On Asian America: Dehumanization and the History of Hate

May 25, 2021

Community members show signs in support of the AAPI community during a vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting in March
Credit Courtesy of Ping Ping

Violence against people of Asian descent has long been a part of American history, but it’s been especially vicious during the Covid pandemic.

“A man was captured on video downtown attacking an Asian couple, spitting on them, slapping the man’s face and yelling at them, quote, ‘It’s your fault.’”

That’s Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, speaking on the Senate floor after the body passed a resolution condemning Asian hate.

Western Washington, California, Atlanta, New York. All areas where people have been attacked. A center that tracks these crimes says violence against Asian people is up in many of America’s largest cities. But those figures may be low, it says, as victims fear what might happen if they report their attacks.

Many, however, are speaking up about what they’ve faced. 

Join us this hour as we talk with advocates in Spokane’s Asian and Pacific Islander community and with researchers who study Asian American history, racism and hate. On Asian America, after this break.

You’re listening to On Asian America from Spokane Public Radio. This is part of a series of programs we’ve created with Humanities Washington, KUOW and Northwest Public Broadcasting. 

2021 marks the second consecutive year in an historic rise in hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders.

During the pandemic, there have been several violent attacks against Asians in California, New York, and in Western Washington. A mass shooting in Atlanta left eight dead, six were Asian women. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that there has been a 164% increase in hate incidents against Asians in the nation’s largest cities. But it estimates the number of hate crimes is much higher because many fear reporting. 

This hour, we talk with Spokane County residents, advocates for the Asian and Pacific Islander Community, and researchers who have studied Asian American history, racism and hate.

They say racism is deeply intertwined with this country’s history, and the spike in hatred during the pandemic is a part of a repeating pattern.

But many are speaking up about what they’ve faced, how they’re working to overcome obstacles and make lasting change in their communities.

Pui-Yan Lam, the co-leader of the Spokane Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition, remembers vividly when she heard about the first case of coronavirus in the United States.

“When the news broke that we had the first case of COVID in the United States, and it was in Seattle, my immediate reaction, I had that kind of sick to the stomach feeling, besides having to do with the pandemic, that I thought we might see a rise in Anti-Asian racism. I remember texting someone I worked with, in community work, and I remember posting something on Facebook at that time, that we might have to brace for a rise in anti-Asian racism.”

In addition to her advocacy work for the Asian and Pacific Islander community, Lam is a sociology professor at Eastern Washington University. She said she knew history would repeat itself. A disease would be associated with an ethnic group.

“Despite the efforts of public health officials, we’re still unfortunately seeing the rise in anti-racism, and violence.”

She notes that during much of the pandemic, people were using racist language, like calling COVID-19 the China Virus. 

Lam said she’s heard from many of her students and other community members that they’ve been harassed because of their race while out in public, and are afraid to do things they’ve always done.

“Racism against Asian Americans is not new, and there have been plenty of studies using different methodologies that have documented racism that Asian Americans experience. The pandemic has brought it out into the open, racial biases that might have been more hidden have all the sudden been brought out into the open.”

Yu-Kyung Kang or Yuki, as she also goes by, and her husband Cheon Joo Yoon, or CJ, as he also goes go by, have experienced racism many times since immigrating from Korea. 

The couple live in Spokane, and CJ, who is a dentist, says he’s always faced bias in the field, but the last year and a half has gotten much worse.

“Yeah, microaggressions, grilling questions, where did you go to school, how many years have you been practicing? They continue to ask these questions, no matter what I explain and no matter how much I want to deliver the best care for each patient that I face. In the same time, the past month, I faced something more aggressive. For example, he was my patient, but he was seen by other dentists in my workplace.

“The other dentist is from overseas too. The patient came to our office again a second time, there was some issue there, the treatment delivered by the other dentist, nothing serious, just a small issue. Patient was scheduled with me.  The patient came to the front desk, I didn’t know anything about it, what was going on out there, but the patient said in front of so many people, I only want to see a white doctor. I do not want to see someone from overseas, they do not know what they are doing.”

