On March 22nd, Governor Cuomo sought to ease the impact of COVID19 with "New York State on PAUSE," an executive order that detailed risk-mitigation behaviors like the six-feet rule; bans on non-essential gatherings.
Of course, PAUSE is a suite of restrictions, not a lockdown. NY's social-distancing denizens are still permitted to grocery shop; take walks; bike through their neighborhoods.
But for Asian-Americans, the prospect of venturing outdoors amid the pandemic is especially hair-raising. For us, the prospect of contracting a vaccine-less disease -- one that has claimed some 20,000 lives in New York State alone -- prompts concern. What prompts dread is virus-fueled racism; a tandem contagion from which no N95 mask or pipeline-pharmaceutical offers protection.
Anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. has increased exponentially since the first case of COVID19 in America was confirmed January 20th. Asians have since been the victims of violence, intimidation, and online harassment due to fear and frustration wrought by COVID19.
On March 31st, California congresswoman Judy Chu reported hate crimes to be averaging 100 per day. By April 9th, the then weeks-old online reporting tool STOP AAPI HATE (AAPI=Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders) had already received over 1400 reports of anti-Asian hate crime.
"Madonna Menace" mural from @jmzwalls by Menace/Resa
A small corpus of the vile things Asians in America (and particularly in NY) have experienced since COVID19 took hold:
1. Bronx: A “51-year-old woman was on a city bus in the Bronx on March 28th when an unidentified woman and three teenage girls began making anti-Asian comments to her," NBC News reported April 5th. "The woman then attacked her, hitting her on the head with an umbrella before fleeing the bus. The woman was taken to a hospital nearby, where she received stitches.”
The disease was first identified in China Dec 2019, so the racist ire is intended for the Chinese government and people of Chinese ethnicity around the world. But impulsive racists -- not known for their acumen -- are targeting all Asians.
SOLD asked aerosol artists Menace/Resa, Adam Fu, and Ming to weigh in on this despicable trend. Here's what they said:
"Empress" by Resa Menace; @jmzwalls
Virus-Based Racism: The Interview
1. What are your names?
MENACE/RESA: "Our names are Eric and Theresa. Eric, aka 'Menace', is Chinese-American and Theresa, aka 'Resa', is Korean-American."
ADAM FU: "I am Adam Fujita. My first graffiti name was 'ATOMS'. And now, due to Instagram, "Adam Fu' is the name that I go by; my artist name."
[Collaboration between Adam Fu and Natasha May Platt, aka "SurfaceOfBeauty"]
2. What are your thoughts on the wave of anti-Asian sentiment fueled by the novel coronavirus?
ADAM FU: "My thought is that Trump is designing it. It's very intentional to call it the 'Chinese Virus' or the 'Wuhan Virus'. It's despicable, just like he is. He's a hateful, hateful little person and any opportunity that he gets to fire up his little hateful self, he does it."
MENACE/RESA: We are saddened and disgusted by the way Asian people are being treated in this country right now. We understand that the anti-Asian sentiment we currently face is being propagated by a dangerous combination of fear and ignorance as a result of COVID19. Right after 9/11, Muslims in NYC became targets of hate crimes. This time, it's our turn as Asians to become the scapegoats for this pandemic that many people refer to as the 'China Virus.'"
"Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic and Trump, anti-Asian sentiment is rampant. Menace and I can't even get on social media without seeing racist memes and dehumanizing jokes about Chinese people. It's also so disheartening to watch videos or hear news about the numerous hate crimes being committed against Asian Americans across the country. It makes us feel paranoid about our safety, and the safety of our family members."
MING: "It allows private citizens to feel justified in committing acts of violence or being verbally violent or otherwise violent to Asian people, because it's being justified in the media and by viral politicians. Definitely been feeling that.
And I can tell no difference between any of these so-called liberal or progressive outlets right now in terms of people's refusal to really cover anti-Asian violence in a meaningful way; a respectful way."
Ming, work-in-progress. Queens, NY
3. Were you already feeling there was a significant amount of anti-Asian sentiment pervading the U.S. even before the novel coronavirus took hold?
MENACE/RESA: "We have experienced subtle and not-so-subtle racism our entire lives. From people being impressed that we speak 'Good English' to the random kids who assume that Menace is [a] Chinese Food Delivery [guy] or the unusual number of creeps who fetishize Asian women because they have 'yellow fever.' However, before COVID, racist instances like that were few and far between. That's why we've never really complained about it. We were raised to keep our heads down, stay out of trouble, and get a job that makes a lot of money -- doctor; lawyer, accountant; engineer. Naturally as artists, we were the ones to rebel against this traditional Asian mindset. The most important thing for us is to make a living doing what we love the most -- art and graffiti. For us, that is the key to happiness; making a lot of money is not as important as being happy, and you don't become an artist to be rich. The overall perception is that Asians don't have it as hard as other minorities in this country or are somehow 'privileged.' This is because we are seen as 'model minorities.' And while that does have some advantages, it does not erase the fact that we've been bullied by bigots for our entire lives. Our immigrant parents worked really hard to build us a comfortable life, while assimilating to a new country and facing racism themselves."
