Welcome to the AAPI Army
To be Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) in America is to feel erased, ignored, and invisible. It is a constant struggle to prove why our stories matter, being silenced by white America, ashamed by our own community, and doubting ourselves due to years of gaslighting. We find the tactics used by society mimic and mirror the ones used by our own communities.
When we attempt to speak against structural racism we are silenced by racist myths like the Model Minority. We are upheld in society as ¨basically white¨(1) which minimizes societal barriers and our struggles against daily racism yet ¨elevates¨ us beyond the brutality experienced by the Black and Indiginous communities…. at the price of our complicity. Simultaneously we are shamed and pressured by our own communities to hide familial abuse and present a positive public image for the sake of harmony.
To be AAPI in America, particularly for 1st and second generation, and those of us who are part AAPI, is to feel alone, isolated, and never good enough to fit in anywhere. Too white for AAPI. Too AAPI for Amricans. Rebel against the status quo and there are severe consequences. Both sides reflect each other's abusive tactics. And after lifetimes of being told our struggles do not matter, we doubt ourselves even as we advocate for change.
Despite Asian communities having the highest rates of income inequality, AAPIs are the explicit focus of articles on race and economic inequality less than 4 percent of the time (2,3,4). Despite America's long history of anti-AAPI sentiment with roots in historical events like Chinese Exclusion Act (the first anti-immigration law in US history) and Japanese Internment Camps, it's only in the last year and a global Pandemic for anti-asian racism to be acknowledged. Despite the murders of 6 Asian women from 3 different spas in a single shooting spree, the fetishizing of Asian women is still a popular marketing strategy for many companies.
Even before we even breach the topic of domestic violence against AAPI survivors, we encounter specific barriers that carry over to domestic violence: a lifetime of experiencing this, you will not be believed, pressure to put on a good public image, never feeling good enough to be recognized. Is it any wonder that according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, AAPI individuals have the lowest help-seeking rate of any racial/ethnic group? Is it any wonder it's reported 16- 55% of Asian women have experienced intimate partner violence (5).
16-55%: A range that tried to capture a population of people from 40 countries and 50 ethnic groups, people who have historically been othered, minimized, and silenced under the myth of our ¨American success story¨.
My own story of abuse is intrinsically tied to my race, to my culture. And how I was treated as I tried to navigate my trauma.
I know first how limited resources and validation exist for people like me. So myself and the team at The Emotional Abuse Discussion decided to change things.
From this desire, the need to fill this missing gap, came the AAPI Army. And our Toolkit.
The Toolkit is our way of changing the narrative. In a society where we are silenced and ignored, we listen and validate. We offer emotional support, speak to the feelings that survivors possess but have been told to bury. We give resources, tools, and validation for a population that rarely is given it.
The toolkit was built from AAPI survivors, AAPI authors and storytellers, for AAPI Survivors, and for anyone who wished to combat emotional abuse and domestic violence. It is not complete. It is a start. For example, we were not able to interview Pacific Islander survivors. We also have yet to translate the toolkit into every AAPI language possible. These are future goals. However, we feel this toolkit is a start. It is a tool we wish we had ourselves as AAPI survivors. We wish this toolkit would have been available to our AAPI and non AAPI allies who struggled to find the right ways to aid us.
This toolkit is what we ourselves wanted as survivors, and what we feel can help other survivors experiencing similar cycles of violence.
So with that, Welcome, Hello, 大家好. We have officially kicked off our AAPI Army Campaign for 2021! For the next 9 weeks we are bringing you survivor stories, research and analysis, concluding with our AAPI Army Survivor Toolkit. I am unbelievably proud and amazed by the team here at TEAD and the brave survivors who shared their experiences. The name of our campaign, AAPI Army is a tribute to us, survivors and allies, boldly advocating to break the cycle of violence and abuse in the AAPI communities, seeking to share the educational tools and bravely begin the discussions that we wish we had as survivors.
Each week is a new survivor story or a deep dive into emotional abuse and domestic violence in AAPI communities.
