May should serve as a month to honor API Americans, not disparage them
Each May marks Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, in honor of the checkered history of Asian Pacific Islander (API) Americans who helped to shape the U.S. This month serves as a reminder of API Americans’ profound impact on American history and continued contributions to this country as one of the fastest-growing ethnic minorities. Though a growing population, they have become even more vulnerable. Xenophobic attitudes toward the API community during the COVID-19 pandemic have perpetuated systemic racism, despite the community’s diverse backgrounds and experiences. In light of present-day racism, it is important to acknowledge and understand the history of API Americans to better educate one another moving forward.
The API American story is everyone’s story — race is an intricate, interwoven subject that affects all who set foot in the U.S. With the same goals of advancing the American Dream, API Americans have a tenacity that is no different from all who look to have a better life in the U.S. Their experiences have contributed to American values and laws today, going back to Wong Kim Ark, who was born in America yet was denied entry back into the U.S. after a trip abroad. He took his case up to the Supreme Court, where the court ruled that all who are born in the U.S. will automatically be considered a citizen. The racist experiences that API Americans faced allow people to have protected citizenship today.
President Donald Trump frequently calls COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and has spoken on behalf of all API Americans, claiming that they are “angry at what China has done to our Country, and the World.” This ignorant rhetoric only exacerbates the effects of racism on the API community. Trump’s words spurred hatred because of the historical “othering” of API Americans, due to the variant cultures and genetic makeup that prevented people like Wong Kim Ark from setting foot back into the U.S. While Trump specifically targeted Chinese people, other API Americans are rendered vulnerable too, facing threats because bigotry cannot decipher a difference amongst a diverse group of people.
Rhetoric has powerful impacts on others, even when there is no malintent. It is especially important to be mindful of tone, given the current circumstances. For instance, Gov. Gavin Newsom specified that the first community spread in California allegedly came from a nail salon, many of which are owned by Vietnamese Americans.
While he did not explicitly target API Americans, Newsom’s decision to publicly speculate as to where the spread might have started can have an incredibly harmful effect on people, especially during a heightened time when many are looking for any reason to assert hate or blame on others. If individual consumers make choices to not go to nail salons or eat food from restaurants run by API Americans — based on nothing but unfounded prejudices and biases — they fail to support businesses that are the cornerstones of families and communities. Consumers must make their choices based on public health guidance, not horribly misplaced fears.
The Editorial Board recognizes the contributions of API Americans to our country, many of whom are at the frontlines of this pandemic. Nearly 20% of registered nurses in California are Filipinos. API Americans are also our classmates, as they made up 32% of UC Davis’ undergraduate population in fall of 2019.
It is crucial to remain cognizant of one’s words now more than ever. Students are dealing with the implications of the virus, on top of the added weight that racism against API individuals bears. It is imperative to be kind to one another during these difficult times.
Written by: The Editorial Board