Why All Asians Should be Worried About Xenophobia in 2021 | An Op-Ed from The Assistant News Editor

Updated: Oct 19

Paula Phounsavath | Assistant News Editor, now Editor-in-Chief

When an elder Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, was on his morning walk on Jan. 28th, a relentless teenager violently shoved the elder man down the hard-paved driveway in San Francisco. It was shown on the security camera so vividly that you can see Rantanapakdee fall quickly into unconsciousness. He died two days later at the hospital. The attacker, Antoine Watson, has been charged with but pleaded not guilty to murder and elder abuse.

Another incident reported on a fashion industry’s watchdog account, Diet Prada, Maggie Kayla Cheng shared that her mother was also violently shoved by a White male to the ground in Flushings, New York. In the security video, bystanders stood by in shock and tried to help Cheng’s mother off the ground. According to the post, Cheng says that her mom passed out and required five to 10 stitches at the hospital. The perpetrator, Patrick Mateo, has been arrested but then released. His court date has not been set yet.

This hit too close to home.

I am of Laotian descent, but I was born in America. Traditionally during family occasions, I would bow down to my elders. I would never walk towards them when they’re sitting down on the floor. I’d crawl towards them, even if they’re standing up--with their small and frail frame--I would crouch down to their level. These actions are signs of great respect in most Asian cultures, somethings Americans don’t show or intensely value in the same way.

When I saw Ratanapakdee and Cheng’s mother got violently attacked by such unremorseful individuals, it was too heartbreaking for me to look at. What made matters even worse is that bystanders did not do much about the situation, in Ratanapakdee’s case--none at all. These people look like my elders, so fragile and reserved.

Why are all these attack incidents happening lately with Asians?

It took me a while to gather my thoughts about the attacks on Asians. We can’t necessarily conclude that these acts of lawlessness based on racism. On the contrary, most people, including Ratanapakdee’s family blames hate crimes. I was aware in March 2020 that my people would face racism and hate because of a virus we never curated. In fact, I remember going for a morning run in my neighborhood during the quarantine period and seeing a White man giving me an ugly stare, like I did something wrong to him.

This isn’t just an issue within the Asian/Pacific-Islander community at ODU, nor around Hampton Roads. Xenophobia is not just with Asians, it is a minority issue. It happens so often that we don’t see racism in our everyday lives. You hear a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement on the news and social media. Systematic racism does occur in the justice system against Black people and it is a social issue that seriously needs to change. However, violence towards Asian-Americans is rarely ever talked about, because of how we perceive Asians to be more privileged and successful. Hence, the “model minority” myth.

Asians have the largest income gap in the U.S., not only that, but they are also susceptible to racist remarks by people not of color.

I have written about the Asian and other diversity organizations’ events that occurred before the pandemic. Events such as the Lunar New Year, Multicultural Night and many more that brought everyone together. These events really did make people understand Asian customs. It was all smiles, laughs and amazing food from each Asian country.

However, everything changed drastically during the course of 2020. No big events, no keeping up with our “family” away from our families, nor laughter was heard ever again. When COVID-19 hit the U.S., President Trump heavily blamed China for starting this virus. He referred to the Coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus,” or “Chinese virus.” This is where racism against Asians fueled--generalizing all of them as a carrier of this virus.

I want to ask these Asian organizations and other diversity organizations, where are your voices of frustration?

While I do understand that COVID-19 makes public events limited, that doesn’t mean Asian organizations should not say anything on social media platforms. I encourage and beg ODU’s Filipino American Student Association, the Vietnamese Student Association, as well as the umbrella organization, Asian-Pacific American Student Union to say something or do something about these matters of hate crime.

You all are the minority group at ODU. All of you should be worrying about potential violence towards each of you because of your race. If that was your close family member that got shoved by a person not of color or even a person filled with hatred, you all would not sit and stay in silence, would you?

You would be so upset that you would do whatever you can to protect your community, spread the awareness of hate crimes and what you can do to make sure these social issues can be prevented. If you could promote Black Lives Matter, then you definitely can promote awareness of these senseless attacks happening to our people.

I believe we cannot end racism indefinitely. However, in times like these, we need to be fully aware. We need to have conversations, take the time to understand and empathize with one another. Maybe the world would be a better place.