I interviewed CJ and Yuki at a Korean Church in East Central Spokane. They went there when they first moved to the area, looking for community. They’ve since moved to another church, but still have relationships with many long-time congregation members who recently shared with Yuki, and the pastor, that they have been very afraid for the last year.

“Racism has been part of their lives all throughout their lives here, and some even mentioned, one person mentioned that when she first came to Spokane, it was mostly friendly, I think she moved from the Seattle area to here, she noticed that a lot of people were friendly and would say Hi. But this past year, she has been more resistant in greeting people on the street, always afraid what they might think, Because they would hear stories from other friends, for instance, their friend was out walking their dog in the park, and the other dog was unleashed, and she said something, can you put a leash on your dog, and he was very hostile, this white man, was very hostile. Then, she never goes out to the park alone again to walk her dog. And stories like that has everybody afraid, to not be too expressive, or overt.”

The couple have taken some concrete steps to keep their family safe, and try to address the racism in their lives. Yuki said the couple are now driving their teenage daughter to school out of concern for her safety, but has also connected her with older mentors, and started to have hard conversations with her about race, and the trauma she might face as she gets older.

They’ve also decided to speak out about their own experiences.

CJ: “Systemic racism has been there many, many years. It’s been getting better I believe.”

Yuki: “You think?”

“But we recognize more and more issues going through it. Before, we didn’t even know, or we knew, and didn’t want to talk about it. But right now, because of this, the pandemic, because of all the things we go through these days, right now, I think it is a great, not a great time, I think it is a good time to review ourselves. Our immigrant history, and how we can step up more.”

“And that’s another thing we’ve been talking about as a couple, as first-generation immigrants. When we look at our previous generation, the immigrants came here first, they worked hard, and to some extent, they’ve been in their own bubbles, not really knowledgeable of the U.S. history and how race, and racial issues have developed. When I talk to other first-generation immigrants, I’m hoping we can all educate ourselves on the history of it, and where we stand. “

That’s Yuki, who, along with her husband C.J., shared their experiences as Korean immigrants in Spokane. You’re listening to On Asian America.

Let’s go now to Spokane Valley, where Genavieve Heywood has enjoyed having her college-age daughter home for this academic year. Heywood is the pastor of the Veradale United Church of Christ. Her daughter is finishing her first year as a Washington State University freshman. Her name is Hana. 

“It’s H-A-N-A. It’s, like, the road to Hana in Hawaii and the place that I’m named after. My great-grandmother lived on the road and her name was Hana, so that’s where it came from.”

Hana’s mom is white and of German descent. Hana inherited her Hawaiian looks from her father.

“I think my ancestral home is Maui and my great-grandmother on my father’s side was Hawaiian and Cantonese and married a German man and so German, Hawaiian and then my mom is also German.”

Genavieve Heywood and her daughter Hana.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Genavieve Heywood has counseled Hana - we agreed not to use her last name - and tried to prepare her for what she might encounter.

“Throughout my entire life, my mom has always told me that I look different. I look exotic and that some people might abuse that. I never thought I look that different. I don’t see myself in the crowd. I just am me. I love my culture and I love where I come from, but I don’t ever that as something that makes me different.”

But the recent killings of six Asian women in Atlanta made her think.

“All of a sudden it was like, ‘Ok, now people who are like me are getting killed.’ That violence, I don’t think, began now. That violence is something that has been going on for a very long time and it’s in the media. And it’s weird, in a way, to see that that’s like my people. I mean, we’re all people, we’re all community, so any hate toward anyone is our people. But it’s weird to know that now it’s closer to home  and it’s kind of scary, but kind of sad.”

This is Genavieve Heywood.

