Spring 2021 OUSD STUDENT ESSAY CONTEST:
SPEAKING OUT on ANTI-ASIAN VIOLENCE
Our community has been heartbroken by the horrific acts of violence against Asian communities in Oakland, the United States and the world over the past year. We called on OUSD students to lift up their voices and to share their ideas about how we can address and end anti-Asian violence. Here are the top scoring essays! We will be publishing an OUSD zine of more essays from across the school district, so stay tuned!
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ESSAYS
- How does it feel when you hear that Asian communities are experiencing higher levels of violence in Oakland and around the world over the past year?
- Do you have any personal stories or experiences that are similar to what Asian American communities across the country have been going through after the coronavirus pandemic has been blamed on Asian people?
Kaya Grace Jongco Hutchinson
Cleveland Elementary School 3rd Grade
When I hear about Asian communities experiencing violence, I feel sad, scared and angry. I feel sad because people are losing their lives because of this. I also feel sad because Asians are being attacked for no reason. The only reason is because they're Asian. Nothing has happened to me personally or to my family or friends but it still makes me feel sad, scared and angry.
I feel scared because I am Asian. I am also scared because my family and some of my friends are Asian and I want them to feel safe and secure. My Lolo and Lola are scared to go out because of this violence towards Asians. They live in New York and a Filipino woman was attacked on the street there while on her way to church. My Lolo and Lola also go to church. I am also worried that they don't feel safe and secure because of this violence.
When I think of people being scared to go out just because of how they look, I feel angry at the people who are making them scared about it. I feel angry because it's unfair. It’s unfair what is going on because people are just judging people on how they look and whether they are Asian or not, when we should be judging them on their personality. In my opinion the reason these people are acting violently is because they are blaming Asians for something they didn’t do because Donald Trump scapegoated them and said they started COVID. Some people thought he was serious and they started this hate towards Asians. But this is not the first time people have had hate towards Asians in our country. For example, Larry Itliong was Filipino just like my family. Larry Itliong and other Filipino farm workers were beat up when they went off on strike from working in the fields. Another example is when America was fighting Japan during World War II. Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps because people thought even though they were American citizens since they were Japanese they were still a threat. It was wrong to blame Asians then. Now it is still wrong to treat Asians like that.
As an Asian-American community we must come together with kindness, help, and support so that we can fight this racism. But we also need people of color, white people and people of all races not just Asian-Americans to come together to help end the fight against racism. We are fighting for equal rights for all, including Asian-Americans. If I had a message for the victims and I could say anything I would say you are not alone. Just like Larry Itliong worked for the rights of Filipino and Mexican farm workers, we should help all of our communities of color who are under attack.
What the judges loved about this essay: “This was really well written. It wove the personal connection to the topic and their family's history nicely.” “This was an amazing essay. I loved how they explained that it is more than the actualy physical acts of violence, but the reverbations that impact our community and the fear that that brings.”
Lincoln Elementary School 4th Grade
Imagine people harassing, injuring, and even killing someone just because of their race. This is actually happening almost everyday right now to Asian Americans. This is not normal and has to stop. These people are hurting Asian American people because COVID-19 started in China. All Asians are being blamed and targeted even if they’re not from China.
Things like this have happened in the past. For example, when Chinese miners heard about a fisherman finding gold in America, many headed there. Uncertain work, hostile locals, and the language barrier made many Chinese laborers take dangerous jobs for very little wage, while other races had jobs with better wage. Many Chinese laborers worked together to build the transcontinental railroad that was completed on May 10, 1869. People blamed the Chinese miners that were mining in the Gold Rush for stealing their jobs. Therefore, President Chester A. Arthur signed a law to forbid all Chinese laborers from coming to America. This was called the Chinese Exclusion Act. It started on May 6, 1882 and ended on December 17, 1943. Many Asian miners working during the Gold Rush were killed.
Immigration is when someone moves to another country. Immigrants have many reasons why they wanted to relocate. Some immigrate to escape danger like wars. Some just want to have a better life. Angel Island Immigration Station was built in 1910 in California, several miles away from my school in Oakland's Chinatown, to keep Chinese immigrants out of America. The Chinese immigrants were very hopeful when they arrived. Many Chinese immigrants were detained at Angel Island. One Chinese immigrant was detained for twenty-two months. They needed a physical examination. The immigrants had to take their clothes off in front of other people. They felt uncomfortable and humiliated. The immigrants had to answer hard and tricky questions in order to be allowed to stay. The immigrants had to answer questions like how many windows are in your house? If they didn't get the same answer, they were at risk for being deported. Some of the immigrants wanted to go to America so badly that they lied about an immigrant being related to them. Those immigrants were called a paper son. Some Chinese immigrants wrote sad poems on the walls of Angel Island about how they felt about this discrimination.
There is another immigration station in New York that was the total opposite. It is called Ellis Island or the “gateway to America”. Ellis Island didn't really detain but welcomed immigrants to America. More than twelve million immigrants passed through its doors. Most of the immigrants were from Europe. They, too, had to be checked by doctors. It was the most scary step. People who didn't pass the exam might have to be deported. However, unlike those at Angel Island, the immigrants had to answer simple questions like "How much money are you carrying?"
I feel angry, sad, and scared when I hear the Asian community is experiencing higher levels of violence. I feel angry because they are treating Asian people badly. I feel sad because they are doing this for no reason except for hate. I feel scared because my family and I could be attacked by someone since we are Asian too. I haven’t personally experienced any racism but my little cousin did. Recently, she was with her aunt riding her bike at a park when a lady shouted racist things at them and she told them to go back to their country.
