If you look like me, you’ve heard the stereotypes. We’re the “quiet” ones or the “polite” ones or the ones who are "good at math.” For decades, the “model minority” myth has obstructed racism against Asian Americans, thereby enabling the rise in violence and hate that we’ve been the target of recently. Yet in the backdrop of such terror, we’ve seen Asian Americans in Congress defiantly take a stand and in the process, decimated the stereotypes that have been used against us for so long.
Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y, Andy Kim, D-N.J., Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., (just to name a few) have emerged as national voices in the #StopAsianHate movement. Unfortunately, change rarely happens before a situation reaches critical mass. For every victory in the fight for equality and justice, there are many obstacles and setbacks. It is here that we have seen this new class of social justice warriors emerge and, in the process, have given so many of us a voice in the corridors of power where this battle has been fought.
We're not going anywhere
I think back to last fall when 164 Republicans voted to oppose a House Resolution authored by Meng that simply condemned racism against Asian Americans. It was just last month when, during a committee hearing about hate crimes, Republican Chair Chip Roy thought it appropriate to use a lynching reference in an effort to undermine the purpose of the proceeding. Not allowing the jab to go unaddressed, Meng delivered a passionate and forceful rebuke declaring to Roy and other Republicans, “we will not let you take our voice away from us.”
I think back to a few weeks ago when Duckworth and Hirono threatened to hold-up President Joe Biden’s nominees unless he pledged to have more Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in his administration. To the president’s credit, he agreed with the senators and subsequently announced a number of executive actions in response to anti-Asian violence and recently appointed a new deputy assistant to the president to serve as a liaison to the AAPI community.
The Asian American community is at the forefront of the national conversation in a way that I have never seen before. It is more than a fleeting moment. It is a movement. One that has taken flight in part because of the tireless efforts of our Asian American representatives in Congress.
In an extremely rare demonstration of Congressional bipartisanship, the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Wednesday by a vote of 94-1. The legislation gained traction amidst a dramatic increase in hate crimes targeting the Asian American community. There followed the horrific shootings of eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta back in March.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Hirono & Rep. Meng, allows for the Justice Department to expedite review of hate crimes, designates a DOJ official to oversee the implementation of the bill, and provides greater assistance to law enforcement to better address hate crimes.
This is just the beginning
Actor and activist Daniel Dae Kim summed up the feeling of the AAPI community when he tweeted, “ALL THE YES! #stopasianhate”
Even now, I don’t think most people truly understand the depths to which our community is hurting right now. A new study released by the Pew Research Center found that 81% of Asian American adults say violence against them is rising; 32% of Asian adults say they have feared someone might threaten or physically attack them — a greater share than any other racial or ethnic group in America. Almost half of Asian adults, 45%, have experienced some kind of offensive incident since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
I certainly count myself as one of the many Asian Americans who have been confronted with a new level of racism and hatred. The passage of this new hate crimes legislation is an important step in what will be a very long and tedious effort to address the rise in racism and white nationalism that is plaguing America. Make no mistake about it, for communities of color in America, there are political forces who have put targets on all of our backs.
What we have learned is that when we unite, organize, and protest, we can be real instruments of meaningful change. For the Asian American community, this is just the beginning. We will not pause. We will not be quiet. We will not go away. We are here to stay.
Kurt Bardella is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors and is a member of the Korean Americans for Political Action (KAPA) Advisory Board. He is a former spokesperson for Reps. Darrell Issa, Brian Bilbray, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and the House Oversight Committee. You can follow him @KurtBardella
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 hate crime bill: Asian Americans fight back against violence