“We hear the stories of parents talking to their Black sons about what they need to do to keep themselves safe and talking to Hana about what she needs to do to keep herself safe. You get your keys out before you go to your car. You always park in a place that has light. There are stories that moms tell their daughters. For Hana, one of the stories she has to understand is that men see her as exotic. I’m not sure if the word is trophy or triumph or what it is, that she has to know that she draws extra attention of people who could do her harm. She has to be a little more vigilant.”

Doug: “Have you ever felt any of that? Growing up, going to school. Do you think the boys saw you as something that’s exotic?”

Hana: “When I went to school in California, it was a different world because there was so much diversity that it wasn’t weird to me, a different culture. It was prized. It was wonderful that there was so many different cultures. Coming here, it was definitely a shock to the system because here, for lack of a better word, it’s so white and I didn’t think that that was, this is abnormal to me. This is normal to people here. I never really processed that this was the way I looked. There are people who think I have an Asian mom because I work so hard at school.”

“I think to a lot of people in America, Asian is China and I think it’s really unfair to all the other cultures because there’s so much diversity there. My great grandmother would be very offended because she was Cantonese. She was not Chinese, she was Cantonese. They shouldn’t be lumped together because they are so different and it’s almost disrespecting the history of them because they have worked hard to be where they are and to lump them all in one is like lumping all Americans into one. We’re all just a bunch of white people and we’re not. We’re a bunch of different people. People are different and when people lump them together, it can be offensive and it can be mean.”

Hana looks forward to this fall and her first chance to experience college in Pullman. Her mom thinks she’s ready to go.

“She’s had boxing lessons. She’s had martial arts lessons. So she is doing what she can to help herself, protect herself and then I hope she always has at least one other person with her. There are all these things. To send her off and say, ‘Ok, you know what to do and if bad things happen, Mom’s here, home is here and you’re smart enough. We’ll work it out.”

Genavieve Heywood is the pastor of the Veradale United Church of Christ in Spokane Valley. Her daughter Hana is a Washington State University student.

Coming up, we learn more about the history of violence against Asian people in the United States. You’re listening to On Asian America.

Researchers who have studied Asian American history and politics in the United States say they see clear parallels between the hate crimes against Asians rising in the U.S. now, and politically fraught times in this nation’s past.

In this segment, we talk with three Spokane area historians who have studied Chinese immigration to the U.S., going all the way back to the mid-1800s. The story begins with Gonzaga history professor Veta Schlimgen. 

Veta Schlimgen is a professor at Gonzaga University.
Credit Courtesy of Gonzaga University

Veta Schlimgen: “When Chinese migrants were leaving southern China in the 1840s, they looked for opportunities in the Pacific and what they found is that there were gold fields. They could migrate to California or Australia or what is today Indonesia to try to find some opportunities that they didn’t have at home.”

“They would send their resources, their children and their family members out into the Pacific and many of them came to the United States. They ended up settling on the West Coast, doing some digging in the gold fields of California, along with migrants from the rest of the world, who all rushed to California. But migrants from China were targeted by other gold miners, especially those who were born in the U.S. or who felt a connection to the U.S., who decided that Chinese miners were somehow not entitled to the resources that they were all scrambling for in the gold diggings. The first violence against Asian immigrants was against Chinese immigrants in 1854 in the California diggings. But that didn’t stop Chinese migrants from looking for opportunities in the United States. They stayed in the Bay Area. They went to other parts of the West, so to Washington state, which was the Oregon Territory at the time, to the Mountain West, Montana and Idaho and throughout California. They did a variety of different types of jobs. They were miners. They worked a little bit in agriculture. They did labor in cities. In California they’re quite well known for running very successful laundries and restaurants, so doing a lot of the labor that’s necessary for communities that these miners weren’t willing to do for themselves.”

As more Chinese people came to the U.S., Schlimgen says Americans saw them as threats and worked to scare the newcomers away.

