By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Now that we’ve discussed some of the factors that influence anti-blackness in Asian communities, our next step is tackling these problems through some different solutions. We’ve just brainstormed a couple, so we urge you to continue this process on your own.
The Power of Conversation and Activism:
The first step you can take is starting a conversation. It may not sound as flashy as other things, but when it comes to internalized racism, this is an important part to any meaningful change. Activism of other kinds is obviously good, but there also need to be specific conversations that engage with how anti-blackness exists, and persists, in our communities. These conversations are often hard to have – for all the reasons illustrated above – and are especially difficult with family members. But we cannot stress how important it is to initiate them. Consider these strategies: Start small. If a family member is lamenting police brutality and the criminal justice system, agree with the person and offer more information. When approaching the conversation, start with breaking down the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement. This means carefully explaining it in terms and ways which they would understand--something one of our interns tried. The approach can also be beneficial for the conversation to develop since it allows everyone to clarify any misconceptions the other party has. Educate. Bring up statistics about rates of police shootings and incarceration (make sure you get your information from trustworthy sources.) This information can often become a springboard for future conversations that continue to problematize anti-blackness. Challenge assumptions by offering different opinions. Maybe a passing comment is made about looting being bad. This can become an opportunity to voice your own views. Maybe you can qualify the initial comment by agreeing that looting in a vacuum is bad, but it becomes an alternative action when peaceful forms of protest are being dismissed. Emphasize that a lot of the wanton destruction hasn’t been perpetrated by protestors, but by opportunists. Use history as your ally. Reference how peaceful demonstrations haven’t always worked and bouts of violence have often led to legislative reform. One of us connected it back to Indian history and independence to prove the point to our parents. Mahatma Gandhi is known to be a champion of non-violence, but history often ignores the concurrent violence of Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, and others that also put pressure on the British to leave India. Finally, start picking holes at specific anti-black tropes Asians have internalized. This can be anything from the Model Minority Myth to racial hierarchies. Call them out for what they are – racism – and disprove them.
These are all different ways you can spark meaningful conversations in your own families. Obviously, you don’t have to go around convincing every relative. But there can be real change that you create in your inner circle of family and family friends. Overall, we would recommend not jumping into the deep end. Another one of our interns wasn’t as successful when discussing with their parents. While conversations were initially productive, they ultimately stalled on topics such as the validity of protests and violence as an impetus for change. Still, it was important to begin these discussions and start breaking down our assumptions. The process of reversing internalized racism is a long one, and we have to start slowly and pick up the pace as we go along. There are tiny things you all can do that will eventually culminate in longer and impactful conversations.
This grassroots-type work can also translate to your larger community. The goal of these protests isn’t to be a one-time thing that we all forget about when the immediate furor subsides: it is to create lasting change. Work with Black-led organizations to spread awareness and help the material situations of people in need. As Asians, we can set up networks with our own social justice organizations and connect them with Black ones. This community building is just as important as interpersonal conversations.
Another conversation to have in your community is addressing the anti-black language around you. Racism is not only perpetuated by racial acts but also by our words. One such example is the use of the N-word. For people who grew up listening to songs by many Black artists, hearing the N-word (or its derivatives) has become customary. We encourage you to examine and understand this term, originally used to dehumanize black bodies, reclaimed for empowerment by African-Americans and co-opted or used to disempower by others. Another phrase commonly used to justify racial slurs is “I have Black friends” or “my Black friends gave me the permission to say it.” Just because one Black friend says it's okay doesn’t mean that other Black people are okay with non-Black people using it. When you come across a person using racial slurs – casually or as an insult – we urge you to call them out. For many of us, confronting people about racism may seem like a difficult conversation because you “don’t want to make everything about race” or they are family members whom you want to enlighten, but by calling them out, you can make your stance clear over how you feel about anti-blackness in the Asian community. Along with that, it allows people around to become educated and sparks conversations on anti-blackness. Another way to call out the use of racial slurs is to be a supportive bystander by amplifying the voice of the person doing the calling-out; your action is likely to create allyship with people you didn't even know shared your philosophies.
Lastly, an important component to remember is that we should not homogenize experiences as people of color with the experiences of African Americans. A part of dismantling anti-blackness is knowing that the histories of oppressions differ, and lumping them together undermines the disparate experiences of violence targeted at Black and Brown bodies. In addition to educating yourselves on racism, oppression and privilege, continue conversations in your family and community and become an activist through social media, news articles, meetings with your school officials and local leaders, and joining anti-racism movements. Throughout history, it is evident that intentional activism can bring about major changes. Think about the Boston Tea Party, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights movement. They all promoted solidarity by bringing together both people who were affected and those not affected.
Thus, there are a plethora of ways for us to take a stand against anti-blackness in Asian communities. At a time when the world seems to be in chaos, including faced by a pandemic onslaught, in reality, there are ample opportunities for us to make changes. Stand up for what is right. The road to deconstructing these stereotypes and stigmas is a long one, but if we acknowledge our privileges and work to better our communities, progress is a sure thing.
By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Preface: The following blog is a representation of our own understanding, as Asian American students in Iowa, of Asian involvement in the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter Movement. The views and opinions expressed in this blog by no means capture those of all Asian-Americans. Moreover, we do not intend to discount the amazing work of Asian American activists who are making a difference. Rather, we hope to educate those who have chosen so far to remain indifferent and silent.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died shortly after being violently pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer. His death sent shockwaves throughout the nation, inspiring communities globally to speak, rally, and protest against the violence Floyd and the Black community have faced. Eventually, we came to learn that Tou Thao, an Asian American police officer, remained a bystander to his fellow officer’s brutal treatment towards Floyd. For many, this discovery came as a shock, a surprise that one of our own had allowed such an atrocity to take place. Although Asian American’s being involved with police violence is certainly not new, Peter Liang and Akai Gurley come to mind, the graphic nature of Floyd’s recorded death brought back this issue to the fore.