I want to help stop the violence and you can too! My teacher invited Mayor Libby Schaaf to my class to talk about what we want done. We urged her to do more to help protect our community. We also learned about how Asians have been discriminated against in many ways throughout history. I want to make posters to put them in my school and the surrounding areas. You can do the same! This might change people's mind about racism. There are many ways we can try to stop racism. Messaging lawmakers or the President about what you want done and writing articles are some suggestions. Record, yell, and call the police when someone is getting harassed or attacked!
I hope people would stop harassing and attacking Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and all Asians around the world now! History is repeating itself. How would you feel if this was happening to your race? Would you help stop racism? Racism is a pandemic, too. But most importantly, we must show and teach LOVE, not HATE!
What the judges loved about this essay: “The content was well thought out. Historical examples were relevant to the topic. Explained the Chinese Exclusion Act well!”
Glenview Elementary 5th Grade
My Experience with Anti-Asian Hate in America
Anti-Asian violence like the shootings in Atlanta, and the coronavirus hate crimes against elderly Asians in Oakland and across the country are clearly overt racism, and socially unacceptable since many Americans are protesting.
The impact this has on me as a Korean and Filipino American is that I’ve felt scared, angry, down, and worried for me and my family, and the Asian community. I feel better that people are protesting against the violence. But I have had some different types of Anti-Asian racism happen to me that are more hidden that I think equally need to be protested for the violence to really stop. Here are some of the things that have happened to me and my opinion on covert racism and what you should do if this happens to you.
Covert racism is when someone or somebody says or does something racist without knowing or thinking that it is racist. These are some of the covert racism things that have happened to me.
The first example of covert racism was when I was in 3rd grade when the 2017-2018 North Korean crisis was happening. The kids in my class thought that there was going to be a war, and a kid asked me “are you South Korean or North Korean?” I had never been asked if I was North or South korean so I just said “ I think I’m South Korean.” And they said “Good.” That day I went home and asked my mom if I was and said that I was both. I felt bad just for being North Korean. But my mom said there’s nothing wrong with being North Korean you cannot blame somebody for where they are from.
“All Chinese people look like this,” he said jokingly, pulling his eyes up until he couldn’t see. This happened last year. I was so mad, how could he be so ignorant? How could he not know that it was racist? “THAT IS SO RACIST!” I screamed, my blood boiling. The teacher talked to him about it. But I was still so surprised. That’s when I started learning that some people don’t know where the line is on racism or even if it’s there.
Internalized racism is when someone hears racist insults and microaggressions so much that they start to believe it. At 11 years-old I already have experienced internalized racism.
“You’re short,” people would say. I’d try to make it seem like it was an advantage to be short, but it did not really work because people would still call me short so much and still do. I noticed that it was a form of bullying and told them to stop. But it’s a habit of some friends, and they still do it sometimes. But then I noticed that I was getting bullied because I was different. A friend of mine who is white did not get picked on about how short she was, while I did. I don’t identify as too short anymore, but I used to because it got into my head. But every time someone says that I’m short I feel mad that they did not listen to me.
“Why is your nose so flat?” My friends would ask and laugh. I was too embarrassed to say that most Filipino and Korean noses are flat or lower bridged, so I would make up funny stories like “ I fell on my nose” or “it’s just because I slap my face too much.” It started to get into my brain and I tried to pinch my nose so it looked pointy and long. I felt different from my white or mixed-white friends and it hurt. The sad thing is that I haven’t thought about it that much, and when they talked about it I would just push it aside and change the subject. But in writing this and looking back, I feel bad and hurt that I never stood up for myself. Although I can’t go back and tell myself “ Hey you are you and it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you look like, you are amazing.” I hope if you read this and have a similar experience you know that you are amazing and you should stand up for what you think is right. No matter what.
Overall I think if we want to stop overt racism we also have to address covert racism. Because if we keep socially accepting covert racism it will slowly build up until overt racism will be ok. So if you find yourself being racist or bullying someone just because they are a different ethnicity, stop and think about how this may be affecting the world.
What the judges loved about this essay: “The student offered a unique approach by comparing 'overt' vs 'covert' racism.”
MIDDLE SCHOOL ESSAYS
- How have you been impacted personally or emotionally by recent incidents of violence against Asian Americans in the past year? If your family has been affected or relates, please share your experiences.
- How can allies and bystanders help when someone is being discriminated against or attacked because of their race in these kinds of incidents? Please share your thoughts on why this solidarity is important.
Roosevelt Middle School 8th Grade
STOP AAPI HATE!
“ Reporting Asian-American senior citizen targeted in oakland attack”,” Asian-American pregnant mother attacked”, “Two Witnesses Save Asian Man From Brutal Attack in Oakland”, “ More than 2,500 hate crimes reported against Asian-Americans in 2020”, ”Chinese granny punched in the face in US, as Congress holds hearing on Asian hate crime “
There have been lots of anti-Asian racism incidents of violence since the pandemic. People have been affected by it physically and emotionally throughout the year. This also connects to the past of the anti-Asian racism history. In The 1860s and 1870s,1880s Chinese in the United States were blamed for outbreaks of smallpox. In the early 1900s, newly arrived Japanese migrants were targeted for the outbreak of bubonic plague. The hate that's been rising since the start of the pandemic is getting even worse.
I personally have not been impacted by the recent incident of violence against Asian Americans in the past year. But for a fact the atmosphere and the society have impacted people I know like my teachers, my friends and my neighbors, and that affected me emotionally. The hate they are getting made me feel scared and worried for them.