Historical Context in America
AAPI is defined as Asian American and Pacific Islander to encapsulate a population of 23 million Americans from 50 ethnic minorities from 40 different countries. Countries of Origin include what Americans typically think of as ¨Asia¨ including China, Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam, along with less ¨popular¨ countries including Loas, Myanmar, Bhutan, Indonesia, Micronesia, India, Iran, and more. (6, 7) The term was created In 1968 by Asian-American students in Berkeley, California, with the intent to unify efforts for political and social recognition. AAPI was meant to replace historically racist terminology such as ¨oriental¨ ...terms that are xenophobic and ¨othering¨
From the Page Law of 1875, the first anti immigration law in America which was directed at Chinese Immigrants, to the Japanese internment during WW1, to the colonization of Pacific Islands, America has a long history of racism targeting AAPI individuals and communities that still exist today. (8, 9)
A unique intersection of AAPI identity is the denial of this racism and the attempts by white supremacy to absorb certain AAPI subgroups into their ranks. The term "model minority" was invented in 1966, just 1 year after the 1965 Immigration Act that overturned decades of banning nearly all Asians from immigrating to America (10,11 12). Under this new law, only affluent Asians were allowed to immigrate.
The term was coined by sociologist William Petersen in an article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine: "Success story: Japanese American style." (11) This label corresponded with the rising African American Civil rights movement and served two purposes. To keep Asian Americans ¨in line¨ and to disparage the African American Community.
There are multiple consequences of this Model Minority Myth. Because it is a ¨positive¨ logo, many AAPI civilians internalized it or even responded with pride because of the hard working, bootstrapping mentality synonymous with the American dream. My family did. My immigrant mother told me ¨we are the model minority, so we have to work hard and be good, be smart, be successful ....¨. She would say ¨Asians don't experience racism… because we are the model minority.¨
Using the label of “Model Minority” lumps AAPI individuals into a monolith: successful, rich, etc. Along with mental health issues from AAPI civilians being held to this reductive and unrealistic standard, this label created barriers for resources. As an example, the communities with the highest rates of wealth inequality are Asian populations (3) . The material conditions of the average Bhutanese-American are very different from those of Japanese-Americans, for example. As another example, Cambodian-Americans, many whose families immigrated following the genodcide by the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, have a poverty of 19% vs 8% whites and 10% Asians (13)
The “model minority” myth is also weaponized as supposed evidence that AAPI citizens do not experience racism. Growing up, my peers joked that I was “basically white” despite experiencing racism on a routine basis. It wasn't until recently I understood how the Model Minority Myth was used to minimize my experiences and my story.
The creation of the Model Minority Myth and its upkeep created an invisible contract between Americans and AAPIs. The unspoken agreement is that if we work hard, keep our heads down, integrate, be grateful and don't make waves then we will not be treated with violence, brutality and othering (apart from orientalism like being asked “where are you REALLY from?” of course). America assigned us a ¨positive racial label¨ to ¨raise us above other ethnic minorities¨ at the price of us going with the flow. I certainly internalized this, partly as a coping mechanism, partly from hope of acceptance.
After the COVID pandemic began, the social contract was thrown out the window. Coronavirus was labeled the ¨china virus¨ and¨kung flu¨, and the reductive racist attitude was unleashed on all AAPI communities. Asians, not just Chinese individuals, were attacked, harassed, bullied, and murdered. In Georgia, 6 Asian women were murdered by a white man claiming ¨sex addiction¨. When Black Lives Matter resurged in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, far right talking heads used Asian-Americans to claim white supremacy and systemic racism against the black community as a myth (14) During this resurgence of attacks, the “fox eye” trend, a beauty trend mimicking a racist attack, went viral in 2020. Even now in 2021, Andrew Yang is telling his fellow Asians to ¨prove their Americanness¨ and America continues to push the model minority narrative. (15)
AAPI individuals are elevated by white supremacy whenever it becomes politically convenient, then become a target when people need an easy scapegoat for the nation’s problems. The weight of how invisible, silenced, and ignored I felt in my experience as a Chinese-American became overwhelming. The racism never went away. It was just packaged in a way where we are gaslighted into thinking it was a compliment and to convince ourselves to buy in. This pattern isn’t new and has been carefully tailored to prevent our community from standing up for our rights and values as part of this country.
This pattern also exists to drive a wedge between the Black and AAPI community. The same forces that created “Model Minority” used it as a tool to suppress the Black community. “Model Minority” claims that structural racism doesn't exist and that poverty can be overcome by hard work and a positive attitude, which is used to pit disadvantaged communities against each other instead of the true oppressive force of white supremacy.
Side note: Hello fellow Asians. This does not excuse us being racist to Black and Latino communities. And I know, our culture prioritizes white skin and double eyelids, and the colorism is real… but we need to check our internal racism.
We will be most effective working with AAPI survivors of domestic violence by reflecting and learning from this historical framework and cultural context.
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