By Rhiannon Koh, AsAmNews Staff Writer
A year ago in March, a white man went to 3 different Atlanta-area spa parlors and murdered 8 people, most of them Asian women, with the intent to destroy the source of his supposed sex addiction.
A little less than a year later in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shootings at 2 Asian-owned spas resulted in the deaths of 2 Asian women.
And in New York City, just a few weeks apart from each other, Michelle Go was pushed to her death towards an oncoming subway train, and Christina Yuna Lee was fatally stabbed 40 times in her own apartment.
The violent murders of these Asian women are not just recent trends, but tragic, almost inevitable occurrences rooted in racist and imperial histories. Compared to their male counterparts, Asian women are twice as likely to report verbal, physical, and sexual harassment, shared Cynthia Choi, one of the co-founders of Stop AAPI Hate.
“The fetishization, the sexual objectification of Asian women can be traced back to the 1800s when it became policy to ban Chinese women under the pretext that they were immoral and engaged in prostitution,” Choi explained.
What Choi is referring to is the Page Act of 1875. The law prohibited the recruitment of unfree laborers and women for “immoral purposes.” However, it was primarily enforced against the Chinese and worked to restrict Asian immigration without explicitly saying it was about race.
What ensued was centuries of stereotypes and degradation that painted Asian women solely as sexual conquests. Furthermore, U.S. military involvement in the past century in countries like Korea, Vietnam, and even post-WW2 Japan resulted in the prostitution of hundreds of thousands of women forced to sell their bodies for the pleasure of U.S. military men.
Choi also added that the increase in attacks against Asian Americans has roots in such violent legacies and the fact “that [our country has] had extended periods of anti-immigrant policies, racist rhetoric, and policies by our elected officials has especially put our communities in harm’s way. It’s really important to know that the former president was probably one of the worst examples, but he was merely carrying on an American tradition.”
AsAmNews also spoke with Amanda Nguyen, the founder and CEO of Rise, a non-governmental civil rights organization which got its start advocating for sexual assault survivors. Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent and is the daughter of refugees, cited her family’s experiences living in the shadow of the American military.
“There is a need for responsible representation,” Nguyen said. “The first part to healing in any journey is acknowledging that there is an issue, and there is a deep issue in the way that [Hollywood and the mainstream media] portray and fetishize Asian women.”
Asian women are literally dying to be heard.Amanda Nguyen, Founder and CEO of Rise
Nguyen mentioned how the highly controversial, 1989 play, Miss Saigon serves as a reminder of the unsavory legacy of the violence against and the objectification of Asian women. The story is about a Vietnamese orphan who is forced into prostitution, falls in love with an American G.I., and later, bears his son. The play ends with her suicide.
Nguyen also expressed her support for Asian American women and their efforts to organize. She said, “Asian women do bear the brunt of both sexism and racism, and we are literally dying to be heard. There are so many API women organizers who’ve been organizing for decades, and it shouldn’t take gruesome deaths for people to hear us.”
“There is absolutely space for joy in this difficult moment,” Nguyen concluded. “Each community has its own solutions. I think focusing on education and focusing on public health solutions are first steps towards progress.”
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