“It’s very much not part of the dialogue,” said Chen, 26, who’s from San Francisco. “Especially with the Atlanta shootings, a lot of us in the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community are putting our foot down. ... This is our moment to really voice our opinions, our concerns and make long-lasting change.”
Just last week, 32-year-old Kaylee Cong raised the alarm after her Vietnamese father was punched from behind in the Uptown neighborhood. Though her 60-year-old dad waited to confide in his daughter and didn’t file a police report, Cong shared the information on her nail salon’s social media and contacted law enforcement.
She told the Tribune her generation shouldn’t stay silent and must help older relatives because “it’s hard for them to speak up for themselves.”
Sooah Kim, a second-year law student at the University of Illinois, said she’s worried about her parents, who live in California. Her dad interacts with customers at a store where he works and her mom doesn’t speak much English, she said.
“If something happens to her, how is she going to be able to handle it?” said Kim, 29, who was born in South Korea. “When you grow up as an immigrant kid and your parents don’t speak the language or know certain things, you grow up protecting them.”
Kim, who lived in Ecuador during childhood and came to the U.S. for college, is among thousands of Asian international students at the Urbana-Champaign campus. On one of her first days of law school, someone asked if she went by “Sue” instead of her given name, a microaggression she described as “trying to erase my culture.”
Kim said her friends have also experienced anti-Asian rhetoric in recent months. One was walking on campus when people yelled “Ching chang chong,” and another was confronted at the grocery store by someone who said, “Go back to your country.”
“It’s not only that we’re seeing this in the media. We’re scared,” she said. “When I leave my house and I’m by myself, I am always conscious of who’s around me.”
David Chih, founding director of the University of Illinois’ Asian American Cultural Center, said “overt racism and xenophobia” has accelerated during the pandemic. But he also stressed that anti-Asian sentiment has plagued the U.S. for more than a century, citing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese internment during World War II.
“This is something we’ve faced for 150 years — different kinds of systemic racism and individual racism,” he said. “For Asians in the U.S., we have to learn how to navigate a society that can be hostile and sometimes racist and sexist.”