Dan Wu has long lived with what he calls petty assaults and everyday acts of racism.
In the United States since the age of eight, the Chinese immigrant – now 46 years old – claims to be the victim of jokes and questions about his origin with a certain frequency, in an allegory of prejudice rooted in the country. Children laugh at him, adults ask how a “Jap” can speak English, if there are more people with his last name, etc. So far, the attacks have always been verbal.
Owner of a Lamen restaurant in Kentucky, Wu says Asian Americans are seen as something of a model minority because they usually don’t rebel. They are anchored in a sense of security and illusory acceptance, he explains, which quickly dissipates when tragedy strikes.
“Several stereotypes about Asian Americans are positive: we have to be smart, good at math, music, cooking, but we can’t be funny, creative, athletic or political thinkers,” Wu says. are aspects given to us by the racist system we live in and which has done an effective job of separating us from blacks. We are treated differently, we have been given this “conditional whiteness” so that many of us can run our business until the moment we can no longer do, because we are under attack. “
The attacks just over ten days ago on three massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, drew attention to the recurrence of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the country. Of the eight people killed, six were women of Asian descent, the main targets of the thousands of discriminatory attacks that have taken place against this population since the start of the pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate, a center established to record violence against Asian Americans, received 3,795 complaints from March 2020 to February this year – 503 in the past two months alone.
In a report, the organization shows that women report 2.3 times more verbal or physical attacks than men and that the Chinese are the most affected by the attacks: 42.2% of crimes are directed to them. Next come Koreans (14.8%), Vietnamese (8.5%), Filipinos (7.9%), Japanese (6.9%) and others.
After the Atlanta episode, Wu stepped up his activism, which was previously divided between LGBTQ causes, sustainability, and domestic violence. Now that hate crimes against Asians are in the spotlight, he says, his main goal is to form a larger coalition that includes other minorities to fight to end racism in the United States.
“In any process, you have to recognize that you have a problem before you solve it. If you deny the idea of white supremacy and systemic racism in this country, you won’t solve anything.
Wu considers the Atlanta attack to be the strongest against the Asian-American population in recent years. Police say the crime suspect does not claim racist motivation, but the Chinese immigrant says it is necessary to call things by name. “He [assassino] it’s part of a larger picture of white supremacy, racism, sexism, anti-immigrant. He chose to target Asian properties. No matter what he says, these are murders motivated by race and gender. “
For Wu, Covid-19 and the hate speech against China promoted by former President Donald Trump fueled the latest attacks, but they don’t fully explain them.
“American history is rooted in exploitation and violence against non-whites,” he says. “I don’t think Trump was the cause, I think he’s the megaphone and the switch. Hate and racism have always been there, Trump didn’t create them, but he amplified, normalized them, turned on the lights. “
Trump blamed China for the pandemic, dubbed the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and stepped up anti-Beijing rhetoric – this one also embraced by Joe Biden. “There is this confusion between China, a foreign country with which the United States has political and economic rivalry, and people who live in the United States and look like me no matter where they are from,” Wu says. .
“All the Asian Americans I know are misnamed here. You are Chinese and someone calls you “japa”. In their eyes [americanos], we’re all the same crowd. “
This type of curse or verbal harassment accounts for 68.1% of assault allegations against Asian Americans in the United States, according to the Stop AAPI Hate. Another 20.5% say they are deliberately ignored, 11.1% say they have been physically assaulted and 4.5% say they are discriminated against at work. Abuse mainly occurs in stores and service points (35.4%), on the street (25.3%) and online (10.8%). The numbers, however, are only a fraction of the events, as many victims do not report the crimes.
Additionally, experts say, proving racist motivation can be particularly difficult in attacks against Asians, as there is no specific symbol or prototype against them that is easy to recognize.
Even Wu admits that he often doesn’t report assaults on him. As a restaurateur, he says he works at the limit of the dynamic with the client and recognizes himself as privileged compared to immigrants from Asia in adulthood, without knowing how to speak English and, often, without documents.
“There is a world of difference between these people and me, a Chinese-American man, who came to the United States as a child, speaks perfect English and is the product of a middle-class intellectual family.”
Wu was born in the Chinese city of Wuxi and lived in Shanghai and Beijing before settling in the United States. He accompanied his father, who got a job as a researcher at the University of Kentucky. After stints in New York City, California and on the culinary reality TV show MasterChef – Wu was eliminated by failing to make a red velvet cake recipe – he opened his own Kentucky restaurant, the Atomic Ramen.
The assaults on him and so many others spilled over to all 50 US states and the capital Washington last year. Wu bemoans the bleak scenario, but says effective change will only happen if the myth of the model minority is over.
“We need to take control of our narrative, we need to be able to say that Asians are not a monolith, they have different cultures and values. We don’t all think the same, we have the same religion or the same successes. We have to understand this and reject the labels they give us. “