I talked to one of the people I know, and I asked how they feel about what's happening and what their thoughts are, and they have said, ”I am angry, but unsurprised, at what is happening. There are numerous reasons I am angry. I am angry at the government for their failure in supporting its citizens during the pandemic, which led to people in poverty taking their well-being into their own hands by robbing other people. I am angry at the ignorance portrayed by people who generalize and blame a population for COVID-19. I am angry at bystanders who do nothing to perpetrators when they are attacking innocent people.” I also asked them if they or someone they knew have been affected by it and what they wanted to change. They respond with “an incident occurred with one of my mother’s friends. Her friend takes morning walks around San Antonio park. She told my mother that after the rise of anti-asian racism, some men at the park would yell at her and spit at her.”
Another incident happened to my mother’s friend. She was going to Safeway in the morning around 7am when a man walked towards her and punched her in the face. She was knocked unconscious and woke up in the hospital. The perpetrator did not steal anything from her; he simply wanted to harm her. There were no words exchanged, but with the recent increase of attacks on Asians, I wouldn’t doubt that this was racially motivated. In regards to reporting incidents, my mother did face a language barrier when communicating with the police, which is why I am certain plenty of Asians do not report the hate crimes against them. My mother’s friends who I previously mentioned, did not report the incident to police due to the language barrier, and they did not feel trust in police that anything would be done.” They also added by saying “I think the best treatment for ignorance is education. Everything starts with what students are learning. If we learned about diverse cultures and diverse experiences of People of Color, there would be less ignorance and hate towards each other. I am commonly told from my peers and students that their experience with education hardly ever focuses on any Asian and Latinx experiences, which is true. For us as a people to create equality and change in society, there needs to be a better understanding of the diverse groups in America.”
As they told me about it, I thought about their experience and thought of things that should change around our communities and our society. Why blame a whole community for something one or two people have done. It's unfair. Our society is getting worse everyday due to the uneducated and thoughtless people.
Somes ways you can help with when noticing people getting discriminated or harassed is try to stop what's happening without making more problems, try to talk it out to bring the better of it or at least try to stop that person from hurting the other. Another way to help that would have a big impact is through social media. Lots of news are posted on social media that end up helping the community to work together to stop the hate that's being spread. Try to Notify people around the world what's happening so they can help. But you may wonder why this solidarity is important. Well taking about it can educate you more about people's culture and teaches you more ways on how you can stop discrimination against you or someone you know. It also helps you get closer with your community and the society you’re living in. Its a good thing to know what to do when things aren't going right, and by doing that you are also becoming a person others look up to because of the good work you would be doing.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Demonstrates empathy and listening to others who have lived experience.”
Takumi Lee T Lee
Edna Brewer 8th Grade
Right now there has been an increased number of hate crimes against Asians, so I thought it would be good to write about my experience with these acts and how some people in my family have been impacted. Also since hate crimes have been increasing, I will talk about what you and I can do to try to stop them.
I haven’t been impacted personally by the hate crimes against Asians this year even though I am Japanese and Korean. None of my friends or family have been physically hurt, though we all feel bad for the people that are getting hurt. Why go out of your way to hurt someone that did nothing to you? You do not want someone just to hurt you for having certain ancestors. It is disappointing that it is in Oakland of all places. That is kind of surprising because Oakland is a diverse place, and so I thought people would be fine or even happy that it is diverse. There are always some bad apples in the bunch. I have been impacted after seeing Asian hate crime videos. For example, there is one where a man attacks an Asian woman outside a hotel in New York. Then the people that are in the hotel just close the door on her, preventing her from coming inside. That shows that they want no part in helping her. I felt bad for her and wondered why no one is trying to help her. Also, when some people closed the door in front of her while it was happening, I feel so frustrated. So I have been affected emotionally.
My grandfather has been impacted before. My grandfather was born in the U.S., and World War II started when he was a child. He and his family were put in concentration camps for three years because the U.S. government thought there were spies and so put all of the Japanese American people in camps. The U.S. government thought this because of Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was an attack by Japan on the U.S. Japan bombed Hawaii’s Naval Base, Pearl Harbor. Sometimes they would break into homes for evidence of this theory while putting them all in camps. All Japanese Americans were only able to bring what they could carry. All of their jobs and money were gone, and they had to live in horse stalls and barracks. Some places were hot and windy, which would create sand storms. Even after WWII the government just apologized, and they were slow to give financial compensation. They only passed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988. That is 42 years after the camps ended! That I think would be considered a hate crime.
What I would do against hate crimes is, first of all, if I see one, then I would try to stop them. If they are armed, then I would try to help the person afterward. That is because then I might get hurt or killed without even being able to help them at all. If I saw something on social media, then I would try to make more people see it. It has a higher chance of going viral. People would then demand that they received a punishment that was fit for the crime. Another thing I would do is report the hate crime so then they at least have a record of it. Then they cannot deny that they did not do it because there is already evidence aganist them. If it was in person, then I would feel satisfied to do something that helped others. Then you can see the attacker’s reaction and the reaction of the person you helped. If you do it online, I do not think there would be as much satisfaction because you cannot see others react to it. You do not recieve praise, and it might not even make an impact. I do not think that it would feel as good.
That is how I and some people of my family have been affected by Asian hate crimes. Now I hope that you do not hurt people because of their race or ethnicity, or even their gender, sexuality, or disability. People should not be hurt just for who they are as a person. People are always different, and others should not hurt them because they are. For example, it is like judging a person based on how tall they are. Being biased like that should not happen because being tall doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them different. Also, if you see these types of things happening, then you can do what I suggested. Though that is only the tip of the iceberg, you can do a lot of different things to stop this, and I hope you do.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Challenges readers to do something and offers practical solutions, explains emotional toll, and relates to historical experiences in the family and impact.”