“They did face violence, both intimidation, threats of violence, actual violence, and then legislative violence. The variety includes, for example in Seattle, the Seattle-Tacoma area in 1885-86, there was a Knights of Labor group that decided they were going to target all the Chinese immigrants, Chinese people, in the region. They literally went to their homes to try to remove them from their homes, take them down to the wharf and tell them to leave. They, of course, didn’t have passage so the Knights of Labor scurried to try to find the revenue to buy them tickets to run them out of town. That’s an example of the way that communities consolidated against Chinese workers who were, again, they were just looking for opportunities like everyone else in the community. They weren’t a threat to these communities but their neighbors saw them as threats.”

It was around that time, in the 1880s, that the U.S. government did its part to increase the pressure on Chinese workers with a law known as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Gonzaga history professor Ray Rast says it was the first American law that targeted a particular group of immigrants coming to the U.S.

Ray Rast: “The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, there’s a lot to it. In a nutshell, in the 1870s you had a growing number of European descendants, American workers, working class, in some cases labor union members who were fighting for opportunities to work and were being told that these Chinese immigrants, among others, were threatening their jobs, threatening their own economic stability, their own livelihoods and they were an easy target. In periods of economic decline or economic downturn during recessions, people tend to look for scapegoats and the most visibly different scapegoats at the time were Chinese immigrants. A lot of agitation came from California with its representation in Congress. This is a federal law, so there were the politics of the East Coast that were starting to pay attention to the politics of the West Coast. It was something that was called for for many years before. But, finally in 1882, it passes and goes into effect. There were some exemptions for some of the wealthiest immigrants. It was primarily targeting working class Chinese immigrants, which its supporters intended. Unfortunately, it affirmed the racism and racist hostility that fueled support for the legislation and so, in many ways, it was an affirmation. Here’s the federal government over in Washington, D.C. saying, ‘Yes, you are right. If you feel some hostility. If you think these people are take your jobs, you’re right. It’s a stamp of approval. It sanctioned that hostility and it affirmed it and made people think they were on the right path with this hostility. After 1882, it was open season on Chinese immigrant workers. In California, in Oregon, in Washington, there were a growing number of physical attacks on Chinese workers with this sense that any acts of violence would be tolerated, that law enforcement would look the other way. In the short term, that ended up driving Chinese immigrants into cities like San Francisco, like Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, seeking sanctuary. Unfortunately, again, in Seattle, in Tacoma, in particular, the population of Chinese immigrants was less than a thousand. Momentum led to points in 1885 and 1886 where Chinese immigrants were literally rounded up, put onto wagons in Seattle, taken to the waterfront and boarded onto steamships that were leaving port. These men were forced onto ships and told do not return. In the case of Tacoma, after they left, the Chinatown was burned to the ground with no evidence of it remaining. The story in San Francisco was different because the numbers there were so strong, tens of thousands, and it would have been impossible to drive out that many, but when the numbers are in the hundreds, in the context of the time, that would have been something that people thought was a good idea.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act stayed on the books for decades.

Ray Rast is a professor at Gonzaga University.
Credit Gonzaga University

Ray Rast: “1882 is a major benchmark. But you really go to 1924, in terms of stepping stones in looking at legislation that affirmed or extended that exclusion focusing on Chinese immigrants and really spread it to Japanese immigrants in particular. Relations changed in the context of World War II. China is our ally, so a sense of revisiting that. But the next major step is 1965 with the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, signed by President Johnson and then it went into effect in 1968. A major part of that legislation was to overturn, to undo those racially-restrictive provisions that really applied to Chinese and other Asian immigrants. So, 60, 80 years of these restrictions in place and their impact is really impossible to grasp. It’s so profound. How would our country be different if we had treated other people from other places differently in the 19th century in the first half of the 20th century?”

That’s Ray Rast, a Gonzaga University history professor.

Liping Zhu, a history professor at Eastern Washington University, has written several books about Chinese workers and communities in the Pacific Northwest and California, and the violence they were subjected to.

