Anti-Asian Violence As Seen By Asian-American Musicians, Part 1:

“We Are Seen As Lesser Humans”

Poster seen around Chinatown, New York City, made by Concerned AsAm Citizens of NYC (Image Remix: Ron Hart)

A Chinese American friend of mine  is a stone-cold foodie who knows NYC’s Chinatown every which way and even has family that partially owns a restaurant there, but he has his limits–after reading about a scumbag who peed on an Asian woman on the subway, he’s too skittish to go into Chinatown now. 

Furthermore, he says that his siblings feel the same way–they’re not ready to be in an Asian hub and risk confrontation. Around the same time, I was listening to the hilarious Hack City Comedy show on Zoom (by the same creators of the Asian Not Asian podcast) as co-host Michael Nguyen wondered out loud about the spate of recent anti-Asian violence when a sick, deranged audience member said ‘Why don’t you stop crying, you ch— ch—” [an anti-Asian slur]. Nguyen rightfully tossed that degenerate off the show and even managed to make light of it and keep the show going, showing extraordinary grace under pressure.

What’s so disgusting and infuriating is that these aren’t isolated incidents. As of mid-March, NBC reported that in the States, there were 3800 anti-Asian racist incidents in the preceding 12 months and more recently, the Los Angeles Times shared harrowing details of punching and spitting attacks happening on the West Coast. As more riders return on the New York subways, Asian Americans are still wary of commuting and traveling on the trains, especially after so many documented incidents happening there. And just in case  you thought this is exclusively an American problem, Vancouver is also seeing ugly anti-Asian incidents break out there too. To make sure that the news about these incidents doesn’t fade out in the ongoing news cycles, a number of superior hubs like nextshark provide excellent coverage on  Instagram, though as Vox notes in the link, this can also be numbing and traumatizing for some (FYI, Angry Asian Man is a great resource for Asian-American news too).

VIDEO: ABC Town Hall on Asian-American violence

The seemingly obvious spark for the recent animosity would be one-term, ex-President Donnie “very fine people on both sides” Trump and his racially derogatory terms for COVID-19,  which were seen as a greenlight for some sociopath followers to attack Asians. While that’s undoubtedly caused the recent flare-ups in these racist attacks, the sad fact that is anti-Asian animosity goes back almost to the beginning of America and has a long, ugly history–let’s not forget the Rock Springs Riot, the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Watsonville Riots, the Hells Canyon massacre, the Squak Valley attack, the Bellingham riots, the Yakima Valley riots and the  Manzanar War Relocation Center. That’s not even mentioning all the laws that the US government put on the books to stick it to Asians, including (but not limited to) the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Scott Actthe Immigration Act of 1917 and the Webb-Haney Alien Land Law. Even though the passage of the recent hate crimes bill in Congress is some cause for hope, we have long way to go.

For more perspective of how we got to where we are and what can be done now to battle this insanity, we spoke to several Asian-American musicians and asked them to share their thoughts, including some harrowing stories of how they themselves had experienced this hatred firsthand.

 

DARRO CHEA

Darro Chea (Photo: Facebook)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

I experience a multitude of feelings. First and foremost, I feel deep anger. Anger that innocent people are being hurt by strangers for the color of their skin, but of course, this is nothing new in America. Secondly, I feel sadness. I feel sad that Asian immigrants left their countries of violence, and oppression to come to a free country only to experience more violence and oppression. 

 

What do you think is at the root of this violence?

I think it all starts with education and propaganda at a very young age. In America, we are taught that America is the best country in the world, when in fact we are very far from it. We rank #20 in Quality of Living, #16 in Heritage, and #3 in Cultural Influence (ED NOTE: via US News & World Report). And it’s worth mentioning that the “Cultural Influence” ranking is based on our significance in entertainment including music and art. However, the music that comes from America is deeply rooted in a systemically oppressive music industry that appropriates black and POC culture, yet doesn’t equally reward its black and POC creators for their art.

