September 26, 2023

In nearly a dozen conversations with scholars, activists and historians over the past week, the sadness and grief at this turning point became apparent – as well as the realization of how strongly two career paths were divided for Asian immigrants in this country.

The Asian-American story was a complicated tale. There are restaurant workers and massage therapists nested in urban enclaves, but there are also high achievers who attend elite schools and have well-paid careers. Often times, one generation of immigrants in service occupations creates the next generation of entrepreneurial aspirants. At this point, however, the groups become increasingly isolated from each other as the population increases.

After a summer of racial justice protests and growing awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, corporate black workers, including Asians, are calling for justice and inclusion to end a white-dominated culture. The workers in spas and nail salons do not have the luxury to think about it. They are more susceptible to the whims of their white clientele. In a nation that is already divided by politics, religion, and income, a community is divided here.

But the “kung flu” pandemic – the xenophobic language fueled by President Donald J. Trump that added hate crimes to a deadly disease, and the rest of the list of things Asian Americans should fear over the past year – may be gradually waning together.

Last year, reported hate crimes against people of Asian descent in New York City rose 833 percent from 2019. Nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific islanders, from attribution to assault, are said to be AAPI Hate, a group that has collected data for the past year. (The number could be higher as not all incidents were reported.) Sixty-eight percent of these incidents were reported by women.

As the country withdrew from the all-too-familiar scenes of mass shootings in Atlanta, particularly murders aimed at humans because of their race and gender, some scholars recalled an earlier death. In 1982, Chinese-American Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men as tensions mounted over Japan’s dominance of the auto market. The killers who insisted that the attack was not racially motivated were sentenced to three years probation.

The fact that the men were not serving prison terms shook the Asian communities. Activists formed civil rights groups in protest.