“In human history, we see in the process of ethnic cleansing, violence against a group, usually we see it’s with the assistance of legal measures, law. In California, in one case called People versus Hall, George Hall was an Irishman, and he murdered a Chinese (person). During the trial, two Chinese testify. Later, they appeal, they say according to California criminal code, Mongolians cannot testify. As a result, through the appeal, they reversed the decision. First he was sentenced to be hanged, now we see he was acquitted.

After this, you look at the following two decades, the violence against Chinese increased sharply, because they know, Chinese cannot testify against me, you’ve emboldened the perpetrator. So we see dehumanization. The right viewed them as non human. The government emboldened them. Of course, 20 years later, they declared this ruling unconstitutional, but the damage has been done.”

Zhu said throughout American history, immigrants have been linked with drugs, or disease. He noted in history, Asians were linked with opium, and were blamed for disease outbreaks. 

“In American history there are two presidential elections that focus on immigration. One was 1880, my book deals with this. The other is 2016. In 1880, particularly in the last two weeks of the presidential elections, they mainly focus on the one issue. James Garfield, we see the letter. Somebody, probably from the Democratic National Committee, they fabricate Republican candidate James Garfield’s letter. It says that he wants to import 20,000 Chinese. It was immediately proved false. However, the damage had been done. It was a typical October surprise. 

He said there are clear parallels between that historic 1880 election, which occurred just two years before the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the 2016 election, where Donald Trump was focused on unauthorized immigrants at the Southern border.”

He said the tendency to blame a country’s problems on an ethnic group, is a cycle that’s repeated throughout the country’s history. During that election, in disease outbreaks in California, at the Mexican border in 2016, and now during the pandemic.

“Today it’s the same. The China disease. It’s extremely, we see the dangers of this reckless rhetoric. Some did it purposefully, some may have done it unintentionally, but however, we see that it will cause all these consequences.”

America’s attitudes toward Asian immigration have not been consistent and not always negative. We return to Gonzaga history professor Vera Schlimgen, whose research specialty is immigration from the Philippines to the U.S. She says the American attitude toward Filipino immigrants was different, at least initially.

“As Filipinos migrated to the U.S. in greater numbers in the 1920s and 1930s, they did not fit that stereotype, the stereotype that Americans had created of Asians being culturally very different, not understanding how the loyalty to the emperor of China or Japan worked, having a different culture, like practicing Confusi n sm or Buddhism, that wasn’t the case with Filipinos, who had been part of a European colony for centuries. They were, most of them, Catholic. They had a lot of experience with the European culture, so when they came to the U.S., it didn’t look too different to them. But because they were vaguely Asian to white Americans, white Americans worked really hard to shoehorn them into that stereotype. It is really interesting how even the slightest physical similarity is going to mobilize this nativism and so that’s what happened to Filipino migrants. They were targeted by nativist movements to say that they were taking jobs, which was the rhetoric mobilized against Japanese immigrants and Chinese immigrants before them. They said that they were degrading the work that everyone did, but they added on for Filipino migrants that they were a menace because they were dating white women. That layered in a new element of anti-Asian sentiment. In fact, I think that this hostility made Filipinos Asian, where before they were ambiguous in terms of how they were classified in the United States, but also how they thought of themselves.”

Doug: “I think about the contradictions that we have toward Asian people. In the 1970s, when the Vietnam War ended, a lot of Vietnamese people were brought to the United States. I remember our Catholic parish was adopting a few of these. We accepted so many people from Vietnam, Cambodia and others and welcomed them into our communities, and yet, at the same time, we have this love-hate relationship with these types of folks.”