Since we are embedded with this false sense of patriotism at a very young age, when we grow up we start to see the thin veil unravel and realize that there are many things about this country that don’t fit within the “best country in the world” idea. These things include poverty, homelessness, violent crime, and so on. Instead of attacking the root of the problem (like pouring resources into marginalized communities and voter suppression), some people decide to attack the symptoms; in this case, the people who suffer from the systemic oppression that this country is built on. If certain people don’t fit within the description of “America is the best country in the world,” they’re seen as a problem that needs to be eliminated, rather than fixed. “You people are not a part of what America is supposed to be.” 

So, in order to retain their idea of “Great America,” these people who have been brainwashed by American imperialism, who are too weak minded to address the problem of oppression, resort to the primal instincts of violence and racism toward things that don’t fit within their narrative of America.

 

What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

I think the education system needs to be heavily reformed to reflect the ideals of today’s America. It needs to be taught accurate American history, not only of its victories but also of America’s faults and failures. If children can be taught to empathize with the horrible things that happen to people in America, it will lead to more empathetic leaders in the future. Instead of “America is the greatest country in the world,” it should be “America is the most empathetic country in the world.” There needs to be American pride in caring for other people.

 

Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

This is actually kind of tough because compared to a lot of my black friends who’ve experienced very macro-aggressive, violent and overt racism, I’ve experienced a lot of micro-aggressive racism and discrimination. I’ve been called many things, “chink,” “ching chong” etc. But I’ve never been physically beaten or attacked for being Asian. Of course, this happens all the time, especially since the pandemic started.

I’ve always been self-conscious about my Asian heritage in America. When I was young, I tried to hide it as much as I could because I was so different from everyone else. All of my achievements, social interactions or “coolness” were exceptions due to my Asian heritage. Imagine being given a compliment with a disclaimer for something you have no control over- “you’re really cool for an Asian dude.” It wrecked my self-esteem growing up, and it’s taken me a long time to understand and dismantle it. I struggle with it every day, but I’m starting to embrace it more everyday as well.

 

JASON CHU

Jason Chiu (Photo: Google)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

I think about 170+ years of Asian American history, struggle, and resilience. These attacks aren’t new, but rooted in a long history: legal violence against Asian bodies from Chinese Exclusion to Japanese American WWII incarceration, military occupation of the Philippines and Hawaii, post-9/11 killings of South Asian Americans.

 

What do you think is at the root of this violence?

America has always used and exploited Asia and the Pacific Islands for resources and a convenient ideological scapegoat. Our national psyche frames Asian bodies as occasionally useful and always disposable. Until we actually hold our politicians, media, and communities to our best values – “the angels of our better nature” – of radical empathy and inclusion, the systemic violence against American bodies of color will never be addressed.

 

What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

We need, on every level, to see those around us with human dignity and radical empathy. The ways we’re oppressed and excluded are varied – racist policing, economic exploitation, hypocritical immigration policies – but the core issue is the same: the willingness of some to profit themselves at the cost of everyone else. Music and art is a step toward this, as is holding politicians and elected/appointed officials accountable to actually serving the communities they claim to represent.

 

Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about anti-Asian prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

I want to remind people that racial microaggression is real and traumatic – Filipino American psychologist Kevin Nadal has proven research showing that racial microaggression causes trauma to people’s psyches and bodies. While overt racist violence makes the news, the daily trickle of small statements and actions remind Asian Americans that we are seen as lesser humans causes real hurt. It can be invisible to others around us, but this kind of racism and prejudice affects our communities powerfully.

 

CUTSO

Cutso

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

I feel a great deal of rage, fear, sadness. Especially when imagining my loved ones as being potential victims. 

 

What do you think is at the root of this violence?

Racism against Asians has existed for at least 200 years. But with the anti-Asian rhetoric brought on by our former president, along with the scapegoating of Asians bringing the Coronavirus stateside, it has really put certain Americans in fear and anger with us as a people. 

 

What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

Awareness, activism, self-defense, unity and solidarity. 

 

Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about anti-Asian prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

Despite growing up in a racially diverse community, I was bullied about my race, called names and generalized and stereotyped throughout my life and professional career.