After reexamining our own communities, we believe that Thao’s decision to remain a bystander is almost symbolic of the apathy many Asian Americans feel towards the Black Lives Matter movement. In the days following Floyd’s death, civil uprisings took place all across the country. It seemed as if everyone had something to add to the growing conversation against racial injustice. Yet, in our lives, there was a disproportionately smaller Asian presence in these conversations, especially among adults. This realization led us to reexamine our own communities in hopes of understanding why many Asian members simply don’t engage in similar movements.
For many, the very premise of the Black Lives Matter Movement is antithetical to the beliefs of some first-generation Asian-Americans adopted when immigrating to the United States. (Later, we’ll see how this is an incomplete reading of history.) They came to the United States, not with power or money, but with ideals of hard work and self-reliance. Many Asian immigrants, especially refugees who were overcoming great hardship themselves, became proud of their successes in their new homeland. Seeing their own accomplishments, they believed other minorities could do the same. However, these first-generation immigrants failed to realize the difference between the institutional challenges Asian-Americans faced and the ones African-Americans faced. Even with nothing, Asian-Americans didn’t need to fear being gunned down by police officers for an incident where a white person might only receive a ticket. They didn’t fear being viewed as criminal for nothing more than the color of their skin. Moreover, these immigrants were reaping the benefits of more than a century’s work by African-Americans fighting systemic racism in the United States. By universalizing their own success stories against the failures of others, Asian-Americans were co-opting the work of their predecessors against them. By internalizing the Model Minority Myth, they were re-entrenching societal stereotypes on both sides and pitting minorities against one another. An important consideration when discussing the Model Minority Myth is the existence of whiteness. As Asian-Americans learned to persevere and achieve, they were learning to exist within the system. A well-paying job, a nice neighborhood, and a good school district – each a key component to the “American Dream.” Striving towards the American Dream became a means of securing Asian-Americans securities and benefits guaranteed by whiteness.
A key piece of history often overlooked when analyzing anti-blackness in Asian communities is the lived experience of colonization – and of transgenerational trauma from this colonization. There are a lot of obvious things we take away from colonization: it’s bad, it created economies that benefited the colonizers and their local sympathizers, subjugated colonized bodies, etc. But what often gets ignored are the more insidious effects of the colonizer carving out racial hierarchies to entrench colonialism and imperialism. In both overt and covert ways, colonization replicates anti-black logic. Take India, for example. For decades it has promoted the use of skin-lightening creams, such as a product called Fair and Lovely. As the name suggests, there is a strong positive association with lighter skin. Although it obviously can’t be proved, there is a likelihood this colorism stems from trying to be like the Western colonizers of India. (There is a historiographic debate about whether this has existed before Western colonization, but that’s something you’ll have to research on your own time.) In trying to be as close to the Westerner, colonized people often distance themselves from other oppressed groups – characterizing them as of a lower station. A similar construct inherited from colonization is an obsession with “correct” English (just like the British) – which is in direct tension with something like ebonics. There are numerous other examples, and while we can’t just pin all of our internalized racism on colonization – accountability is key – keeping our history in mind is crucial.
Speaking of history, inside the United States, there’s a lot more to look at. A great example are the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Sparked by the brutal beating of Rodney King, thousands of people took to the streets and mass rioting ensued – the most of which occurred in Koreatown where a black teenager was shot by a Korean store owner 13 days after the beating. Tons of small businesses were looted and destroyed, deeply hurting the relationship between African and Korean Americans. Fast forward to modern riots, and some Korean-Americans continue to reference them as a justification for protests being bad (even if they have a greater goal). Another relevant phenomenon is affirmative action. Asian Americans often disagree with the policy (we, at Monsoon, support affirmative action – a topic for discussion at another time) and use it as an excuse to justify oppressive comments and actions. All of this came to a boil a few days after Floyd’s death in a set of screenshots from New York University where an Asian-American fraternity accused African-Americans of not ever doing anything for “us.” There was a lot more said, but the frat members showcased an aspect of anti-blackness often on display in Asian communities: a view where Asians are “oppressed” because of policies such as affirmative action and African-Americans do nothing for Asian rights, tearing them down instead. However, this one-sided view of history is simply incorrect and ignores the various ways the Black community has supported Asians. For example, the Civil Rights movement, and resulting Civil Rights Act, paved the way for Asian immigration through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that repealed racist quotas. In fact, a lot of the rights that Asian-Americans enjoy today can be traced back to Black-led movements. Claiming another minority community has not done anything for “us” is ignorant and oppressive.
By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Hi everyone! Hope you all are doing well. This week we’re transitioning away from our personal lives and toward issues regarding COVID-19 in our own communities. Something we’ve started seeing in the news recently are protestors who are demanding to be let back into the workplace. These people want to go back to their jobs and are all over the United States. A couple of weeks ago, in Michigan, constituents marched into the state Capitol to protest the governor extending emergency powers. Signs compared the government to Hitler, repeatedly professed the freedom each American deserved, and were supplemented by a healthy array of MAGA apparel. Some of the protestors were even armed--all in an attempt to intimidate lawmakers into re-opening up the state. The people at the Capitol had a variety of motivations: some feared for their job safety and others believed the shutdown, and consequent recession, to be a liberal ploy to dethrone Donald Trump. Regardless of motivation, the storming of the Capitol--militia style--with armed protestors and breaking of social distancing is unacceptable behavior.