Vera Schlimgen: “That’s a good example of, really in the 1970s, the biggest waves of Asian migration that we see is refugees from Vietnam, from Cambodia. These refugees were exceptions in U.S. immigration law. They were embraced. They were welcomed in as people fleeing communism. At the same time, there’s also this hostility and suspicion against Asian immigrants who still might be a Fifth Column, who still might be communists who are infiltrating the United States. So, there might be this duality in terms of embracing, but also censuring and developing hostility toward Asian Americans and I think you also see this in this myth of the model minority. We see expressions of this attitude where we have that, somehow, just because someone is ethnically Asian that they’re going to be spectacularly good at math and computing. That attitude is inaccurate. It no way reflects the interests of the individual person. But then it is also used as a point of hostility toward Asian Americans that they don’t get to be a previously-oppressed minority group because they are so great at math and computing. They’ve been elevated to this notion of the model minority.”

I asked Veta Schlimgen how the Atlanta murders and other contemporary acts of violence against Asian people fits into this history.

“It seems to fit in in several ways, in terms of the attitude or impression that, somehow, Asians are not American when they are. It also, I think, because the perpetrator of this violence targeted places where it’s predominately Asian women who work, that it also expresses these attitudes, this hostility and animosity toward Asian women in particular. In that respect it also echoes this notion of embrace and rejection because Asian women have been exoticized and eroticized oftentimes by white Americans. This exotification also comes with this sense of rejecting Asian women because they wouldn’t be wives. They really are more exotic.”

Doug: “Does history teach us something in this case?”

Veta Schlimgen: “History does have lessons for us and, in this case, I guess I can’t think of the violence against Asian Americans as separate from the violence, the police violence against African Americans and Black Lives Matter because I think that what we’re referring to, more broadly, are these stereotypes developed over generations, that they’re really ingrained into the American psyche and that Americans have now come to act on them, act on the manifestations of them over the past year, and I have to wonder if this is connected to the pandemic and the way that our lives have been so greatly disrupted and changed so significantly. In part we see American allies recognizing police violence as something that is intolerable and that’s part of the reason why we saw so many hundreds and thousands, even in Spokane, demonstrating over the past year. I think that this violence against Asian Americans is a manifestation of those long-held stereotypes and it’s finding expression now perhaps because we have been in quarantine for so long, but also because we have seen in our popular media a fueling of the connection between the pandemic that has disrupted our lives and something in Asia. By fueling that connection, I think that has allowed people to act on these biases in extreme ways, by murdering and harming women in Atlanta, but elderly people on the street and young mothers caring for their children. It’s something that, I think, shows us how the United States is still reckoning with our history, that we have to be aware of the way that these stereotypes are a part of our culture, a part of our psyche, and we have to acknowledge them and that, through acknowledging them, we can realize that they really have no merit. When we realize that they have no merit, then we can consciously push back against them.”

That’s Gonzaga University history professor Veta Schlimgen. 

People are pushing back against stereotypes here in Spokane and trying to educate people about the tactics used to marginalize people of Asian heritage. We’ll talk about that when we return. You’re listening to On Asian America from Spokane Public Radio.

Ping Ping speaks at a vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting in Spokane in March.
Credit Courtesy of Ping Ping

Activist Ping Ping said she has seen the danger of damaging rhetoric against Asian people playing out in the Spokane area, and more broadly. Ping is one of the founding members of Spokane Community Against Racism, and is a member of a state commission on Asian and Pacific Islander issues.

Ping: “For AAPI community here, we were often perceived, especially for Asian Americans, we were often perceived as model minorities, like we don’t have issues. But this was proven totally wrong, especially after the pandemic started last March. I have seen many hate incidents here. Maybe they’re not to the law standard, hate crime, but they were definitely hate incidents in Spokane, happening to people I know.”

She said she’s always been committed to all people of color and disenfranchised groups, in part to combat things like the model minority myth, which pits minority groups against each other.

“We really want to build our relationships, because the two communities were set up to pit against each other. And I really think this is very urgent need for the local black and Asian communities to start very honest and sincere conversations that we need to speak up. Why are our two communities in a tension relationship.What kind of historical, and current conditions contribute to that damaged relationship. What can we do, because we’re not each other's enemies.”

Ping and her daughter Rosie Zhou have organized a solidarity event for Spokane’s Black, Asian and Pacific Islander community and are continuing that work. 