Thu Anh Tran Le
Elmhurst United Middle School 8th Grade
It’s very disheartening for me whenever I see violence against Asian Americans. Which makes me wonder how can some people be so cruel to others? Every day, Asian Americans all over the country have to fear how they could randomly be attacked or discriminated against. It also scares me, and my parents that this could happen to our loved ones.
The API community has dealt with racism throughout history. To start in the Plessy vs. Ferguson shows how Chinese people experienced racism. For instance, in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case, Justice Harlan says the people in the Chinese community were not allowed citizenship to the U.S because of how distinct their ethnicity is. This demonstrates the racism that the API community has faced because it shows how Chinese people were denied citizenship just because of their race. Also, another example where this racism is displayed is during Korematsu vs United States. To build on for example, in 1942 where Korematsu vs. U.S, when President Roosevelt commanded that Japanese American citizens into confinement by force, the court still gave Korematsu a sentence even though they said they would listen to his request. This exhibits the racism the API community has encountered because of how Japanese citizens were forced to be jailed although they were citizens, how Korematsu was still convicted even after the court listened to his plea. Similarly, Immigrants were put into detention centers I believe for traveling to the U.S some of those immigrants were as young as elementary school students. Which is absurd because they haven’t done anything wrong, those children are so young. An explanation of a bit of the racism the API community has come across throughout history provides insight on how crucial it is that we do what we can to stop it.
To help others in incidents when they’re being discriminated against or attacked, I will be explaining ways I strongly believe allies and bystanders can help. One way allies and bystanders can help others during these incidents is by stepping in. This illustrates that if someone steps in during this sort of incident, it would stop things before they get out of hand. Moreover, you can also just pretend to be a friend of the person who is being discriminated against or attacked and walk with them away from the discriminator or attacker. Leaving the situation also helps stop the incident and it could work if you're not really a confrontational person. Another thing you could do if this is out of your comfort zone is by asking someone who can help to help. Though it may require courage, I know it can be done. As you know this will also help stop the situation, I advise maybe asking help from a store owner. Though if you don’t run into these sorts of incidents spreading awareness also helps, but if you do end up running into this type of situation do what you can to stop it.
Teens, people of all races should be taught not to be racist against others. Considering that some teens these days that are found on tik tok attacking elderly people are a part of the API community. This is not acceptable, and the fact that tik tok hasn’t done anything about it causes teens to believe it fine. It’s also quite similar to those who discriminate against or attack others, when they’re not stopped they probably also think it’s okay. Apart from that, those who don’t know much about other races are often prejudiced, think badly of them. So people don’t assume bad things about others they should learn about different cultures. To elaborate to prevent these misunderstandings people should also learn to respect others. This is crucial so in order to help stop discrimination of attacks, we should educate ourselves on this matter.
Continuing, this solidarity is crucial because of the positive impact it will have on children, people, and our communities. Children take after the people they look up to, so this solidarity would set a good example for them and possibly make them inspired. Probably because of the fact that our communities deal with discrimination, being attacked. It also teaches us that we should stand up for ourselves, let our voices be heard. In addition, it would bring people, children together, and remind us that we’re not in this alone. This broken society can’t fix itself so we have to, and besides if we’re going to solve this problem it will require us to work together. Teaching people to not discriminate against or attack others, other cultures would help eventually put a stop to it, along with the misunderstandings. Apart from that respect could help mend the broken trust in our society, it would also play a key factor in helping get rid of discrimination, attacks. It could also help show white people they don’t need to fall into white supremacy. Eventually, white supremacy will gradually fade away from our society. Which will help lead us to a path of creating a better society.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Well written. This essay dives deep into Asian American history and also addresses current challenges and what we need to do to stand in solidarity.”
Montera 8th Grade
Anti-Asian violence didn’t begin in 2020 or 2021. According to The Washington Post, in 1850, significant numbers of Chinese immigrants began coming to the United States in the 1850s for the Gold Rush, which, almost immediately, triggered the ideology of “Asians coming to steal White jobs'' was born. In 1871, the murder of a White man caught in the conflict between the rival Chinese group caused more than 500 White and Hispanic rioters to attack the Los Angeles Chinese community, which ended with at least 17 Chinese men and boys hanged dead. Even after eight rioters were convicted of manslaughter, no one was ever punished. There were many other anti-Asian incidents and movements, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the Japanese internment during World War II, Vietnamese shipers and the KKK in the 1980’s, and the L.A riots.
These movements of anti-Asian violence led to my father’s mother getting imprisoned in the Japanese internment camps and my mother getting ignored when she went shopping for her family. None of these events were important to me, until I got told to stay away from someone just from coughing about a year ago.
COVID-19 brought new things I didn’t know, along with a lot of fear. I learned that many people are vulnerable and others assume things that aren’t always true. The countless videos, pictures, reports, and news articles I’ve seen about innocent people being hurt stresses me and I’m sure it scares a lot of other folks that identify as Asian. Although, what enrages me the most is, when the person recording the video or taking the picture could have been trying to save the victim. If not help, the least they could have done was call 911 or call a number that would come and help. These events have caused my grandparents, great grandparents, and even my parents to be afraid of going outside to take care of their basic needs, such as shopping for themselves and the family.