In an attempt to advance their agenda, these protesters have also been using symbols and languages from other movements to hijack those same movements. Often, the language and symbols used in these protests are in conflict with those who are fighting in other movements such as the right to reproductive freedom. A woman in Texas reportedly held up a sign saying, “My Body, My Choice,” the same phrase used to protest for abortion rights. However, the symbol depicted a crossed-out face mask. People who are against stay at home orders use this strategy as a moment to show that it is somehow hypocritical to support people’s right to choose to have a medical procedure and the requirements they have to follow to protect public health like wearing a mask during a pandemic. Not only does it display dishonest propaganda, but it also jeopardizes the movement. Despite the viral picture, this was not the first time that protesters have been using this tactic. Along with that, the right-wing media have also continuously used this strategy to weaponize disinformation. Not only are these protestors against stay at home orders associated with the freedom to work during such times, but most of them are also part of other right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys, conservative armed militia groups, anti-vaccination groups, and other elements of the radical right. Their use of these phrases exhibits a wrong analogy through comparing public health measures to individual choice and misguides what the movement actually stands for.
Moreover, minority groups are the most affected by these right-wing protests. These endeavors often characterize individuals with economic concerns as undemocratic or careless about COVID-19, when in reality, COVID related job loss is a serious issue--one that unfortunately affects API communities and women the most. The US Labor Department recently reported that of the 700,000 workers laid off in March, almost 60 percent of those were women. Similarly, Latinos and Asian Americans saw the greatest increases in unemployment rates, more than twice the increase of white Americans. In New York City alone, Asian-Americans saw a 6900% increase in unemployment--by far the largest increase experienced by any one racial or ethnic group.These statistics reflect both rising xenophobia and the high concentrations of women and API workers in the most targeted industries, such as food services, hotel, and retail stores. When groups perform demonstrations such as the march on Michigan’s Capitol, they not only ignore that those most affected are actually immigrant and minority communities, but also distract us from the fact that actual solutions are still needed.
By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Hi everyone! We hope you all are still doing well and remaining safe. For our next installment of Reflections from home, we’re planning on discussing what we’ve been doing in our house during this quarantine period. Comment below and share your experiences as well! Enjoy!
How long has it been since we started social distancing? I have completely lost track of time. In the last few weeks, we were informed by our school district that school will be closed for the rest of the year. As upsetting as that may be for many of us, I had to find things to do as a means to keep myself busy. In the beginning, like most people who have been quarantined, quarantine had turned me into a *chef*. (Please take note that the asterisk signs are there to emphasize sarcasm.) I started making food that I missed the most. Some of which included, Curry Puffs, Swiss Rolls, and Eclairs. Despite my sudden interest in baking everything, I had to experiment and find ways to use the ingredients to the fullest in order to preserve the amount of food that we have. Other than filling my stomach with unhealthy food, I have also been exercising--taking walks, jump roping, and going for runs. Going on walks in my neighborhood during these past few weeks allowed me to observe the change in season. As we go from winter to spring, leaves and flowers start to emerge, and animals start to come out of their habitats.
Another new thing that I decided to try was playing video games. Yes, it probably sounds stupid and maybe even a little funny, but before quarantine I was never really into video games. It was either unengaging or too time-consuming for me. Then my sister decided to purchase a Nintendo Switch along with the video game called, “The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild.” I have been playing it for about a week now and it seems like it will be consuming more of my time in the future.
Hello again. It is week four (maybe 5?) Time has sort of started to blur together as our quarantine stretches indefinitely. School is fully cancelled now--and graduation has been postponed--so there isn’t really a light at the end of the tunnel. That being said, I’ve been figuring out a couple of productive ways to use my free time.
First and foremost is spending time outside and working out. I’m really grateful that the quarantine period, barring the one weekend where it snowed, has been full of good weather. It’s allowed me to go for runs, play basketball with my sister, and, just generally, enjoy the outdoors. I’ve also been spending some time exercising downstairs and doing random youtube workouts. They’ve kept me physically engaged, and, without any unhealthy food from outside my house to eat, I think I’ve gotten a lot leaner during this break period.
Getting physically active has been relatively easy, but intellectual stimulation has been hard to come by. Some of my class, due to their college/dual-enrollment nature, have been giving me daily assignments, but the vast majority aren’t allowed to give me work. I’m also only taking 1-2 AP exams because I can’t get credit for the majority of my classes. As a result, I haven’t been doing much studying. Instead, I started out getting pretty involved with creative writing and entering into some contests-and later getting published! That was definitely a fun experience and motivated me to keep writing and experimenting with a creative side of myself that I probably didn’t tap into much during high school. Finally, my high school debate experience culminated in an online version of the Tournament of Champions this past week. Although the best part of the tournament couldn’t be replicated, hanging out with my team and seeing friends in person, it was nice to get a semblance of closure from an activity I’ve been involved in for the past seven years. So at least, in that sense, I was pretty busy these last couple of weeks. Since then, however, there’s been a lot of Netflix binge-watching and video games with my friends!
What haven’t I done since quarantine began? Don’t get me wrong, this is in no way me boasting to be some sort of productive genius. In fact, I’ve pretty much become the exact opposite. During the first few weeks of quarantine, I lived freely (or more freely). With no responsibilities or assignments, I was free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. However, when things began to normalize—or as much as can be expected in quarantine—I was in desperate need of structure. I needed to re-organize my life. By sleeping less sporadically, picking up a planner, and instituting personal deadlines, I began making the time to not only complete my responsibilities, but also pick up a few new skills along the way.