In response to the violence and fear that the Asian and Pacific Islander community has endured this year, Ping also helped translate the Spokane crime check reporting line and information into Chinese. She, and Rosie also helped organize a vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting. 

Ping said there are also areas where more work needs to be done to support AAPI issues, such as addressing language barriers, healthcare, and how those issues are taught in the education system. 

“In daily life, we need to do more work. For example, how our K-12 education system, in textbooks, especially history courses, it does not have a very comprehensive education about AAPI contributions to the United States, how Asians Americans struggled.”

Her daughter Rosie Zhou, who attended Spokane Community Against Racism meetings while she was in middle school alongside her mother, has tried to address that. 

Zhou: “throughout my entire time in the education system, I noticed a lack of accurate, and representative curriculum, especially in history classes that taught about Asian American history. I remember just learning about the Japanese internment camps of WWII, and the Chinese Exclusion Act and that was the extent of it.”

“I started learning much more about it, much more Asian American history my junior year when I was doing a speech for my speech and debate class about the model minority myth. That’s when I started researching all of these things, and learning all of these events that have happened in the past, things that happened toward Asian Americans in history that I had no idea before.”

Rebecca: “Can you tell me more about that, maybe what you learned in school, versus what you know to be true?” 

Zhou: “I just feel like Asian American have been erased from the curriculum, and that’s really harmful. It leads people to thinking, oh, they’ve never contributed anything to this country. They’re just foreigners, they haven’t faced racial discrimination in the past, when all that is really false when you look at actual things that have happened in history, like the LA massacre, the Chinese exclusion act and other laws and policies that have harmed Asian Americans.”

In February, Rosie wrote a poem she published as a letter to the editor in the Spokesman-Review. She also recently wrote a column, which shares the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was beaten to death by two white men, and how that hatred, can be linked to violent crimes, like the Atlanta shooting.

Rosie Zhou speaks at a vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting in March
Credit Courtesy of Ping Ping

She also recently approached the Spokane Public School Board with her concerns about how Asian history is taught in school. 

Zhou: “They actually set up a meeting with me, we just talked a lot more about what I was feeling, that I felt compelled to reach out about it, and they’re hoping to launch a survey next year, asking students what they’ve actually learned about asian American history ever in class, and anything they feel they need to see more of in curriculum.” 

Zhou plans to minor in history when she goes to Columbia University this fall, and major in political science. She said she’s thought about running for office someday, and knows she’ll still be organizing in her community, wherever she ends up.

While people like Rosie Zhou and Ping Ping are working at the community level, Kristine Hoover is working with individuals to help them understand their own attitudes and biases. Hoover is the director of Gonzaga’s Institute for Hate Studies and an associate professor of organizational leadership.

This summer, she and three PHD students are teaching a course called “Leadership Strategies to Counter Hate.”

Kristine Hoover: “Our students this summer will be doing research on the stories of resiliency and strength of four communities. It’s just a portion of their story and there are certainly many more communities. We’re simply going to focus on the indigenous communities, the Black communities, the Latinx communities and the Asian American/Pacific Islander communities. The students will do research on understanding their histories in Spokane and then identify two specific sites, with the guidance of community liaisons where they’re going to tell the story, for example, of Carl Maxey or they’ll the story of the Monaghan statue or they’ll tell stories that have been identified, for example, there’s a location here near Gonzaga’s campus where an individual was hung. There’s a lynching site near here that has no placard, no notice, no idea that that’s the hollowed ground where that happened. A lot of this work that the students are going to be doing is digital archival research.

They’re working with Foley Library. They’re working with historians like Dr. Ray Rast here at Gonzaga and they’re also working with Spokane historian Logan Camporeale.”

Their research will help the university and others to develop a one-day event in September when members of the public will be guided on a walking tour of some of the downtown area’s most significant historic sites.

