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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

COMMENTARY: Anti-Asian Hate in Light of COVID-19 Hurts All of Us

"I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you." 
—Audrey Lorde

As an inclusive, responsive and socially impactful College of Education community, it is our responsibility to denounce ideas and condemn actions that disaffirm the inherent value and dignity of all human beings. Exercising this responsibility is even more significant during challenging times such as these: when we continue to witness how the racialization of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an upsurge of racist attacks against East Asians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders across the world and the U.S.

Fear of East Asians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in light of the current pandemic has resulted in deplorable acts throughout the country, including the stabbing of two children (a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old) at a Texas Sam's Club. The alleged perpetrator thought the family was Chinese and, therefore, spreading the coronavirus.

Higher education institutions have not been immune to experiencing the results of anti-Asian sentiments and actions resulting from the pandemic. As early as Feb. 13, Sara Weissman of "Diverse: Issues in Higher Education" denounced racist micro-aggressions against a University of Wisconsin-Madison student. Cynthia Liu found herself buying groceries at a supermarket near campus when another shopper asked her if she was from China. When Ms. Liu replied she was not, but that her family was, the person replied: "Good, because if you are, I’m getting [...] away from you."

In our own academic home, President Adela de la Torre, University Senate Chair Mark Wheeler, and Associated Students President Christian Onwuka denounced a "Zoom-bombing" that took place during a meeting of the SDSU Filipinx and Filipinx-American Cultural Organization Andrés Bonifacio Samahan (university-wide communication, dated April 15). The uninvited guests felt justified in disrupting the meeting and shouting hateful and xenophobic statements against members of the Asian and Asian-Pacific Islander communities.

Professor of Multicultural Education in the School of Teacher Education (STE), Dr. Valerie Ooka Pang, provides a historical perspective on the reemergence of anti-Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander racism in light of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“The coronavirus situation is another excuse for racism against Asians to raise its ugly head again," Pang said. "This is not new. Asians are seen as perpetual foreigners and not as Americans. They may have been naturalized or born in the United States with a birthright as U.S. citizens for over 100 years, but people often see only physical characteristics which label them as foreigners who cannot be trusted. Racism has a long historical legacy in the United States.

“Chinese immigrants were the first racial/ethnic group to be excluded from coming to the United States in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act. Though Chinese laborers were heavily recruited to work in the United States, many mainstream people resented and were threatened by the work they did. They worked on the railroads, in plantations/farms. Also, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII is another example of racism.

“Hundreds of Asians have been murdered and lynched in cities in the United States such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and Tacoma. In 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was beaten in Michigan because two White assailants thought he was Japanese and so responsible for the U.S. auto industry's decline. He was beaten the night he was celebrating his bachelor party. His skull was cracked open and died four days later.

“We will always be seen as foreigners, therefore not Americans and not to be trusted.”

These unfortunate acts against Asian communities (both historical and contemporary) threaten the very fabric of respectful conviviality and belongingness we continue to strive to build and strengthen as a democratic nation, as members of The California State University — one of the most diverse university systems in the nation — and as an inclusive College of Education committed to “making a difference in the lives of the people [we] serve.”

Did you know that:
As COE students, faculty and staff we must remind ourselves each day that racism against anyone and/or any ethnic-racial group hurts all of us! And that when imbued with power, biases and racist tendencies and attitudes usually result in oppressive dynamics that are unquestionably counterproductive to advancing our inclusive educational vision and mission.
It is common to say 'we are all in this together' about the pandemic, but it is even more true that for all of U.S. history, many marginalized, minoritized and pathologized groups, such as African Americans, Jews, LatinUs/Hispanics, Muslims, Native Americans and others have all been experiencing injustice together. Only a united front will help us overcome both crises!

Dr. Ana Celia Zentella, Professor Emerita, Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego
Today, I invite us to persevere in our unwavering intent to continue to build a college community — a “courageous space” — where sustained efforts to develop the values of mutual respect, acceptance, kindness and fairness also lead us to exercise a fearless commitment to interrupt all forms of biases, racism and oppression. We must not be complicit with tendencies, attitudes and actions that negatively impact our Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders brothers and sisters or any other ethnic-racial group during this challenging historical juncture and beyond.

Aligned with our culture of social action and activism, below are some resources that can be employed in our continued commitment to educate and transform ourselves, our communities, our nation and our world. Although by no means exhaustive, these resources could serve us in continuing to conduct the impactful and inclusive teaching-learning, research and service we carry out each day — the life-force of our locally, nationally and internationally engaged College of Education community!

Dr. Cristian R. Aquino Sterling is Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity and International Affairs in the San Diego State University College of Education. Please feel free to send commentaries, responses and/or questions to

CSU/SDSU Resources for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) 

Higher Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Magazines/Journals 

Anti-Asian Incidents in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Denouncing and Interrupting Anti-Asian Bias and Racism in Light of COVID-19 

Asian-American Associations 


Asian-American Culture, History, and K-12 Didactic Materials