Hostility, slurs and activism: Asian Americans in St. Louis share pandemic stories

The teacher intervened and told the student that was not OK.

Another friend confided that her second grader had seen one of the videos of an elderly Asian woman being beaten. She came to her mother, terrified, and said, “What if someone tries to kill you?” She begged her mom to let her lighten her black hair.

Even before the mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, hate crimes and assaults against those who appear East Asian have been increasing.

Min Liu, a professor in Applied Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville, is photographed on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Liu was born in China. Photo by Robert Cohen, [email protected]

“These things cumulatively make people fearful and anxious,” Liu said. And yet there’s a fear about reporting such incidents, attracting backlash or alienating those who perceive criticism of racialized slurs as “political.”

Katie Xu, a senior at John Burroughs School, is part of the Asian American Civic Scholars, a group that advocates for more Asian American participation in civic life. She said some of her peers used to be hesitant about sharing their experiences because they would say “it felt less significant than the other forms of discrimination that other groups face.”

The past year changed that attitude.

“People my age are speaking out a lot more than I have seen in the past,” she said.

Ron Sakai, 60, of University City, is a compliance officer and a third-generation American of Japanese descent. His parents were imprisoned in internment camps in Arkansas in the 1940s. His mother was freed after about 18 months so that she could resume nursing school. And when his father was released, he petitioned to go back in order to rejoin his mother and younger brother, who were still being imprisoned. Sakai’s father was drafted into the service once he was released, made to fight for the country that had discriminated against and imprisoned him.


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