Cayden Mak, executive director of the Asian American organizing group 18 Million Rising, said that the combination of Covid-19 and inflamed tensions around race has finally brought the longstanding issue to the forefront. And after eight people in the Atlanta area, including six Asian women, were killed at three spas, the national conversation has shifted to the unique racism and dangers faced by the Asian American community.
“It’s sad that it’s taken this long and took a global pandemic to get here,” Mak told NBC Asian America. “It’s my hope that now that this conversation can happen out in the open we can start addressing the problem together.”
While some attacks are tied to racial animus, Mak said others are due to cultural stereotypes about Asian Americans that are reinforced in popular culture. “People don’t think Asians will fight back so it’s easy to target people who you don’t think you’ll have consequences for targeting,” said Mak. “The most hard up folks in our communities, like our working-class elders, have been struggling with this for a long time in the shadows.”
Asian Americans of lower socioeconomic status don’t fit the model minority stereotype and are more likely to work in low-wage industries such as restaurants, salons, housekeeping and factories, which can make them more vulnerable. Asian women like the victims of Tuesday’s shootings have historically been susceptible to sexual and physical violence.