On Monday, April 5, President Tim Sands and Dr. Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, hosted a virtual town hall meeting regarding the rise of anti-Asian hate.
Attendees of the 83-minute meeting included Dr. Silas Moon Cassinelli, an assistant professor of the English department; Dr. Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs; Dr. Nina Ha, director of the Asian Cultural Engagement Center and Jessica Nguyen, president of the Asian American Student Union (AASU).
Pratt-Clarke served as the moderator, asking each panelist about their experiences as members of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community. The panelists also discussed the unacknowledged challenges the community faces.
The APIDA Community’s Response
The panelists and their affiliated communities expressed their sorrow and anger when hearing about new acts of violence or hate against the APIDA community.
Before answering Pratt-Clarke’s question of how she and her community are doing, Nguyen thanked her for checking in.
“I’m doing alright. Our community is collectively grieving everyday, (as) we hear about these instances of violence, and it’s hard to grapple,” Nguyen said.
Cassinelli related to Nguyen. “It’s hard to be so responsive (to people wondering how the APIDA community is doing) and to take care of ourselves at the same time, but we’re all doing our best,” Cassinelli said. “I think it’s really underscored how important community is, especially (that it’s) not just as a space to hear each other, but to help each other find language to describe how we’re feeling and what we need, because it’s okay if we don’t immediately know what we need or how we’re feeling.” He also emphasized the importance of community during these times.
Ghosh, who is of Desi origin, views the United States as having a strong desire to evolve and grapple challenging times.
“First, let me say that the reason (why) I’m physically here in the United States is this inherent deep belief that there is no nation on Earth that is better than the United States of America,” Ghosh said. “I don’t mean this in the realm of American exceptionalism, but just this innate conviction that Americans have the noblest minds (and) the desire to self-correct as a collective nation.”
He also mentioned that xenophobia is nothing new, as Brown people were associated with the Middle East due to ignorance after 9/11. After an incident with a fellow university employee, Ghosh realized how much work needed to be done.
“It exemplified in my mind the amount of work that we have to do as a campus community, where the challenge of providing our community with the sophisticated understanding that being different doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in adversarial positions with one another, and that the human race is more important than one individual race,” Ghosh said.
Like Nguyen, Ha is not feeling anything in particular, but she feels stressed at times in her role as the director of the ACE Center.
“While I’m doing okay at the moment, there are times of feeling overwhelmed due to the needs of the APIDA community, and all the challenges that we’re facing,” Ha said. “One vital issue to highlight are the mental health concerns within the APIDA community, not only due to the pandemic, but also because it was coupled with the anti-APIDA sentiment and violence.”
The ACE Center is currently offering services and hosting events to support the APIDA community.
Challenges That Have Shaped the APIDA Community
The prominent challenges that were highlighted in this discussion included the Model Minority Myth, as well as how the APIDA community has been conditioned to behave.
Ha brought attention to the Model Minority Myth, which stereotypes Asians as being intelligent and successful through hard work and talent. She sees that the myth divides the community from other minorities. In reality, the APIDA community consists of people from various kinds of backgrounds, and the group is underserved until a tragedy occurs, such as the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16.
Additionally, Cassinelli expanded on the historical implications behind the Atlanta shootings.
“(The 1875 Page Act) was one of the first of many immigration restrictions and jurisdictions that had an impact on who of Asian descent could be in the United States, and under what circumstances and what types of quotas would (be) put in place that prevented people from specific national nations,” Cassinelli said. “What the anti-Asian legislation over the 1800s and the 1900s really solidified is not only racial distinction but national distinction, and that has a huge impact on how Asians within the APIDA community interact with each other, and how (they) might understand other racialized histories in the United States.”
Nguyen emphasized that the APIDA community is often conditioned to stay out of politics and remain passive.
“But now as we are dealing with these tragedies, we can see (the passiveness) deconstruct,” Nguyen said. “The APIDA population across the country has been more vocal. I’m witnessing it firsthand, working with other APIDA student leaders.”
The panelists generally considered the lack of education on Asian-American history and the roots of the Model Minority Myth as unfinished conversations.
