAPI community, which is due to differences in geographic locations, generations, and immigration experiences. While there is a shared experience of racism and violent acts, Wang said that the community is largely diverse, which makes acts of solidarity difficult.
“There is linguistic diversity [and] diversity in immigration experience when the bulk of different subsets of AAPI communities tended to emigrate [from] huge variations of socioeconomic circumstances," Wang said at the event. "Understanding that history is really at the heart of how we together are going to address and rise above moments like this.”
Another cause of discrimination Wang discussed is how immigration influences the model minority myth, which she said is commonly used against Asian Americans. The myth of the "model minority" characterizes Asian Americans as a group who has achieved a higher level of success than other minority groups due to innate talent and hard work. This stereotype erases differences among individuals and ignores the diversity of the AAPI community.
The U.S. government has influence over what it means to be Asian American when it decides who can enter the country, Wang said. More often than not, the Asian Americans chosen have graduate degrees and are engineers and doctors, she added, which contributes to the myth of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners who are different from other Americans.
“The roots and persistence of the model minority myth — these are things that need to be worked out through hard work, and we have work to do in our own communities and our own families to address the barriers to working in solidarity for everyone’s civil rights,” Wang said.