By Stephanie Wallace
COVID-19 has brought many social issues to light regarding race and economic status. Arguably, some of the people who have been affected the hardest by this global pandemic are Asian Americans.
Since the announcement of the first American contracting the virus, Asian Americans have become victims to an onslaught of harassment and assault.
Although the challenges that Asian Americans are facing are being more openly talked about and are gaining national attention, they are in no way new.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which was the only law to prevent immigration based on race. Chinese immigration dropped from 39,500 people to 10 people in only five years.
In 1885 young Japanese, Korean and Indian workers started replacing Chinese laborers. Very quickly they were also excluded and denied citizenships, the right to marry Caucasians and own land.
Asian Americans were prohibited to attend certain schools and were forced to enroll in schools specifically for Asian people. Many laws and anti-Asian movements made it hard for them to receive a fair education.
This action completely contradicts the current stereotype of Asians excelling in all forms of academics and only going to the best schools in the nation.
In a personal account by Julie J. Park, Korean American author, she talks about growing up in a small midwestern town and the stereotypes that she grew up believing about other Asian Americans.
She recalls being surprised that over 40 percent of Asian Americans applied to community colleges instead of top schools like Harvard or Yale. She met dropouts and people who never went to college in the first place.
Park, like many Americans, have grown up with the idea that Asian students are better at learning than their other racial peers purely on the premise of being Asian.
Like many stigmas, this claim comes off as biased and doesn’t consider the many different Asian communities (typically focusing on Chinese students). It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that the discrimination faced by older generations have caused them to push the younger ones.
Parents naturally only want the best for their children and when Asian parents grow up in a world of discrimination and segregation, it is easy to understand why they would push education onto their children. They want to give them something that they were never afforded.
In the 1884 court case Tape v. Hurley, Chinese parents Joseph and Mary Tape tried to enroll their oldest daughter, Mamie Tape, in an all-white school right after the Chinese Exclusion Act. The principal of the school at the time refused her admission citing the school-board policy against Chinese children. Tape’s parents won the case.
However, with Asian Americans having to prove themselves worthy of learning, the toll that academic success brings is one that is emotionally exhausting.
Margaret Yee, a high school teacher in the San Francisco area, speaks in an article by diverseeducation.com.
“Some Asian students see only one path forward. They must get the best grades. They need to get the highest honors. They have to do all these things to gain acceptance into the most elite colleges, where the whole process starts over again,” Yee said.
Yee goes on to explain how many Asian students suffer from depression and low self-esteem but go untreated because counselors and administrators often dismiss their feelings with the belief that if the student is performing well, then they are doing fine.
In a study done in 2013, Asian American students were found to worry about school and family expectations significantly more than white students. This comes from a plethora of reasons including traditional values regarding honoring one’s past generations along with China and Japan’s ingrained Confucius values, which stressed the value of education.
For years, Asian students have had to deal with living up to tradition while still trying to learn about who they are outside of school and cultural values. Now, they are forced to look over their shoulder so as to not be verbally or physically harassed for a virus that they had nothing to do with.
Violence and stigmas against Asian Americans are nothing new unfortunately, but with the rise in media attention many other people of color as well as white people are banding together to help stop the hate against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
JJC has not yet spoken about the hate faced by Asian-Americans but has spoken about the Black Lives Matter Movement earlier in the summer. Yet another instance of Asian minorities not receiving the recognition that is so well deserved and institutions picking trendy movements to stand behind.