On a hot summer day in Chappaqua, eight-year-old Emily* and her little sister visited their neighborhood pool. The two little girls had brought toys and decided to play in the baby pool.
“A white kid came up to me and said that no Chinese were allowed in the pool,” Emily recounted.
Emily was nervous. She looked around for adults. The boy was at the pool with his nanny, who didn’t seem to notice – or care - what he’d said to the girls. But a lifeguard had overheard the children and confronted the boy. The boy repeated his statement defiantly, not seeming to be aware that there was anything wrong with it.
The girls’ grandmother, who’d brought them to the pool that day, brought them home. The event took place two years ago, but Emily still remembers how it felt.
“I was old enough to know that’s not really nice,” she says now. “I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I thought he was just going to keep saying rude things, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Emily and her sister, who are not Chinese but Korean, went to the same elementary school as the boy. He never apologized.
Anti-Asian racism – and violence – is on the rise in this country, and New Castle is not immune. The words that came out of the young boy were something he likely learned from the adults in his life.
Stop AAPI Hate, a West-Coast based collective founded last spring, reported that since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 3000 hate incidents nationwide have been aimed at Asian Americans. Law enforcement agencies in big cities have also documented an increase. The NYPD reported that Anti-Asian hate crimes jumped a staggering 1,900% in New York City in 2020. High-profile attacks towards elderly Asian-Americans being assaulted in the streets have made the news.
But many others hate crimes go unreported. Nor do the statistics include the micro-aggressions, the “Go Back Where You Came From!” shouts, and other anti-Asian behavior that has proliferated over the last year.
Robert Chao, a 30-year resident of Chappaqua and a CRE member, has been active in Asian-American Civil rights and social justice for decades. Chapter VP of Advocacy for OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates (formerly known as Organization of Chinese Americans), he is well connected with local activism.
Like many involved with social justice, Chao attribute last year’s uptick to former President Trump’s constant referrals to COVID-19 as “the China virus” or “Kung Flu.” But even when Chao’s sitting at the CRE table at the Chappaqua Farmer’s Market, ostensibly friendly visitors betray their stereotypes.
“I have a conversation with someone interested in Black Lives Matter, and then they say, ‘Well your kids [meaning Asian kids] are smart,’” Chao said.
Asian Americans often contend with the “model minority” myth - the idea that the group is seen to be universally successful across academic and economic domains. This misconception is damaging on multiple levels. First, it’s often used by white people to contrast those perceived achievements to other racial groups, playing one disadvantaged group against another. It’s also inaccurate.
More than 12% of Asian-Americans live below the federal poverty line. Further, Asian Americans have a larger income gap (the difference between the top 10% of earners and the lowest 10%) than any racial group.
For those Asians who do excel academically or economically, that success doesn’t always to leadership positions, due to biases that continue to persist today. Nor does it necessarily lead to social inclusion.
The term “Asian American” covers a diverse group, representing multiple cultures. It includes people who are recent immigrants to families that have lived in this country for generations. The issues facing, say, a Cambodian woman in a menial job are far different than those of a Japanese businessman.
Yet when it comes to anti-Asian racism, it’s a one-size-fits-all hate problem.
This week, Westchester County Executive George Latimer made the spike in anti-Asian racism the cornerstone of his coronavirus briefing. He said the county would not tolerate prejudice against any group of Americans. The County’s Human Right’s Commission has established an on-line reporting tool where hate crimes maybe reported anonymously.
“Please don’t minimize hate or assume it is somewhere far away,” said TeJash Sanchala, Executive Director of the Commission. “It is happening close to you. If you see it on the street, say something. If you hear it at work, say something. If you hear it in your family, say something. Stand up for your fellow Americans.” He added that with hate crimes, rhetoric can escalate into violence.
Bob Chao also spoke, noting that “attacking your neighbor is not acceptable.” and cautioning that the community needs to stay vigilant.
And Emily, now 10, puts it in simple terms: “You don’t have to judge people by what they look like, and you can’t just make assumptions,” she said. “You have to get to know them.”
*Emily’s name was changed to protect her privacy.
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