I’ve enjoyed learning to cook. With my parents often stuck in arduous business calls through the late afternoon, I’ve had to freshen up on my culinary skills to survive. Simple things like pasta and soups made up my repertoire, until I discovered the plethora of instructional videos on Youtube and Instagram Live. Traditional recipes on google always overwhelmed me, but these tutorials allow me to cook step by step with the likes of Gordon Ramsey and milktpapi, completely elevating my game. I try to memorize a dish per week, usually consisting of cuisines outside my own culture, which sometimes means Mexican, Italian, or even American.
I’ve also made staying active a priority. With all these extra calories, I couldn’t let my body sit around all day. When COVID-19 first spread to Iowa, my brother and I quickly purchased some free-weights and constructed our personal gym—a good decision with most weights now sold out online. It’s given me something to look forward to each day—not the body-numbing routines, but the weekly progression and growth.
And lastly, I’ve been consumed with preparing for college. All the things I postponed until getting into college are finally at my doorstep. That means learning about housing systems, doing research for clubs, and navigating through dense curriculum overviews. With high school officially over, I couldn’t be more excited for college. Hopefully, COVID-19 won’t infect that as well.
By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Hi everyone! We hope you all are still doing well and remaining safe. For week three, we’re going to tackle the issue of racism and xenophobia. As COVID-19 worsens, it’s important to keep track of both its medical and societal impacts. As a part of the API community, we thought we’d discuss some of what we’ve experienced throughout the last couple of weeks. Remember to stand up for what’s right and make sure to defend each other. Enjoy!
It’s week three. What used to be thought of as an aberration—sleeping in, not going to school, being confined in my house—has become my new normal. And although I can only handle so much boredom, life continues to go on. However, there is one thing over the last few weeks that, without fail, has always caught my attention in the midst of this monotonous routine: racism against API individuals.
Sure, I’d seen documentation of it everywhere on social media: people posting racist things Chinese immigrants, Trump calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”, and the spike in hate crimes in the last month. It’s one thing to see it on social media, but it’s another thing to see it unfold in person.
A couple of weeks ago, I was just going through a normal quarantine induced night. Out of the blue, my friend texted in a group chat a couple of screenshots. It was a comment section of an instagram post. The post itself was innocuous enough—I myself had liked it—with a picture saying something along the lines of “what me and x want to say to Corona” and featuring two individuals flipping off the virus. Sure, not the most tasteful, but nothing overtly racist. What I’d missed were the comments saying “F**k China” and “bat soup eating f**ks.” I was stunned. These were people who hung out with the most popular crowd in our school. I couldn’t believe that I’d shared classes with people who harbored such exclusionary beliefs. On some level, it was a jarring reminder of the type of society and system we live in. But there are ways to change these incorrect sentiments.
My friend posted the screenshots on his story—a public call out. Soon after, someone else responded to the racist comments on the post, labeling them ignorant and problematic. It racked up 30+ likes in less than an hour—momentum was on our side. The response? “I bet you eat bats.” Although that comment got deleted pretty quickly—after the individual in question decided to use their brain for a change—it showed what we were up against. So, I messaged the original poster and told them that they needed to reprimand their “friends.” They quickly agreed and apologized for leaving them up on the feed. The comments got taken down, a serious conversation was had, and, hopefully, lessons were learned. I think this story illustrates how local these issues of xenophobia and racism can be. We may just see it in the news, but we need to actively be on the lookout for ignorance to defend our community.
Remember when the Korean film, “Parasite,” won an Oscar and APIs and non-APIs were all celebrating together since it was the first Asian film to win an Oscar? That was February. Fast forward a month later and APIs all over the world are being discriminated against for “causing the virus.” Racial slurs, like “kung flu” and “go back to China,” are being thrown around and anti-Asian hate crimes have also skyrocketed. Valerie Chow, a television producer, reported that a homeless man yelled at her to “go back to China” while chasing her down the street. In Australia, a teen spat and threatened an Asian woman with a knife while in London, a Singaporean student was attacked. It is evident that Asians all over the world are being discriminated against. However, these are only a few incidents which are being reported. Like so many others, most of them have yet to report it. As a teen, I scroll through my social media feed and the news to find that there is always a new article about xenophobia and hate crimes towards Asians. It is so disheartening and enraging that despite living in progressive times, it is easy to racially blame a group of people due to the fear of the unknown. This has definitely made me self conscious while going out to get groceries. In difficult and fearful times, it is so easy for people to fall into ignorance and blame a group of people without educating oneself about the situation. And, it does not make it any better when people placed in power decide to join in with the hateful comments.
It’s now week three of social distancing, and I honestly can’t remember what “normal life” was like. Going to the movies, eating out, playing basketball with my friends—all some distant reality. COVID-19 has redefined our way of life, but for API communities, it’s become even worse than the life-threatening virus it already was. It’s now transformed into a vehicle for xenophobia and hate. As the weeks have progressed, the conversation has only become worse and worse. I expected things to normalize by now, but they haven’t. The United States has officially become the new epicenter for COVID-19, so why is it still the “Chinese coronavirus?” It’s geographic origins shouldn’t transcend the reality that COVID-19 makes no exceptions for race, ethnicity, or gender. It’s decimated countries all around the globe, from Asia to Europe to now the US. The fact that it’s still carrying a descriptor after all these weeks reveals the underlying sentiment of hate. From everyday encounters on public transportation to digital forums which have seen almost a 200% increase in anti-Asian traffic, the conversation has transitioned from xenophobia to straight up racism and hate speech. Rebecca Wen. Devin Cabanilla. Amy Jiravisitcul. These are only a handful of names in a sea of examples. People need to understand the severity of their comments and actions. Covering your face when an Asian person boards a bus or joking with your friends about Chinese people being sick normalizes hate against Asian people. President Trump’s offhanded comments about the “Chinese coronavirus” or “Wuhan flu” tells society this type of language is acceptable. This week I wanted to continue the conversation on xenophobia, because amidst the growing pandemic, it’s important for us to stay vigilant in the fight against racism—now more than ever. Everyone, please be mindful.