The Washington Post reported that anti-Asian violence has gone up at least 150% from 2019-2021. I want to believe that some of that 150% is just fear surrounding this virus, but it’s hard to believe when many Asians have been verbally assaulted, harassed, and even murdered.
As I stated in the beginning, anti-Asian violence did not begin this year nor last year. Anti-Asian violence has been around for a very long time, and has only become more common in the U.S. which is not acceptable. I certainly do hope that this hate stops, if not completely, then mostly in the next few years.
Allies and bystanders can help by following the rules of Hollaback!'s Bystander Intervention Workshop: distract, delegate, document, delay, and direct. When you see someone who seems like they are in trouble, act as if you know the victim, ask the victim for directions to go somewhere, anything that will prevent the attacker from attacking. You can also get help from someone around you. Ask the victim if they want someone to call the police. Document the scene. Although I do not like seeing people documenting such videos, it would help the victim. Make sure you give the video to the victim and ask them what they want to do with the video. After the incident is over and everyone is safe, ask the victim if they are hurt anywhere or if they need any help. Make sure you do your best to prevent any violence from happening, but even if you are frozen from fear, you can still help in your own way. I will do my best to prevent this violence myself and I hope you will too.
What the judges loved about this essay: “The author wrote convincingly of their passion for this topic, wrote about how it impacted their family, connected to historic events in the country, and did some research.”
Roosevelt Middle School 7th Grade
Where is the Sun?
Our ancestors planted their sunflower seeds here in America but it seems the sun does not shine on us. Asian Americans have been under attack since the beginning of the pandemic but even more so as we reached the one year mark of the Covid-19 pandemic in March. Major cities like Los Angeles and Boston are reporting up to a 150% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. There are elders being shoved into the ground, attacked, hospitalized and businesses are being vandalized and tagged with slurs. As I watch the news all I think about is, “What if someone in my family is next? What if I’m next?”
Almost everyone knows of the recent increase in hate crimes against AAPI individuals. There have been a shocking amount of incidents reported in just Oakland alone, many of the victims being our elderly. One of the cases that brought the multiple hate crimes to light was when a 91 year-old man was violently shoved in Oakland’s Chinatown. My grandparents are strong and healthy but as more and more elders are being attacked, they call me and tell me, “I don’t think I can risk going out right now.” Nothing pains me more than realizing that my family are afraid to even step outside, that they feel unwelcome and unsafe in a place they have lived for years without being in constant fear. My grandparents deserve to rest assured that they can go to work without there being a chance of them becoming a victim of a hate crime. They deserve to know for a fact that their children and grandchildren will not end up in the hospital because they were assaulted.
Being a child in a family of Vietnamese immigrants, it’s scary to hear about and see different acts of violence and hate being committed towards Asians. There are many days where I feel that I haven’t and can’t protect my family because I am also struggling with my own emotions while balancing my life and school. I have had dreams where I see my grandpa severely injured, the image still leaves me in shock at times. I don’t get the same intense emotionsI got in that dream but whenever I think about it I still have moments where I just freeze up and feel like I got the breath knocked from me. It gets overwhelming at times and I end up having to pull away from my schoolwork. It’s definitely affecting me emotionally but I try my hardest to ground myself with hopes of distracting myself and that this fear will end one day.
If we are sunflower seeds, are we less deserving of sun compared to the flowers with white petals? On March 16th, 2021, a white man named Robert Aaron Long shot up a series of spa and massage parlors in the Atlanta, Georgia area killing 8 people, 6 of the victims being Asian American women. Police say that Aaron Long had a “sex addiction” and he was having a “bad day” which sparked outrage as many people found this as a way of humanizing a murderer more than the murdered. Not only does this make me afraid as I have family who work in hair and nail salons, but also exasperated at the fact the police will not call it what it is, a hate crime. If a person of color were to take a gun and release fire on anything or anyone, they would be considered a terrorist who is set on taking lives while a white man killed 8 people and apparently he was having a bad day. This incident is a raw example of just how hate crimes against people of color are not taken seriously and how the white man can kill but still be treated more human than the rest of us. It reminds me of how many Asians are taught to just accept hate and it’s baffling to see it coming into play in such a horrific event. I think the people who lost their lives and people who lost a friend, a family member, or a coworker had a worse day than Robert Aaron Long.
As I watch the news all I think about is, “What if someone in my family is next? What if I’m next?” It’s incredibly scary knowing that there are so many cases of hate crimes in Oakland because growing up I always thought of Oakland as one of the most diverse and accepting places I know. My family holds the United States on a high pedestal and believed they would be safe and thrive here in a country they now call home. I don’t think I would be able to put into words exactly how we feel but this new wave of hatred brings deep emotions of fear, sadness but also anger. This place is also our home so why is it we are afraid to be here? Sunflowers never do well during the frost.
What the judges loved about this essay: “It’s important to hear how anti-Asian violence is impacting our students. Great use of metaphors!”
HIGH SCHOOL ESSAYS
- How have you been impacted personally or emotionally by recent incidents of violence against Asian Americans in the past year? If your family has been affected or relates, please share your experiences.
- What is your vision for community safety and what would a world without anti-Asian violence look like? What would our society need in place to prevent these incidents from happening?