MING: "Hate crimes have actually been on the rise my whole life. The numbers just consistently have been going up for Asian Americans, so that's almost four decades now. "[When] 'Crazy Rich Asians' [was released], there was a rise -- a spike -- in hate crimes after that, for perceptions of Asians being rich, and then -- similar to now -- the underlying thing is that you're foreign ...
Violence against Asians is probably the most ubiquitous form of violence we see in the media against people of color. Every single HBO show has some like fucked-up violence against Asian people, or some sort of colonial-savior thing going on with Asian women."
ADAM FU: "It's a very, very long answer that I'll try to boil down a little bit. I am the son of Japanese internees from WWII. My entire Japanese family -- my entire Fujita side of the family in Kashewase (that was my grandmother's maiden name) -- both sides of that family on the Japanese side were interned, including my father and my uncle, who was born in the camp. They were interned in Amache, Colorado. So their internment [was something] I learned about very early in my childhood -- around age six is when it really resonated with me what it was. So -- for the most part -- my entire life, I have walked through it with a Japanese name and a not-traditional Japanese-looking face, being half Japanese, and so I'm judged all the time by how my name is written and spelled and pronounced. And then my face can confuse people. Yet there's always a stigma attached to the name. There's always gonna be something 'Other' attached to an Asian last name So was there a significant amount of anti-Asian sentiment before COVID19? YES!! Always!! We're people of color. We've been held down from the very beginning, pre-Chinese Exclusion Act, pre-WWII, etc. I think any Asian person who would think that there wasn't pervasive racism towards Asian people is not wanting to face the truth. COVID19 only exasperated the issue; blown it up even more. I feel bad for Koreans and Southeast Asians and Japanese people and any Asian person that is gonna be now lumped in with a virus that comes from China. In fact, one of the narratives that the Chinese are trying to create right now is that Africans brought the coronavirus to China. It's all gonna shake out sooner or later, but we need facts. We don't have those yet, and so it's a very dangerous time because everybody wants to find somebody to blame for this thing."
Asians have never been regarded fairly! You're either an over-achiever who is great at math and is a killer student who is gonna go far, or you're -- you know -- [the] Yellow Menace who cannot be trusted. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't if you're Asian in America."
"Impeach" by Adam Fu
"Zexor Lives" by Menace/Resa and @dek2dx at @thebushwickcollective
4. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang penned an Op-Ed for the Washington Post on 4/1. In it, he wrote: "We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before ... We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need." Do you similarly believe the onus is on Asian people to combat anti-Asian sentiment?
MING: "Honestly, I couldn't even stomach it. The reaction I saw on Twitter was like, 'Oh, Andrew Yang calls for assimilation.' I thought that was horrifying enough. Then a couple days later, I started browsing the actual Op-Ed. You know, it's so depressing. This guy knows nothing about Asian American history for one. He's got the biggest platform and voice of any Asian American right now. And what does he do with that power? He basically victim-blames the world's majority, and then celebrates a period of apartheid. It's just unbelievable, all in the name of patriotism which is exactly what people are committing hate crimes in the name of as well. But you can't use the same logic to transform the dynamic."
MENACE/RESA: "As second generation Asian Americans, it's pretty infuriating to feel like we have to constantly prove that we're 'American' enough. As if being born in this country -- living here for our entire lives and learning English as our first language -- isn't enough to prove our worthiness in America. We are so American that we can barely speak in our respective heritage languages. Our parents had to adopt English names in order to assimilate. So they gave us western names like Eric and Theresa because most people in this country cannot pronounce 'Zhang Xin.' No matter what we do, we will always be perceived as foreigners just because of our physical appearance and the ways in which Asian people have been perceived in the media for decades. But the truth is, we are just as American as any other person who possesses American citizenship. To suggest otherwise is insulting and kind of racist. Why should we have to grovel for anyone's acceptance? We've already spent our entire lives feeling like outsiders in our own country."
ADAM FU: "'We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our A-MER-I-CAN-NESS?' I find that completely offensive. It's exactly what my father [and other family members] had to do when they were interned; they had to try to act more American. My father was born in California, so was my grandmother. It was my great-grandparents that migrated from Japan in the late 1800s. You shouldn't have to show any 'NESS [e.g. American-ness] unless you choose to. I think I understand the point that Andrew Yang was trying to make, I just don't appreciate it.