 

 

DJ JESTER THE FILIPINO FIST

DJ Jester (Photo: Cody Cowen)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

I think about my parents and what they went through. They were part of the first wave of Filipinos in Houston in the 60’s. Like the first 100 Filipinos. Historian/Author of the book Filipinos in Houston Christy Panis Poisot said that my father is quite possibly the first Filipino PhD graduate in all of Texas. All of that hard work and assimilation for this! Moving to Texas must have been like moving to another planet. Can you imagine? It’s the 60’s. We grew up in a small town outside Houston. Seeing this anti-Asian news is definitely triggering. It reminds me of being a kid and getting picked on all over again. It also makes me reflect on racism that I see on a daily basis… everywhere. 

1981 Family Portrait (Photo: DJ Jester)

What do you think is at the root of this violence?

I think it’s a combo of the COVID-19 pandemic, the normalizing of racism that went down with our last President, and rapid technological growth. It’s basically been a spring cleaning for everyone.. good AND bad. All those projects you put on the backburner, you’re now doing. People are also Marie Kondo‘ing their friendships and their values. It’s more raw than ever right now. It’s like a Back to the Future Part II alternate universe. I took a trip to Dallas recently to check out a Charley Crockett show and stopped in an antique shop in the Design District. I remember seeing a vintage poster for an old variety show that said “Irving the Magician and Company Presenting Oriental Oddities” and there was a picture of “Irving as he is” and “Irving as Chinese Charlie.” Irving was like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, portraying a stereotype for laughs.  I remember thinking racism has always been here but now it’s getting all this attention now. 

 

What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

For me? Therapy. Not even a joke. It’s really discouraging because I’ll get on social media and it just makes me sad. For instance, I saw a post about a Stop Asian Hate rally a few days ago on Facebook. I was surprised and then also not surprised at all the ignorant comments. People were saying stuff like “I’ve lived in Austin for so many years and I’ve never once seen Asian hate against Asians.” Some people were saying that Stop Asian Hate is all a hoax and the rally was being racist. I mean WHAT ARE THEY EVEN SAYING?! It’s an anti-hate rally. It’s almost like they are saying that feeling a certain way doesn’t matter. I suppose speaking up is really the only way to fight this. Make everyone listen to Boogie Down Productions song “The Racist.”

 

Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

I’ve been dealing with this my whole life. I grew up in a small Texas town with barely any other Asians. When I moved to California for a couple of years, there were times I didn’t feel “Filipino enough,” even around my Filipino friends. I have a list of incidents but the one that sticks out the most…that really triggered me.. happened during the height of the pandemic. Last July, I was riding my bike at night near the University of Texas campus here in Austin. Out of nowhere these two guys were yelling at me from their truck, calling me a ‘chink.’ They circled me three times and when I tried to film them, one of them got out of their car and chased me down the street on foot and kept yelling “Git! Git outta here!” like I was an animal (see  the Austin Chronicle story here).  I was scared and nervous. Days later, people on Reddit and in Facebook comments folks were saying that I made it up. It was really frustrating but eye-opening on how people view racism. 

 

KENGO HIOKI (PEELANDER-Z)

Peelander-Z (Art: Ron Hart)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

I have not understood what they want to do, or why want to do it. For what? 

I cried over it. Plz plz plz don’t do it. Think about your Mom, and our Mom. 

 

What do you think is at the root of this violence?

It is a super hard question. Try to think of human history, war history, religion history, science history.

Humans want to do fight? Why? Time to stop to do it now, We have to become “New Root” for our awesome future for our children.

 

What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

We need to start to “respect” all of Humans, Animals, Natures, all of things.

Everyone has different situations, sometime it is very hard to understand, 

But don’t forget to respect them, try to respect them.

We are staying- this Planet, also this Universe together.

We are “Kidz of the Universe”!!!!

 

VIDEO: Peelander-Z “Tacos Tacos Tacos”

 

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Jason Gross

Jason Gross is the editor/founder of Perfect Sound Forever , one of the first and longest-running online music magazines. He also does freelance writing for Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Time Out, AP, New York, MTV, Oxford American, Billboard, MOJO, The Wire, Blurt among others.  Reissues and collections that he's produced included Delta 5, Essential Logic, Kleenex/Liliput, DNA, Oh OK and OHM –The Early Gurus of Electronic Music. He lives in New York with his girlfiend and their 30 plush cats.

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