[ GRAND PRIZE WINNER ]
Mia Maley Tran (she.her.hers)
Oakland High School 9th Grade
The Absence of the Asian American Experience
In the midst of a global pandemic, I find myself having conversations with my family at the dinner table about being afraid of being harmed from anti-Asian hate crimes, rather than a deadly disease. After every new incident it seems to become harder to defend why Asian people, especially our elders, deserve to live against those who call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” Though we are perceived to live in a much more accepting environment than the one our parents grew up in, one where people protest when they know injustices have taken place, it is still not good enough. The conversation of why Asian Americans deserve freedom and equity starts in the classroom, where our future leaders are being taught, as well as on screen, and in the media. By implementing more Asian representation in the American education system and film industry, we are ensuring that the future is a more accepting place for not only Asian Americans, but all BIPOC.
As a Vietnamese-Laotian student, my cultural identity and stories are not reflected in the school’s curriculum. In the past, we weren’t talked about, and in the present, we still aren’t acknowledged. When the cases of anti-Asian violence spread to mainstream media it was hard to go to class to learn about watercolors, or why Romeo and Juliet fell in love without talking about the current realities of the people that looked like me. If it was acknowledged, it was less than a 20-minute conversation that felt like a task to be checked off from the agenda. There was not any opportunity to educate or learn about what was happening and why. The invisibility of the Asian American experience in my education is hurtful because it devalues and invalidates our history in society.
This absence in our curriculum is further reinforced by the absence in the media. Being a young woman born and raised in America, who is exposed to American film, I see the sad reality of how Asian American women are portrayed. One lesser discussed but very prominent theme is the sexualization of Asian women. From little clothing to broken English to the naive exotic character clichѐ, American film consistently finds outlets to belittle us. We are portrayed as needing more money or power as a way to have upward mobility in society. When can we finally be who we are without being called ‘Asian Baby Girl’, ‘Geisha Girl’, or the countless other titles we as Asian women have been given for decades? We are more than we’re seen. We are capable of being independent and strong without the help of others’ success, but the journey Asian women go through to be successful is unseen because of the stigmas put around us.
The opportunity to learn about the history and current memories of the Asian American experience is not available to everyone. Violence and racism are embedded deep in our system that impacts not only Asians but all people of color. The absence and misrepresentation of Asian Americans is not only harmful to our mental health and stability, but for the way that we are able to live as who we are individually and collectively in our society.
By educating the younger generation and humanity, we can show that we can be more and are more. Teaching about the common reality of Asian American families struggling with making America feel like ours will uplift the voices of our ancestors and empower the younger generations to move forward. Giving youth the opportunity to grow with the knowledge of the unspoken history of Asian Americans will help us be better at creating a future for society. There is a realization of how our perceptions of one another are shaped by what is taught in school or what we see on television. To provide a more honest view of Asian Americans in society, we need to implement more representation of the people who look like us in our school curriculum and the faces that we see on screen.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Beautifully written essay. Solutions (access to education, equal and accurate depiction and representation in books, media, films, and government, and visibility that allows us all to feel valued, validated and seen) presented by the writer are what have been historically proven effective in eliminating many cruel and discriminatory societal norms and laws around the world, paving a way for more just and equitable societies. These solutions uplift every group and allows us all to learn about each other and our cultures. This is crucial to root out any form of bigotry and hate in a society.”
Oakland Technical High School 12th Grade
I’m ready to go out with friends but my mother tells me to wear a hat and glasses so people can’t recognize my Asian-ness. In Downtown Oakland Chinatown, a 5 min walk from my home, someone’s grandfather was attacked. At Lake Merritt, a 5 min walk the other way from my home, someone’s grandfather was attacked and robbed. These people are my next door neighbors that I see everyday. The scariest part is that they look like me and the people I love.
The Chinese virus. America blames a whole race for the coronavirus. America feels that we need to be punished. They attack us. They rob us. They attack the innocent and the most vulnerable. Another virus kills us: racism.
Walking home, I’m followed by a man on a bike yelling at me. Will I become another statistic? Another news story? Asian hate has created an environment where I’m not allowed to walk even a block from my home. It’s not something that is happening in another country or another city. It’s right outside.
So how do we fix a problem that has been going on for centuries? The Chinese Exclusion Act specifically targeted Chinese laborers to stop immigrating here, no one else. America forced Japanese Americans into concentration camps, just for being Japanese. Now, we are being targeted for just being Asian.
We need community. Specifically, we need to focus on our younger generations and bystander training. Teaching our younger generations is the beginning and will be the end. We have to fight against the stereotypes and microaggressions with knowledge. It starts in schools. Growing up, history textbooks have always been in the white eyes. They defend the actions of their own but dehumanize the actions of us. We need to go outside of this bubble and teach the real history, including the present.
When I was followed, the thing that saved me were the bystanders. They noticed what was going on and took me out of the situation. They walked me home. This doesn’t happen in every situation. If it did, we would not be in this position. I would not be writing this. If no one stood with me, it was a battle that was destined to fail. We need to normalize calling out people for their actions, hate, stereotypes, microaggressions. One person can not erase centuries of history nor can they stop Asian hate. Communities can. Too many times, people ignore aggression against Asians and go about their days. Instead of letting people fight a battle they can’t win, we need to stand together to be united. No man left behind.
In a world with no Asian violence, our future generations don’t have to be belittled for the food they eat, their small eyes, their flat nose, or their accents. They can grow up seeing people who look like them as CEOs, firefighters, teachers, astronauts, anything they want to be. They don’t have to worry about learning how to use keys as self defense or carry around pepper spray. They would be able to walk to the park with no worries. Most importantly, they will learn to love themselves.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Use of personal story and provided a solution to address anti-hate by equpping youth with bystander education. Great historical connection of Chinese Exclusion Act!”
