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Lim, Wang and Ha: We will build community through seeing each other

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The rise in reports of violent attacks against Asian Americans across the nation are a reminder of the long history of anti-Asian violence in this country.

High profile examples of violence and murder, including the recent targeted killings in Atlanta and attacks on Asian elders, such as 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, are part of a trend of racial targeting that has intensified over the past year as Asians have been scapegoated as being “responsible” for the devastation caused by COVID-19.

Organizations that track anti-Asian hate crimes note that attacks and harassment have been intensified by politically-motivated rhetoric, such as referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” and COVID-19 as “kung flu.” However, even with the recent change in the nation’s leadership, these disturbing trends continue and many in our community believe they will persist, given political and economic competition between the United States and China.

Over the past year, we, members of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community in Roanoke and the New River Valley have experienced considerable anxiety about being targeted in public places, have been singled out for wearing masks early during the pandemic, have been harassed in public spaces, and have worried about children being bullied in schools, simply for being of Asian descent.

The past spate of physically violent incidents therefore represent a horrific culmination of stressors of nearly a year of scapegoating for all of the hardships and tensions COVID-19 has brought on our country.

The APIDA experience in the NRV/Roanoke region is distinct from that of the large cities where the high profile acts of anti-APIDA hate have occurred.

Unlike in larger US cities that have long-standing racial tensions, particularly between Asian and Black Americans due to injustices fueled by racially exclusionary housing and business lending practices, in this region, Asians are a smaller demographic with different histories.

Here, many of us are affiliated with the colleges and universities in the region. For example, in Blacksburg, APIDAs make up approximately 13% of the overall population. However, there is also a history of refugee resettlement in Roanoke and the Appalachian region, and APIDAs have settled in the region for many other diverse reasons.

Overall, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, APIDAs are one of the fastest growing ethnic minorities, yet our voices in social matters are seldom heard.

The “model minority myth” designates APIDAs as “honorary whites,” giving most a degree of privilege, and is therefore a status that is accepted by some in the APIDA community.

Culturally, the “model minority” designation tends to confirm immigrant values of hard work, persistence, and independence, as well as a deep longing to belong to a society that is a true meritocracy— the “American Dream,” that tells us that as long as one works hard, anything can be achieved.

However, the recent examples of violence show how easily this “honorary” position of perceived safety and privilege can be stripped away and how quickly our community can be used as a scapegoat when politically convenient.

This is why it is so important for our community, and for others outside our community, to reject the suggestion that the pain of the APIDA community is due to another minoritized group. Whether this be the present growing attention to physical violence against us, historical pains of urban working class communities competing against each other to gain an economic foothold in this country, or in the pitting of APIDAs against other groups in affirmative action in education, we cannot buy into any system based on racial hierarchies.

We cannot buy into a system that wedges minoritized groups against each other because this prevents the dismantling of the underlying racialized system.

Instead, we reject violence against any minoritized group, and therefore stand in solidarity with those against anti-Black violence, anti-Trans/LGBTQ+ violence, anti-Native violence, and violence against women.

If violence—both physical and systemic—against any of these communities is condoned, then we are all at risk.

Instead, what we need is to see one another through building community and building bridges. We need to stand up for each others’ rights to live in a just society and a just system free from discrimination and fear.

To do so, we must learn to truly see each other. To support the APIDA community during these difficult times, groups such as the APIDA Caucus (for faculty, students, staff) and Asian American Student Union at Virginia Tech are working to make the APIDA community more visible, and to see our relationships to other communities more clearly as well, starting with the VT community, but expanding beyond to our presence in Roanoke/New River Valley.

Lim, Wang and Ha wrote this on behalf of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi (South Asian) American (APIDA) Caucus of Virginia Tech. They were joined in signing by Jennifer Sano-Franchini, Takumi Sato, Suchitra Samanta, S. Moon Cassinelli, Balbir K. Singh, Jim Tokuhisa, Deborah Wen-Hwei Carlier, Shaila Mehra, Bonnie Zare, Carola Haas, Clara Suong, Dee Sanae, Svetlana Filiatreau, Allan Lumba, Helen Schneider and Adil N. Godrej.

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