By Animesh Joshi, Connor Liu, and Ondrea Li
Hi everyone! We hope you are all doing well and remain safe. For week two, we’ve decided to focus on a very important issue--social distancing. Through this post, we’re going to be outlining some of our feelings and experiences with the phenomenon. And, above all else, make sure you’re following CDC guidelines and practicing social distancing. It isn’t just about us, it’s about everyone around us. Enjoy!
Its week 2 of #socialdistancing. This means that I still can’t see my friends or go to public places that would potentially be “too crowded,” Social distancing has without a doubt changed people’s lives. With the growing fear and paranoia of catching the virus, hygiene has certainly heightened in my family. For example, my family would prefer not to do grocery shopping but instead do online shopping pick-ups at stores. While it is important for everyone to practice social distancing, staying connected or reaching out to friends during this time is vital as well. Instead of meeting friends face to face, most people have transitioned to using software and apps like Zoom or House Party to stay connected with their friends. Social media also feels more active now, especially since people have the time to post more things. Another thing that is overlooked by so many people is staying fit. While staying indoors may be helpful in maintaining distance with other people, it is not an excuse to stay physically inactive. With the extra time that I have, my sister and I go running in the early mornings when most people are asleep. Despite all the things that I do to stay occupied, I am still engulfed in boredom. Therefore, I decided to pick up several new things to learn and do such as baking. In the last week, I learned how to make a super unhealthy but delicious snack called, “curry puffs,” and I also learned how to make a trending coffee called, “Whipped Dalgona Coffee.” With that, it led me to do something that I would have never thought that I would never do--download TikTok. And the next moment I knew, I was making TikTok food videos.
Hi again. It’s week two. Life is still pretty boring, but I’m making do with what I have. Social distancing has not been the most fun experience in the world. I miss seeing my friends, teachers, and others. I also just miss going out to places, not needing to maintain a 6 foot distance when interacting with my neighbors, and, as previously discussed, attending school. That being said, social media is right--we need to practice social distancing.
Just a little bit of reading reveals this to be pretty obviously true. Since COVID-19 spreads so rapidly from person to person, and we can’t always see symptoms for around 14 days, minimizing contact with other people lessens the chance of more infections. Even though it seems like it’s not deadly for us, the amount of people it can spread to--esepcially older populations--makes isolation, quarantine, and “social distancing” super important. It’s scary to see how many people aren’t abiding by these rules. But still, scientists have recommended social distancing to “flatten the curve.” Flattening the curve entails reducing the exponential rate of increase in infections so that there are less deaths and we don’t overwork hospitals. Research indicates that COVID-19 spreads rapidly across populations through personal interactions and air particles. Here’s an example. A person with COVID-19 sneezes into their hand. They meet you for a business meeting and shake hands. Later, you put that same hand onto food you’re going to eat--without washing or disinfecting. It’s possible you’ve now become infected. As we can see, the nature of getting infected is super hard to avoid when we’re all out and about. Don’t go outside to hang with your friends--it’s unsafe not only for you and those around you but, also, anyone you interact with. It may not be ideal, but for everyone’s sake, we need to practice social distancing.
Similar to many families, COVID-19 has seriously altered my Spring Break plans. With the United States likely becoming the new epicenter for the virus, traveling in any sense just seems far too dangerous for all parties involved. We’re now seeing the full effects of COVID-19 in New York. As a result, my family sees no other choice than to practice social distancing, bunker down for the coming weeks, and definitely not travel. We cancelled our family vacation to Arizona, a ski trip to the Rockies, and will likely also need to cancel our summertime trip to the East Coast. It’s all up in the air right now with things only getting worse. Who knows how long social distancing will need to take place, especially when so many people seem indignant in defying WHO recommended guidelines. It really irritates me to see those infamous pictures of packed Miami shorelines or normally operating night clubs. It seems impossible, but thousands (even millions) of Americans are selfishly blind to a growing pandemic—as if they were somehow immune to its viral effects. While COVID-19 mostly affects the older generation, those with pre-existing upper-respiratory infections, and employees who’s pay has since been reduced or cut altogether, the truth is COVID-19 affects us all and our very way of life. We’re now seeing the consequences of millions not engaging in social distancing and continuing their Spring Break plans. While a single decision to go to the Bahamas might not have contributed to its spread, the nature of the virus means we never really know. Moreover, it’s the cumulation of these individual decisions that’s problematic--it’s no surprise Florida has become one of the fastest growing hotspots for COVID-19. Social distancing works. I know it might be painfully boring, but if we want to flatten the curve and our lives to return to normal, we really have no other choice.
By Animesh Joshi, Connor Liu, and Ondrea Li
Hi everyone! This last month has been challenging for everyone due to the spread of COVID-19. This disease is very dangerous, and we urge everyone to practice social distancing and abide by the CDC’s guidelines. The upcoming weeks are also going to be quite crucial, so we, as members of Monsoon’s Violence Prevention Team, are going to be doing something different when it comes to blog content. Since a lot of you are at home, we thought we’d write about our own experiences away from the rest of the world. Connor, Ondrea, and I (Animesh), will author a short segment each week describing how we are feeling about a certain topic in relation to the Coronavirus. The aim of our, now weekly, blogs is to shed light on how we’re feeling and let you all know that we’re going through a lot of the same things. This week we’re going to unpack some of our thoughts about school--and all of the baggage that comes with it. We hope you enjoy it!