Oakland Technical High School 12th Grade
“Go back to China, you chink”
These phrases were aggressively directed at me when I was walking in downtown Oakland. I was taken aback by the hatred a stranger had towards me just for being Chinese. I have witnessed racist encounters my entire life but never experienced them myself until recently. Those words made me feel isolated and sparked doubts about the role I had in my community. I was born and raised in America but still did not feel like I fully belonged. I frequently spoke English but felt ashamed to speak Cantonese in the midst of large crowds or strangers. I would hesitate to participate in classes when I felt uncomfortable and was scared of the judgments people had. I did not want people to think I was trying too hard to be smart “just because I am Asian.” I held myself back from doing anything “too Asian” in hopes that I would not perpetuate Asian stereotypes. In order to prevent the millions of others from feeling the same way, changes in our educational system and society as a whole are required for our community to move forward.
In the past year, I realized more than ever that people’s judgments should not affect the way I act. Stereotypes should not define who I am. As the coronavirus pandemic worsened, Anti-Asian sentiments and stereotypes drastically increased nationally and internationally. Another virus has prevailed–racism against the AAPI community. The pandemic exacerbated these occurrences as many people believed their biases were justified. Stereotypes were further enforced as I would frequently hear jokes of Asians eating exotic animals, ranging from bats to dogs. As Lunar New Year approached, the media was clouded with robberies and violence against the Asian community. Small Asian businesses were targeted, and the elderly became victims of physical violence. Living just a few blocks away from the street where a viral video captured a 91-year-old man being pushed, I was frustrated and afraid of the reality. I was fearful of my mother and grandmother’s safety whenever they went out for groceries. People started to deem a once peaceful Chinatown dangerous.
I read about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1897 in California History during my freshman year of high school. I believed that it was something that would never happen in today’s society, but I was proven wrong as history began to repeat itself. People revolted against the Act in 1905 by going on an Anti-American boycott, but their movement was slowly suppressed by Roosevelt’s guidance. It is critical that our voices will not be overlooked again. Perpetrators robbing and attacking small businesses and Asian elders believe they would not be caught for their actions, but we are not going to silence ourselves and let the violence continue to occur. We should not stay silent when our community needs us to stand up for them.
To combat the hate that our community has received and organized, patrols, protests, and movements started to rise. Celebrities funded and brought awareness to the issue that has been prevalent for centuries. The youth created fundraisers to donate to organizations and volunteer groups assisted the elderly with their day-to-day tasks in Chinatown. In a world without Anti-Asian violence, there has to be no hate towards anyone at all. People have to treat each other like friends and family, regardless of their background. People should stick up for one another when they witness injustices or crimes. In order to reach that level of respect, children have to be taught those ideals in schools and by adults. There has to be more education similar to my California History class, where students can learn to prevent mistakes made in the past. We are repeatedly told to follow the Golden Rule ever since we were kids in preschool. Treat others the way you want to be treated. People have to understand the importance of prioritizing everyone’s safety to improve the community as a whole. Those who choose to violate the basic human rights of others have to be held accountable for their actions. It takes everyone’s agreement for a safe society, so we have to strive for more inclusivity. Being able to bring appreciation to everyone’s cultures and debunking false myths about certain cultures is vital for our growth.
Asians have been facing racism in America for centuries. Our attempts to eliminate hate against us only got us part of the path to peace. Social movements, like marches and open mics, help bring more allies into the AAPI community, but there has to be a change in our institutions to bring more awareness to the issue and put us closer to a permanent change in the ways people view Asians. More enforcement of respect and liability of every individual will promote a better and healthier place for everyone to live peacefully.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Christy uses her own personal experiences as a window into her piece. She discusses a recent unfortunate incident and chronicles recent events as well as how it ties to history. She also offers ideas for solutions such as curriculum as she learned in her California class.”
Oakland Technical High School 11th Grade
Keep your head down. Stay quiet. Work hard in school. Go to a good university. Get a high paying job. These words have been drilled into my head for as long as I can remember. For me, this wasn’t just the expectation, it was the standard. I have your stereotypical Asian “tiger parents”: extremely strict parents who have high expectations in regards to academics and achievements. I used to resent my parents for not allowing me to go out and spend time with my friends, instead being forced to stay home and study for my classes and exams. I used to think to myself, “Why can’t I go out and have fun like other students when I’m already excelling in school and have a high class rank?” I resented my parents for what I thought they were doing: depriving me of my childhood.
However, in light of the recent anti-Asian hate crimes, I began to realize the true reasoning behind my parents’ strict parenting. They wanted me to be the best so that I could have a good future and live a good life. They wanted to keep me safe from the harsh reality as a person of color living in America, and the fact that white supremacy and white privilege still painfully continues to exist in America.
Being a second generation Asian-American living in Oakland, California, it is difficult for me to picture the racism that my parents faced when they first immigrated to America, the same racism they continue to experience in their workplace. Living in the culturally diverse Oakland, I was blissfully unaware and sheltered from the racism that threatens to tear us all apart. After all, nearly every school I’ve attended thus far has been predominantly students of Asian descent. However, in light of recent anti-Asian hate crimes, I now realize that I've merely had wool pulled over my eyes.
In 1984, my parents immigrated from China to California to chase the American dream. However, in their journey of assimilating into American culture, they were shoved into the box that the model minority myth created for Asians. But what exactly IS a model minority? What determines one’s eligibility to be considered a model minority?