Nguyen advocated for an expansion of education on Asian-American study programs, as she herself did not know much about Asian-American history until taking classes at college. She also wants to see more culturally competent mental health professionals for the Asian international community, as well as more APIDA faculty.
Cassinelli further expanded on the Model Minority Myth, talking about where it stemmed from and how it came about in the 1960s.
“The Model Minority narrative came about in response to Black and Brown bodies integrating into mainstream America,” Cassinelli said. “The Asian family was upheld as an assimilationist model of a family who could successfully ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’ who could work hard, and achieve success, whose children were well behaved, and whose families were not broken. When you put it in the language of that, you can see how it's directly speaking to the mythologies around Black families, imagining that Black communities are broken, and that their children are more prone to criminalization. But what we know is that Latinx and Black communities have been heavily targeted and policed.”
The Panelists’ Commitment to Equity and Inclusion
For the fourth question, Pratt-Clarke asked the group about their personal experiences and what motivates them to be committed toward equity and inclusion.
Ha’s academic experience from receiving a master’s in Asian-American Studies from UCLA and writing a doctoral dissertation on Vietnamese diaspora anglophone literature authors shaped who she is and influenced her work to help the APIDA community. She hopes to further provide a voice for APIDA students on both a personal and academic level.
“APIDAs are the largest minority population on this campus, and yet we are not recognized as such at times, and our voices aren’t always heard,” Ha said.
Because she did not receive a proper education on Asian-American history before college, Nguyen gained more exposure after coming to Tech. She was inspired by how various Asian ethnic groups looked out for one another on campus, and she became involved with the AASU and other Asian-American groups.
“Coming to Virginia Tech as a freshman, and just hearing so many great things about the VSA (Vietnamese Student Association) community in particular, that was the first organization here I got involved in,” Nguyen said. “I just saw at a capacity I’ve never observed before how much the Vietnamese students here cared for each other, and I realized it branched off into the other APIDA communities, so that made me wonder what more can I do to support this community.”
She concluded her statement by giving a shout-out to her fellow activists at different universities who are working with their administration to spread APIDA representation.
Cassinelli, who was adopted and raised by a white family, sought to discover and learn about his identity. He stated that intersectional feminism also made him more committed to spreading equity and inclusion.
As for Ghosh, he wanted to join the Black Student Union in college to learn about the issues pertaining to the African-American community.
“(The president of the Black Student Union) invited me to a meeting, and I waited outside. The decision coming out of the meeting was that I was uninvited to join,” Ghosh said. “It was my first experience of the notion of inclusion.”
He realized that inclusion had to go both ways, and that the world cannot be a better place without unity among different groups.
How to Foster a Better World
For the final question, the panelists deliberated on how allies can come together with the APIDA community to help create a better world.
Ghosh focused on allyship on a national level, where the United States needs to either maintain or mend relations with other superpower countries.
“If we don’t get our relationships right with the emerging superpowers in Asia and with the Chinese Communist Party, I think it’s going to be another catastrophic repeat of the 20th century wars and so forth,” Ghosh said.
Cassinelli thought that one form of support from allies would be recognition and understanding that assimilation is not to sell out, but rather to become situated. Overall, he said that allies need to support the lives of the APIDA community.
“Other things (in addition to understanding assimilation) are just to support the lives of the APIDA community, not just mourn their deaths,” Cassinelli said. “I take that from activist circles, (such as) Black Lives Matter ─ it’s in the campaign title. Take advantage of the lives while they’re there and celebrate them.”
Nguyen would like to see people not only donate to APIDA organizations, but actively support them. She believes that allies should also educate themselves about Asian history and expand on what it means to be an ally.
“I think that supporting the organizers that are already doing this work and not just donating, but also really engaging in the work that they’re doing, participating in the programs that they’re hosting instead of relying on individuals to educate you about these experiences, and also educating yourself on Asian-American history (is essential),” Nguyen said.
To wrap up the conversation, Ha encouraged students to come to events the ACE Center hosts, which are to educate students about the APIDA community.