Time for people of Asian descent to raise their voices in U.S.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Asian Americans and others participate in a protest against hate crimes in Los Angeles on March 13.

NEW YORK — I never thought I would become the subject of such discrimination.

In March last year when the novel coronavirus spread rapidly in New York, an order was issued telling residents to stay home. Reporters were allowed to go out for newsgathering, so that night I rushed to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to report on the city being devoid of people. A white TV crew member who was already at the scene turned to me and yelled, “Hey! Stay away from us!”

I was the only person of Asian descent among the press members there, which mainly consisted of white, Black and Hispanic journalists. I knew what was meant, so I was seething with anger.

More than a year has passed since then. Violent hate crimes targeting people of Asian descent occur every day across the United States. Not only do I feel anger at such discrimination, but I also feel fear.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and the U.S. media have blamed previous President Donald Trump for this discrimination against Asians, as Trump calls the novel coronavirus the “China virus.” There is no doubt that the imprudent words and actions of the nation’s leader encouraged discrimination and hatred, but even now, the situation has shown no signs of abating, even though virus fears have waned with progress in vaccinations.

In video footage released by police of recent hate crimes against Asians, it is noticeable that the assailants include Black and Hispanic people, who generally are victims of discrimination. The U.S. media barely reports on this inconvenient truth.

“Asians are the most vulnerable minority group in the U.S.,” a 35-year-old Korean-American woman said. “The pandemic has caused confusion and frustration, which have led to attacks on Asians.

“Even before Trump, there have been discrimination and attacks on Asians,” she added. “We have just been patient without speaking up, so the media and politicians have ignored the problems and the reality.”

Her words resonated with me. My grandfather was a second-generation Japanese American who was born in Seattle in the early 1900s. Back then, the idea was raging about the yellow peril, resulting in movements to exclude people of Asian descent.

Later when he lived in Japan, he wrote a book in Japanese about the history of hardships endured by Japanese Americans. When I read the book again, I came across the following passage:

“First-generation Japanese Americans urged assimilation in the U.S., sacrificing everything for their children’s education while being called [a derogatory, disparaging term] and even being assaulted at times. Second-generation Japanese Americans stayed up late to study, while working for American families as live-in help.”

Among minorities in the United States, people of Asian descent who have gained relatively high education and income are called “model minorities.” Because of this stereotype, they are often regarded as having overcome discrimination or having pandered to white people.

In reality, however, they were probably the weakest in American society and could not have survived without making desperate efforts to integrate into society.

During this coronavirus pandemic, those of Asian descent who have lived as “quiet Americans” have started to raise their voices in protest. I hope that this movement will not only stop the violence in front of their eyes, but also help society to confront and eliminate the discrimination, which sometimes even the people who are being discriminated against pretend not to notice.