Seeing the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes terrifies me. I am terrified, because every grandmother, grandfather, mother, or daughter I see in a news headline could be my own grandparents, my mother, or even myself. Though my father and brother are not in the targeted demographic, I continue to worry that if they accidentally anger the wrong person, someone who is perhaps “having a bad day”, they may also be targeted. Robert Aaron Long from Atlanta, a white man who was “having a bad day”, shot and killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. Whereas my grandparents and I stay home nearly everyday, my parents are forced to go out to work everyday. My brother, being the free spirit he is, also enjoys going out nearly every day. The emotional and mental stress of having to worry about my family every day has tore down my mental and physical health. I cannot relax. When out in public, I am always on edge, always on the lookout for exit paths, ready to break into a run if the situation calls for it. Asians are still being constantly targeted, harassed, attacked, and robbed, on the sole basis that they are Asian.
Why must we be divided? After all, we all bleed the same crimson red color. In the modern day twenty first century, why are we not past the racism and discrimination that tore us apart 139 years ago when the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into place? For a country that claims to be technologically advanced and civilized, our actions show the real truth. We need to do better.
What the judges loved about this essay: “Rachael's piece is well-written and speaks from a reference point that many in the API can relate to in regards to high expectations and yet mixed emotions for the second generation. She weaves in many personal examples which makes the piece more powerful.”
Vincent Wang Ng
Oakland High School 10th Grade
A sick Asian senior locks himself at home looking at his phone. Seeing his people targeted in disaster shivers his bones. If he goes outside, will he be only known as the man who brought infection? An individual who caused affliction? In a world where people struggle to look past our beautiful tan, glowing color of our skin and judge upon gazing it. The asian man seeks acceptance, but is scared to end in an ambulance. He wants to see his sons and daughters, but is afraid to be slaughtered. He’s grateful for today, but dreams of tomorrow with no hate and sorrow. Loves to lead people on the right track, but always has to watch his back. He’s filled with love and culture, but is only seen for his age and color. Dreams of a world filled with racial & peaceful coexistence, where we can look past differences. He lies down in his home. A home where he can walk around without fear. A home where he isn’t being discriminated against. Where skin color doesn’t define scholars or future beggars. But he should never doubt his race. A race so multifarious filled with happiness. A community who gives opportunity & lives so diversely in unity. Doubting his racial background would feel like throwing himself into a pit with no foundation. We Asians are each other’s foundation. Our variation unites us, and hate could never extinguish our reputation.
The current cataclysm of Asian assaults in our country isn’t the first time Asians experienced discrimination. The presence of racism was often compared to a dinosaur by society, but many documented events can alter your perspective on racism. The tragic repetitiveness of racially motivated hate crimes make racism look like grass in a forest. In the late 19th century, Caucasian residents spread xenophobic propaganda about asian (Chinese) feculence in San Francisco, following the Gold Rush. This led to the issuing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which banned Chinese immigration/citizenship in the U.S. In the 21st century, there’s been numerous Asian racism / discrimination caused by disease outbreaks. Two events portraying asian discrimination are the SARS epidemic in 2002 in Toronto, and the current global COVID-19 pandemic. In these 2 events, a lack of community and patriotism resulted in innocent asians getting racially assaulted / insulted due to stereotypes. Both events are analogous, sharing a common theme: a failed government responsibility that leads citizens into racial divide, all fueled by xenophobic propaganda. Shortfall of government action and health / community restoration makes way for stereotypes to be more believable, since they’ll get scapegoated for the government’s misinterpretations. From 2019 to 2020, the anti-Asian crime rate rose by 304%, from 49 to 149 crimes in 16 of the largest U.S. cities. Stereotypes spread faster and brings more harm than any virus.
Being an immigrant from Hong Kong, I moved to the U.S when I was 6. When I first stepped foot into an American kindergarten classroom, I felt like an outcast. Like a stick figure in a 3D museum. Like pineapple on pizza. My lack of English speaking knowledge & my heavy accent led me to be discriminated against. The omnipresent judgement I’d face and the lack of support all felt dehumanizing. 5-7 years into school, I’d gradually push away my prior Hong Kong background, and attempt to fit into the prevailing narrative about Asians, since I was sick of judgement. In school, I was judged & bullied for eating “strange” food at school, which led me to eat only school provided meals. My family have been called “chink”, “ling ling”, or told to “stay away from my dog”. Reflecting on those incidents and feeling exasperated by racists, I still can’t compare my experiences to these past months of social media representation, which solidified how serious anti-Asian racism is. I could sense the mental trauma of these hate victims through my screen, and I’m blessed that me and my family weren’t hurt.
The current worldwide quarantine divided us apart, and made uniting together much harder due to safety concerns. With a scarcity of interaction within the community, it leads many people to bite the hand that feeds them. In this current era, our surroundings are the virus. The repetitiveness of everyday life, like a 3 second alarm in an infinite loop, will cause more insanity than any virus. You’re never born with insanity, hate, or racial misinterpretations. In Lion King, Scar wasn’t born despising Mufasa, or wanting to kill anyone. If we enlighten others about asian cultures & its unique celebrations and people, then we could influence future terrorist minds & heal them with love. Public Asian gatherings and Asian Holiday celebrations can make anyone feel welcomed. Fulfill them with the love they needed; that can’t be found in stereotypes. We all enter this world crying and cold, but with all this hate going around, it's a matter of time before we go out the same way. A life changed is better than an innocent life over.
“Hate. It caused a lot of problems in this world, but it never solved one yet.”
What the judges loved about this essay: “Written in a unique creative poetic format that stood out, this essay includes both historical context and solutions to address the issues.”
Thank you to all the amazing students who worked hard on and submitted essays for this contest! We are looking forward to publishing all of them in an OUSD zine, so stay tuned!