Violence Against AAPI: The Painful Past and How to be Better in the Present

By: Clare Gillis

Following an exponential increase in violence against Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) over the past year, national attention has been drawn to the issue. Many claim that these horrific displays of violence are un American and abnormal responses to the pandemic, yet the media's hesitation in deeming the attacks in Atlanta as hate crimes coupled with the claims surrounding violence against AAPI are only proving what many people have been stating for months- anti-Asian sentiments are as American as they come. Woven into our history through the devastating Chinese Exclusion act and Japanese Internment camps- America has continuously isolated Asian Americans and invalidated their racial trauma. The recent violence- while horrific and inhumane- was sadly not a shock to many. With damaging rhetoric such as “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” the blame for a deadly pandemic affecting the entire population was able to be placed on one group of people- endangering a marginalized group already experiencing discrimination before the pandemic. The appalling statistic of a 1900% increase in violence against Asians, as reported by the NYPD, horrified the population- but this bloodshed was not sudden or unexpected but rather the result of over a century of anti-Asian sentiments, actions, legislation, and the consistent blaming of an entire race for a deadly virus that has killed millions and ruined lives. All of this was mentioned in the protest fighting against violence towards the AAPI community, held on March 19th, 2021, at the West Hartford Town Hall. Various students from the community spoke at this event and were willing to answer questions regarding the violence and what the West Hartford and Conard community can do moving forward.

Being a person of color in America is extremely difficult; individuals can frequently see microaggressions from a very young age. Even outright racist statements and actions can also occur that will not stop throughout one's lifetime. After speaking with Ely Alleyne, a West Hartford resident and Asian American, and Maya Palanki, a Conard student and Asian American, the effect of growing up in a primarily white community was seen. With Palanki stating that she experienced several microaggressions and explaining that “it has taken a hit on my self-esteem and just my confidence to thrive in such an environment.” Alleyne also elaborated on how “white supremacy is often used to pin marginalized groups against each other,” causing a racial divide affecting individuals of mixed races. While being a POC in America can be draining, it can have its benefits. As mentioned by Palanki, “when you experience it firsthand, it really drives you to actually make a change.” Alleyne also said that “although we are not the same and we don't look the same; we know what it feels like to have racism pinned against us or be at the hands of white supremacists” when elaborating more on the differences between BLM and violence against AAPI and the collaboration that is needed. Although negative racist experiences can help shape an individual and encourage cooperation and support within marginalized communities, the effects on students from a young age are harmful and need to be addressed. Throughout the remainder of interviews with speakers at the event, numerous suggestions were made as to how America as a whole can become better, but also communities and students.

Following the deaths of eight Asian Americans at the hands of a white supremacist in Georgia, Conard took action. Releasing a statement condemning the violence and working to address the racist actions in a community lesson held on March 25th. However, despite the efforts, there is still much more to be done within the Conard community. Alleyne, Palanki, and class president and student activist Natalie DeLaCruz all stated that education is critical. DeLaCruz expressed that “you know they are trying to be better and they are trying to address racism in the school setting which I think is really admirable and I don't think many school districts are doing that,” community needs to be better and “with student programs if you're going to make it without student involvement then there will be some problems.” To better Conard, DeLaCruz stated that she hopes that community in the future will be more discussion-based, with every student being aware of what is going on in the world. She said that discussion is much more beneficial and can work to educate. Alleyne and Palanki both agreed on the importance of education on Asian Americans as well, with Palanki summing up their shared opinion that students need to “have more education about it in order to actually have respect for it.” Conard's effort to more wholly address racism, especially as a primarily white institution, is a rare and beneficial experience for all students. However, Conard must also work to improve these experiences to help tap into the full potential of actively anti-racist education and better include AAPI studies within the curriculum. As a school whose motto is “diversity is our strength,” the Conard community must continue to work and ensure the truth of that statement.

Finally, when looking at more individualized effort, students at Conard and within the town should work to make improvements to be better allies for the AAPI community. A heavily discussed topic the past year has been that of performance activism- defined by DeLaCruz as when “you do things just to show that you are doing it you don't really care if it's actually making a difference” or people who “say one thing and then kind of do the opposite,” performance activism is widespread amongst youth and can prevent lots of progress from being made. Making activism non-performative can be extremely simple- Alleyne, Palanki, and DeLaCruz all specified that simply reading an article and reaching out to peers and family members to talk to them about current issues and their importance is activism. With endless resources available nowadays- students should work to push themselves to do more than simply post an Instagram story that is aesthetically pleasing, and work to do more to understand the issue and fully inform others. As put simply by Alleyne “doing a little more.”

Summed up perfectly by Palanki- “I think there's a common theme here, and it's you need to educate yourself.” The recent violence against Asians has resulted from intense and sustained racism- enforced by the government numerous times. To combat this and better the community, both students and faculty need to listen to Asian students- learn, understand and improve. Now is the time to come together and acknowledge the problems and work to do anything to lessen the struggle of POC in today's society. There are so many opportunities at Conard alone- now is the time to step up.