'And we should show without a shadow of a doubt that we're Americans who will do our part ...' I mean, what does that even look like? We know disproportionately how many Asian people work in health care. I feel like Andrew Yang -- who I really respect and admire -- missed the mark on how he phrased this particular answer or particular call to action. Because I don't think we need to prove our worth. If you're born an American citizen, you're a citizen. Even if you're an undocumented person in America. I've never felt like you need to prove or use the most 'American' behaviors in order to be of value to society and a contributor to a community."
"Lust" by Adam Fu
5. Have you or someone you know been a target of anti-Asian violence, bullying, or intimidation as a result of the pandemic?
MENACE/RESA: "Yes. We were driving to Home Depot and on our way there, some random guy in a red pick up truck called us 'Coronavirus Chinks.' We were very upset, especially because we couldn't do anything about it without [potentially] catching a case. None of our family members or Asian friends have reported anything racist that has happened to them. Even if they have [had it happen], they probably wouldn't mention it. Traditionally, Asian Americans are programmed to keep their heads down and eat the pain -- probably out of fear of being targeted in an environment where we already stand out due to our 'Otherness.'"
MING: "I was like 20 feet away from this elderly white couple, and this guy starts gesticulating -- as if I didn't speak English -- and pantomiming this mask gesture. I'm like 'What?! What are you -- I'm just trying to walk my dog!' I was like 20 feet away from them, I'm just coming out of my apartment building, and the man was doing this ridiculous aggressive gesture. He's like, 'MASK! Where's your MASK?!' to me. And if I was some big dude coming out of my house walking a pit bull -- very unlikely that this guy would have felt comfortable telling me what to do when it comes to the mask. [As an Asian person, you can expect to] get punched in the face if you're wearing a mask, get punched in the face if you're not wearing a mask. When they look at me, they think they can tell me what's supposed to be on my face when clearly that guy doesn't even understand the law."
ADAM FU: I would say that I have not. And again, a lot of that is that I don't look Japanese right off the bat. However, if you saw me next to all of my Japanese aunts and uncles, we look really similar, and they're full-blooded Japanese. And online I have trolls, and people that definitely wanna try to take me down, but it's less about me being Asian and more about my values and my politics. And I have not heard from anyone I know who was directly targeted for being Asian, thank goodness."
Ming painting for a Ngozy Art Collective event, Bronx
6. The interview with MING was conducted on Zoom, and this question emerged in conversation: I've spoken with some Asians who appear to be jarringly unconcerned about the virus-fueled hate crimes, and I can't wrap my head around it. What do you make of it?
MING: "Asians have the greatest class disparity of any race. In NYC, we have Asians over-represented in the wealthiest percentage and we have -- actually, the poorest race right now is Asians. I think we forget what that means in terms of race being socially constructed, and that each of our experiences is mediated by our specific living situations and like what type of employment we have. So if you live in a suburb where you don't actually have to be shoulder-to-shoulder interacting with people, or you're living in a place where people aren't competing for resources like toilet paper or food on a Salvation Army line -- here, the lines wrap around the block -- it's very easy to take your experiences and apply them to others.
Anti-Asian [sentiment] is so obscured and also so integrated/embedded in everything that it's really easy to just deny it. I think that older Asian Americans literally have had PTSD for decades. These are people who've seen their grievances go unmet for [a long time]. And to then see violence happen again, their natural response is to say: 'Eh, nothing's gonna happen again; no one's going to do anything.'"
7. Additional observations; comments?
ADAM FU: "I think we are in an incredible time of transition. And I think any time of transition is when [people] feel the most discomfort, and discomfort is where we become petty and fearful. And from all that fear comes a lot of bad stuff. And so I really pray, and I hope that we'll all become better people through this. And I think it's really important that we all do our part in staying home and using social distancing guidelines to the extreme if possible, so that we can get through this. So I really hope that if you're reading this, that you're well and I hope we all get through this fast."
MING: "One problem is that Asian American communities don't have a unified identity or a unified voice, and we don't have a collective infrastructure. And we do it [ethnic stereotyping] to ourselves, too, so that we and everybody else turns us into a Villainous Other; a Contagion; an Exotic.
MENACE/RESA: "We feel it is our duty as Asian American artists to show people that we are just as human, just as worthy, and just as American as everyone else. No one should be judged by the color of their skin. It's not like we can control what body we are born into. Luckily, Menace and I have the powerful vehicle of mural art to help us spread our message."
1. This article is NYC-centric, the interviewed artists NY-based. Why? An uptick in anti-Asian sentiment vining through the country's "Melting Pot" is especially odious. According to the 2010 Census, New York contains the highest total Asian population of any U.S. city proper. If the adage is "strength in numbers" yet this is what's playing out in NY, it doesn't bode well for Asians in other parts of the country and world.