COVID-19 is spreading, school is closed for 4 weeks, grocery stores are emptying, the government is now enforcing social distancing, events are cancelled, and oh did I already mention that the virus is STILL spreading? Those were some of the things that occurred last week. A week before spring break, I would not have imagined it to come to this stage. On contrary to the typical response towards school being closed for 4 weeks of an ecstatic and an overjoyed reaction, I was dreaded. While I waved goodbye to my friends at school, I thought that it would be just a good few days before I see them again but instead, the virus soon appeared in Iowa and the next thing I knew, I was not going to be seeing my friends for a whole month. Along with the closure of school, I also received news that my exchange friends are being sent back to their respective countries. I miss being with the company and enjoyment of my friends and I cannot wait for the moment school reopens. With the advice to practice social distancing, I have stayed home this whole time. Sometimes staying home and doing nothing can be a good break, but only for a short while because soon after, it feels lethargic. And although this isn't my last year in high school, I sympathize with the seniors for the cancellation of school meant that the musical, prom, commencement, and several other activities that typically make up the final moments of high school have gone down the drain. Regardless of all the cancellation of events, I am thankful for the resources that I have and are available for me during this period of time.
I am bored. Like, really bored. I never thought I could imagine myself missing school, but I’m technically still on break and missing school already. Yes, breaks are good, but, after a while, doing nothing gets repetitive. Normally, I’d go out, hang with friends, etc. but because of COVID-19, all of that has functionally stopped. There’s also just a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next. Our school has cancelled for three weeks after spring break. So until mid-April, we’re for sure staying at home. But is that really when it’ll end? By most projections, the disease will keep spreading. A lot of colleges have cancelled schooling until the end of the semester. There are now talks it could extend even further. Nobody is really sure when this will all be over--it appears like we may have to adjust to this being our new normal for a while.
School cancellation would normally elicit cheers from everyone. But now, with nothing else to do, school seems like so much fun. Spare time--all of my time--becomes an opportunity for reflection, which can be both good and bad. Too often, I’ll spend an hour reading different articles about COVID-19 and then just plan out potential scenarios in my head. And with college decisions coming out this past week, and more coming out this week, my mind is continuing to reflect. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of this “break” being stressed about random stuff--there’s just nothing else for me to preoccupy myself with.
This theme of uncertainty shifts is ever present in school life as well. Teachers have been vague, at best, about what we should be doing over this extended break. Random messages and optional assignments are popping up on Canvas, our online classroom hub, but they can't actually require us to do anything. Our district isn't ready to shift to online learning, so we're functionally losing 3 weeks of our school year. Our senior year is certainly going to be different. 2020!
It’s officially week two of quarantine, and “no school” has officially lost its allure. It’s hard to imagine school cancellation being anything but bliss, but COVID-19 has managed to mutate even the most sacred of student treasures. At West Des Moines Valley, we’re unsure when we’ll be coming back to school. This being my senior year, the COVID cancellation especially sucks. Sure, I would have loved a couple snow days here and there, but mass blocking out the last few months I’d be spending with my closest friends is definitely a bittersweet ending to the last twelve years. We’ve extended Spring Break for at least three more weeks, but with community spread becoming increasingly prevalent, I’m unsure if we’ll be coming back at all. Who knows what summer is going to look like. Who knows what my first semester at college will look like. With things only looking worse and worse, it feels like the . the ending of my high school career is slipping away. Prom, activity banquets, seniors come home day, graduation & commencement etc., all integral components of the senior year experience that might not happen for me. And I’m sure a lot of other seniors in our community, and elsewhere, probably feel the same way. Our school troubles by no means compare to people losing their jobs, loved ones, and even their lives, but the prospect of losing our senior year just seems like the biggest joke. They always said graduating 2020 was going to be special--I guess it really is.
By Connor Liu and Animesh Joshi
This February, we saw Parasite earn a record four Academy Awards at the 2020 Oscars, including Best Picture, Directing, International Feature Film, and Writing. Director Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece marked a pivotal moment in Asian representation in Hollywood and the Western film industry, with Parasite becoming both the first South Korean film to be nominated for International Feature Film and the first non-English language film to earn the award for Best Picture in Oscar history. After decades of media invisibility, Parasite’s moment in the spotlight truly carries the potential to change the narrative surrounding API culture in the film industry.
A History of API in the Film Industry
The traditionally poor representation of API culture in popular media was rooted in the Model Minority Myth, the stereotyped belief that all Asians were not only successful and working, but also timid and submissive. This generalization quickly characterized Asians as the exception--some otherized, unattainable minority group not representative of America at large. Thus, the story of the API individual paradoxically became both a valuable tool to pit minority groups against one another and devalued their presence as a force in Western media.
This becomes quite clear once one deep dives into media portrayal of API individuals. Parts meant for API community members often get taken by white actors. Scarlet Johansson’s 2017 role in Ghost in the Shell brought this issue to the fore via social media interactions. Johansson was chosen for a film--an adaptation of Japanese manga--playing the role of what should have been an Asian actress. Critics called it a whitewashing of the plot and a type of yellowface--replacing Asian actors with white ones in an effort to gain more popular appeal. But the tradition of yellowface certainly didn’t start with Johansson. White actors portraying Asians and/or Asian-Americans with exaggerated features, makeup, accents, etc. has been a staple in Hollywood since the 1900s. Well known actors like Marlon Brando and John Wayne have even participated. In fact, exotic/ “other” portrayals of Asians became invaluable for Hollywood in securing profits. Just look at Apu from the Simpsons--a brown cartoon voiced by a white man in the most stereotypical accent. Yet “Americans” find him hilarious and a core part of the show’s comedy.
