Four decades ago, on the street in a suburb of Detroit, a Chinese American draftsman was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two white autoworkers, who believed that “people like him” stole their jobs. His name was Vincent Chin. Vincent’s last words were, “it’s not fair.”
He was right. The two men were charged with manslaughter, but to this day, neither man has spent a whole day in jail. Vincent’s mother asked, “What kind of justice is this? What kind of law?”
Four decades later, America has changed a lot, but the violence and injustice persist. For our Asian communities, violence and injustices went unseen, invisible beneath the sugar coats of stereotypes. Our stories were left unheard. Our pain was left unfelt. Like what happened to Vincent Chin, many Anti-Asian hate crimes have gone underreported, left unnoticed, buried in deadly silences.
What happened last week in Madison is a perfect demonstration of the invisibility this society casts upon our Asian communities. In the aftermath of those heinous attacks on University of Wisconsin grounds, instead of a safety alert, the university sent out a misleading and victim-blaming email. Instead of understanding, a member of the student council suggested that people who look like me should appreciate the so-called support system, effectively silencing our feelings. Instead of showing support for community members, the international student services director — a person with no connection to our Asian communities — remarked that “[protests] may not be culturally appropriate in some students’ home countries.”
As details of the attacks surfaced, I was deeply heartbroken to find out that one of the perpetrators was a minor, and the rest of the group were recent high school graduates. When Alder Bennet told me these details, I almost burst into tears with great sadness.
How can someone so young harbor so much violence? How can someone so young harbor so much violence?
The answer is quite simple: ignorance and hatred.
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For decades, from classic productions like “Fu Manchu” and “The Karate Kid” to the recent film “Mulan” by Disney, mass media in America has portrayed members of Asian communities as mysterious, strange and sometimes supernatural beings: the over-sexualization of Asian women and the desexualization of Asian men in the American mass media, the belief that Asians are good at math, the insulting misunderstanding that Asians are passive, racial profiling against Asian students in college admissions and the imagination that Asians eat strange and unhygienic food are common examples.
The perpetuation of these stereotypes by the American mass media and societal norms about members of Asian communities have only furthered the ignorance and hatred that has fueled endless violence against members of Asian communities and the agony they feel as a result.
Hatred and ignorance are the greatest allies of violence. Hatred will never prevail over hatred. Ignorance will never triumph over ignorance. Love and knowledge are the mightiest weapons against violence. It is my sincerest hope that the university will listen to, respect and implement our demands outlined in this open letter.
Steven Shi is a junior triple majoring in economics, international studies and political science.