“The purpose of the class does create this important living artifact and it also creates the skills for the students to go back into their own communities, wherever they’re coming to us from, to help tell their stories in their own locales. This, in essence, not only has significant impact on the Spokane area, but then has an impact in many communities across the United States.”

Change doesn’t come about just by activism, by speaking out and trying to persuade others to change their views. Sometimes it comes one person at a time, people intentionally questioning and challenging their own beliefs.

Kristine Hoover is the director of the Gonzaga Institute of Hate Studies.
Credit Courtesy of Gonzaga University

Kristine Hoover: “I’m deeply saddened that we have lost our ability to value one another and to simply understand each other by saying, ‘Wow, where did that come from or how did you understand that?’ Or ‘How did you come to think that that was a good solution or a good way forward?’ Parker Palmer often says or is often quoted as saying, ‘When things get tough, turn to wonder.’ So when I hear, when I feel the hair on the back of my neck standing on end because someone said something that I just can’t really fathom, really? How can I pause and turn to wonder? That’s my work. That’s where I have control in a difficult situation. Always, making sure that you’re safe, but at the same time, not standing by, right? Silence is complicity. When you can breathe and take a moment, how do you lean into that conversation? And how do you lean in a way that says I’d really like to understand better because I need to understand you, to meet you in your context. How can I understand where you’re at in your journey because, if we hate the hater, we really have done nothing to lead towards transforming our communities and our organizations. One of the things I’m most frustrated about, that I really want to find the time to address, is for people who feel they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If I say something, I’m going to say the wrong thing. If I say nothing, I’m being complicit. And so, what do I do? And how do we lean into those conversations? How do we open the doors so that this is not about shame, it’s not about blame, but it’s about how can we move forward if we don’t invite and listen to one another? Because when people feel attacked, even verbally, they’re not going to engage in the conversation that’s going to help us move forward. Opening those doors to the conversation is, I think, the very serious work that we need to lean into, but doing the work ourselves so that we come to those conversations with the intention to listen. Starting with the anti-racist examine really asks us to do that self-reflection to prepare so that we can enter into conversations valuing diversity, which also means people who are on the other side of the aisle, who have all sorts of other kinds of differences in whatever our world views may be and whatever our lived experiences are. But how do I value that, not because you’re different from me and so I want to cancel you, but because you’re different from me and I want to learn about you?”

To finish where we started, Pui-Yan Lam, the co-leader of the Spokane Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition. 

She said she and other community leaders have tried to prepare for and prevent Anti-Asian violence in a number of ways, including bystander intervention training.

She said the training is meant to give people a few guidelines to help someone who is being targeted leave the situation safely, not as some sort of dramatic intervention, which could lead to violence or make a victim feel less safe.

“It could be as simple as to kind of interrupt what is happening, but especially with the emphasis on the person being targeted. We want to follow the lead, or wish of the person being targeted. What that person wants to be done, I think it is important to respect that. You want to help that person, care for that person, and it's ultimately what that person wants in terms of what kind of help, what they want to do after the event, whether they want to report it. Things like that.”

Lam said bystander intervention is one of many ways that the community can help their Asian, and Pacific Islander neighbors. 

She said despite the suffering, and inequities many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have endured during the pandemic, there have been a few things that have given her hope. 

Young Asian Americans are learning more about their family, culture, and nation’s true history. And organizers are discussing, and advocating that government leaders provide more resources for underserved communities.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and I hope what comes out of these painful experiences is that we’re paying closer attention to it, and there will be more concerted efforts in addressing these racial inequities that our communities, and the racism that our communities experience.”

On Asian America is one part of a public radio collaboration with Humanities Washington to highlight important topics like voting and violence against Asian Americans. Our public radio partners, Northwest Public Broadcasting and KUOW, have also produced programs for this series. We’ll wrap it up with an on-air discussion in mid-June. Stay tuned to this station to learn more about that.

This program was written by Rebecca White and Doug Nadvornick with production help from Cary Boyce.