Even after moving away from yellow/brownface, the roles Asian-Americans do manage to get generally reinforce the model minority myth: shy, smart Indian physics whiz; quiet, intelligent Chinese doctor; computer science prodigy. The list goes on and on. And when it’s not the myth, the roles aren’t too great either: Pakistani terrorist, kung fu master, exotic woman, etc. As a result, API individuals generally see themselves in singular roles that promote a singular image of themselves, not thinking of themselves as witty like Chandler, a player like Joey, or quirky like Phoebe. This image internalization often produces negative effects--with API’s thinking they only have a couple of options to choose from when it comes to the rest of their lives.
A Changing Narrative
However, thankfully, media representation has been shifting in the last couple of years. More and more shows highlight Asian-American and Pacific Islander actors in a variety of diverse roles. Whether it be Simu Liu’s entrance into the Marvel Universe or Crazy Rich Asians’s all Asian cast, the nature of representation has slowly started to change. Even outside of Hollywood, the political landscape is also changing. This year, three API candidates ran for the presidency: Andrew Yang, Kamala Harris, and Tulsi Gabbard. From this, it is clear, the representation surrounding Asian-American and Pacific Islanders is moving away from the model minority myth and other harmful stereotypes. Although Parasite definitely isn’t a culmination of this trend, it does represent a significant accomplishment. As a result, we thought we’d do a quick film analysis and touch on some of the more impactful themes.
Parasite: A Neo-Colonial Understanding
At first glance, Parasite is a story of bitter class-conflict. It tells the tale of the Kims, an impoverished family from Seoul’s semi-basement dwellings, who engineer a systematic takeover of the Parks’ luxurious way of life (and, of course, their hilltop real estate). Viewers are quick to feel sympathy for the Kim’s forsaken position, laugh at Park’s seeming ignorance (albeit well-intentioned), and recognize Bong Joon Ho’s critique of global capitalism. Most viewers fail to see beyond this--content with a story of the rich and the poor. However, by reexamining recurring motifs (i.e. the desirability of English proficiency, increasing militarization, appropriation of Indigenous culture), Bong’s allegory of class conflict quickly becomes an illuminating depiction of neocolonialism and imperialism--further contextualizing his original critique of capitalism.
Recognizing the United States’ historical imperialism of South Korea is key to understanding Bong’s numerous references to neo-colonial influences throughout the film. One evident manifestation is Bong’s characterization of English as a language of capital--a product of US colonization and a tool now used to control class within South Korea’s contemporary economy. Da-Song’s seeming fascination with indigeonous culture is another clear reference to colonization in America--a reminder of how foreign culture became a source of amusement. Even more, understanding the United States’s predominant role in the Korean War provides insight to the duality between the Kim’s underground semi-basement dwellings and the Park’s military bunker basement. These structures were built to similarly withstand a North Korean occupation; but, upon watching the nighttime deluge, viewers come to understand how the city redirects flooding to poorer neighborhoods, further compounding the overwhelming sense of neocolonial capitalism in the film.
Parasite’s historical moment in the spotlight was truly monumental for API representation in Western media. But, among all the Oscars and acclaim, we wanted to remind viewers of the depth to Bong’s ingenious film--a story rooted in neoclassicism and imperialism that transcends its traditional characterization as one of class conflict.
By Connor Liu and Animesh Joshi
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a time for youth nationwide to come together in an effort to raise awareness of teen dating violence or TDV. Too often, we fail to recognize both the gravity and frequency of TDV. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, approximately 1.4 million high school students in a relationship in the United States experience physical violence, and approximately one-third of all teens have experienced abuse of some kind. Teens who suffer from dating violence often struggle with its consequences for a lifetime and ultimately, are more prone to alcoholism, eating disorders, self-harm, and further violence. Despite its alarming effects, the CDC reports that only 19% of parents recognize TDV as a “serious issue,” indicating an even larger societal ignorance. In the face of this, it’s critical we bring these issues to light. This is why we wanted to reflect on TDV—its origins, what it is (and has become), and how we can all come together to try and solve the problem.
A History on Teen Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Although Dating Violence Awareness Month has existed nationwide since 1987, focus on teenagers has been a recent addition. During the 2005 VAWA reauthorization, the legislation specifically brought to attention teenage dating violence and potential abuse. The next year, Congress authorized the creation of a week to raise awareness for TDV and in 2010, the week became the month of February. Since then, February has been designated as a month for TDV awareness, work, and movements.
What is Teen Dating Violence?
There is no singular definition for TDV, but often, people only associate it with physical or sexual abuse. However, many different forms of dating violence exist, and so we’ve chosen to include some of the most common types for teenagers below:
A Deeper Dive into the Cyber World
In an increasingly cyber-oriented age, being cognizant of how technology can be manipulated in harmful ways is important to keep us safe; cyber safety is paramount. The advent of digital technology and later, social media has transformed our interpersonal interactions. Despite its positive uses, we must be aware of the internet’s darker side—especially when it comes to violence prevention. Teenagers are surrounded by their phones, computers, and social media accounts. And this opens up an avenue for dating violence and abuse to thrive online. As defined above, cyber abuse involves technology bringing physical or psychological harm to another. Studies have found there to be a correlational effect between cyber abuse and low self-esteem. Teenagers are either told they aren’t good enough or coerced into situations that cause extreme distress--destroying self-esteem in the process. And what is more troubling, is the ubiquity of cyber dating abuse in today’s world. One recent study from the Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center has found that over a quarter of youth in current relationships experience some form of dating violence through technology and were over seven times more likely to experience sexual coercion compared to peers’ who had not faced tech-based dating violence.
