In honor of Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs held a virtual event on Monday with feminist blogger Jenn Fang titled “Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Why the AAPI Community Must Be Politically Engaged.” Forty-three viewers tuned into the event, during which Fang discussed the history of A/PIA activism and the anti-Asian racism in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Fang is the founder, editor and primary blogger of Reappropriate, one of the oldest and most popular A/PIA race advocacy and feminism blogs. Her writing has been featured in NBC News, Teen Vogue and The Washington Post.
Fang began the event by discussing her personal background with activism, which she said started when she was an undergraduate at Cornell University and took a class in Asian American studies. In this class, Fang said she learned material beyond what she was taught in high school history classes.
In high school, Fang said she learned about the Chinese American Exclusion Act, an immigration law that prevented Chinese laborers from coming to the United States. She said she was also taught that many Chinese immigrants were crucial to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the first railroad to connect both coasts of the U.S., despite dangerous conditions and widespread discrimination.
In college, Fang said she learned more about the indentured servitude of Asian American laborers on West Coast sugar plantations. Fang noted these Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino agricultural workers partially helped inspire America’s labor movement.
She also highlighted the importance of Michigan as the home of one of her role models, Grace Lee Boggs.
“Michigan is an especially integral point for Asian American activism, as Detroit was home to Grace Lee Boggs, a community activist, scholar and my personal hero,” Fang said. “She taught me that our work is founded upon the assertion that Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are, for better or for worse, part of this country’s national and political fabric.”
Fang used the murder of Vincent Chin to continue her discussion of Asian American history and oppression in the state of Michigan. In 1982, autoworkers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz brutally beat and murdered Chin at his bachelor party in Highland Park days before his wedding date. They blamed the Japanese automotive companies for losing their jobs and mistook Chin as a Japanese man.
Despite their role in Chin’s murder, the judge stated, “these weren’t the kind of men you sent to jail.” The two men were only sentenced to three years of probation and a $3,000 fine.
Taking this history into account, Fang emphasized the need for the awareness of anti-Asian racism more than ever due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The virus has been deemed by some — including President Donald Trump — as the “Chinese Virus.”
According to Fang, calling coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” is representative of the racial microaggressions, assaults and widespread systemic stigmatization of Asian people during the SARS epidemic 20 years ago. This discrimination, Fang said, is still present today. Fang also noted some media outlets continue to run stories of the pandemic alongside Asian faces, which she said contributes to the fear that some Asian Americans may have of being in public.
“Just last week, the FBI described the attempted murder of an Asian American family as part of their warning of a growing surge in hate crimes against anyone perceived to be East Asian,” Fang said. “A website launched by the Asia Pacific Policy and Planning Council already received over 1,000 self-reports in just two weeks of incidents of racial harassment and assault.”
Recently, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang suggested in an op-ed in the Washington Post that the best way for Asian Americans to address the tide of racist violence directed towards them is to remind attackers of how Asians are still American.
According to Fang, Yang’s statement suggests Asian Americans who have been attacked are at fault and have something to apologize for.
“Let me be clear, Asian Americans are not responsible in any way for anti-Asian hate crimes against our community,” Fang said. “We have not invited, nor incited violence against our bodies, and we have nothing to apologize for and we see in Yang’s op-ed what happens when we are not connected to our history.”
Fang ended her speech with a call for the A/PIA community to combat these injustices by working together with other minority communities.
“To be an Asian Pacific Islander American is to be inextricably interconnected with that of other Black and brown people and we must understand how our struggles are interrelated,” Fang said. “We must work in solidarity and understand we cannot afford tunnel vision and recognize that racial oppression does not occur in a vacuum.”
LSA senior Dim Mang said she found Fang’s response to Yang’s article poignant. According to Mang, Fang’s emphasis on both learning and actively engaging with Asian American history was refreshing.
“My biggest takeaway from this event was that Asian Americans must not allow white people and institutions to decide our history or even rewrite it for us,” Mang said. “We must stand in active solidarity with other people of color, and essentially use collective liberation.”
LSA junior Osa Svensson logged onto the event due to it being a requirement for a class, but said they found Fang’s talk very impactful. Svensson said they were not previously taught about topics such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and Angel Island, the immigration station in San Francisco Bay designated to control Chinese entry into the U.S.
“Especially in the current climate and the blatant racism being spouted by so many people due to the current pandemic makes me want to learn as much as possible and speak out about this mistreatment,” Svensson said. “Joining this event helps me fuel my rage at the ways Asian people are being attacked for something which has nothing to do with them.”
After her lecture, Fang opened the floor to questions from viewers. Music, Theatre & Dance junior Alyxandra Ciale Trinidad Charfauros asked Fang how to make activism more accessible and personal.
Fang responded by pointing to the importance of social media as a tool to influence people to engage with one another. Since she said she found her own voice through her blog Reappropriate, Fang suggested people produce their own media, such as art, comedy or any individual form of artistic expression.
Through art, Fang said she believes people can more easily facilitate Asian American discourse and help activism become more accessible through technology.
“The main advice I have to young people who want to get involved is to start thinking about the ways you can learn from people you are not currently learning from,” Fang said. “What every single person has to say is important, and amplifying your own voice is a radical act that is important, necessary and worth hearing.”
Daily Staff Reporter Cheryn Hong can be reached at email@example.com.
This article has been corrected to note Grace Lee Boggs is from Detroit, Michigan. A previous version of the article said she was from Troy, Michigan.