So in lieu of such sobering statistics, we must develop safer technologies. First, individuals must think before they take any action--sending photos, sharing information, texting--and reflect on if they would want other people to see it. This isn’t just “think before you send” but rather, asking for digital consent. Relationships can involve flirty texting, sexual pictures, etc. but individuals should always ask before assuming that their partner is comfortable with what is happening. Second, and more importantly, comprehensive education must occur starting at elementary school--preaching accountability and respect for others. Although there are a lot of uncertainties in the new technological realm, making sure we understand what is okay, and what isn’t, remains crucial to ensuring online safety.
What Can We Do?
What Can We Do?
If you’re interested in making a difference, there are numerous peer-led services created for and by teens/ young adults.
Ultimately, these types of solutions are key to any sustainable solution in ending teen dating violence. In an increasingly cyber-oriented age, being aware about teen violence across digital platforms is paramount. Teen Dating Violence Month is a time to address these concerns, and more; so, please bring awareness to your communities--it all starts with us!
By: Connor Liu and Animesh Joshi
In last month’s blog post, we decided to delve into Asian American and Pacific Islander gang culture. Although initially prompted by the vandalization of our community healing space, the more research we did, the more light was shed on information we hadn’t been exposed to previously. The struggles API youth face are shocking, and the violence they are exposed to as a result of gang culture often leads to consequences beyond physical violence as it’s typically associated with. Teenagers with impressionable minds often join gangs that work in crime-based circles, creating cycles of violence that revolve around money, drugs, and alcohol. And it’s this association that leads to unforeseen and harmful effects. The cycles of violence created by gang culture perpetuates underlying notions of patriarchy and socio-cultural conflict, leading many of the involved API youth to adopt and struggle with serious internal conflict.
So, if we know all of this to be true, the question then becomes why? Why do API youth join gangs and immerse themselves in its culture if they know of the consequences? In this post we will attempt to figure out the answer to just that, going through the various different factors that motivate API youth into joining a gang.
Why API Join
At its core, for many API youth, the experience of inclusion constitutes one of the main reasons to join a gang. Whether it be a family to interact with or a place to stay at, API teens seek something (tangible or intangible) from gang culture that they’ve been deprived of in the past. A common phenomenon—many immigrant parents feel pressured to work multiple jobs to simply make a living. But, in many of these households with “over-working” parents, children feel pushed to the margins, and ultimately feel forced to seek acceptance and familial ties elsewhere. Moreover, API youth who grow up witnessing their parents live paycheck to paycheck develop a great desire to build a better life for themselves. As a result, gangs become extremely attractive for API youth, as they provide both a source of family and financial security for them and their families.
Moreover, the desire for inclusion in a gang often times stems from a disconnect with the external society. This phenomenon is ever present in the immigrant experience, especially in teenagers who are stuck between the two hard walls of their parents’ culture and “American” expectations—resulting in a quasi-assimilation that leads to confusion on their true identity. This confusion, and resulting tension, is exponentially increased by negative stereotypes created by white society like the “model minority”. This myth portrays Asians as always being successful in the United States despite their minority status by emphasizing the community’s perseverance and natural intelligence. There are obvious flaws with this myth—its cherry picking of certain individuals, using inductive reasoning, and assuming some homogeneity for “Asians”—but it also creates expectations that most API youth can’t live up to. And when youth can’t live up to these high expectations, they are shunned by white society as not “real Asians”. Similar exclusion occurs in on both smaller and larger scales. Whether it involves being told your food smells weird, experiencing bullying due to an accent, or race-based conflict—API youth are often alienated in white-dominated spaces, prompting them to find someplace new. This someplace can be gangs, groups of individuals generally formed around shared identity that offer a familial setting for searching API youth. Thus, forms of exclusion from mainstream society become an incentive to join something which radically departs from everything—motivating API members to join gangs in an effort to find a place where they truly belong.
Masculinity, patriarchy, and violence
Additionally, the predominant expectation of masculinity in both API households and society writ large presents another underlying influence that draws youth towards gang culture. However, expectations of masculinity are often rooted in patriarchy, a system of maintaining male privilege by perpetuating forms of violence and oppression. These structures exist in many API communities—where cultural traditions are used to justify its maintenance—and work to ingrain the importance of values such as power and domination in API youth from an early age. But the internal effects are not isolated to patriarchy. API youth also struggle due to the differences between what traditional and Western culture expects of them. Often, Western culture depicts Asian youth as timid, obedient, smart, and hard-working while also portraying Pacific Islanders as a “warrior race.” These contradictions in cultural and societal expectations only push API youth to internalize and adopt traditional hyper-masculine beliefs has their own, and ultimately, feel pressured both internally and externally to join communities such as gangs to accumulate power and cultural status. symbols of masculinity power include weapons, violence, and a defiance of authority—all components of gang culture that can attract API youth.
Hope and an alternative
With such an apparent problem, the immediate question becomes, “How do I fix it?” or “How can we steer our youth away from this life?” Historically, community-based outreach events have been most successful at connecting with API youth and adults. Examples of successful outreach events include Long Beach’s Gang Reduction in California, where gang violence and trafficking has remained a serious plight to the local residents. While government policies and systematic programs are capable of creating change, they were largely ineffective—likely because they failed to address to root of the matter. Rather, community outreach events approached the problem from a grassroots perspective by reminding individuals who felt disconnected from their culture or family that their community was still there for them. Moreover, these events raise awareness of the potential consequences of joining a gang.
Ultimately, these types of solutions are key for any sustainable solution in ending gang membership and violence among API youth and communities. It’s one of the many reasons why our work here at Monsoon is so important! So, please bring awareness to your communities—it all starts with us!