AR cartoon by Jonathan Hill
GENERATIONAL DIVIDE. Claire Xu poses for a photo in Decatur, Georgia,
in this April 2021 file photo. Xu was propelled into action following
the mass fatal shootings of eight people, six of them Asian women, at
Georgia massage businesses in March. She organized a massive rally
condemning violence against Asian Americans that drew support from a
broad group of activists, elected officials, and community members. But
her own parents were opposed. #StopAsianHate (AP Photo/Akili-Casundria
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #6 (June 7, 2021), page 9.
Asian Americans see generational split on confronting
By Sudhin Thanawala
The Associated Press
AR cartoon by Jonathan Hill
ATLANTA — The fatal shootings of eight people — six of them women of
Asian descent — at Georgia massage businesses in March propelled Claire
Xu into action.
Within days, she helped organize a rally condemning violence against
Asian Americans that drew support from a broad group of activists,
elected officials, and community members. But her parents objected.
"‘We don’t want you to do this,’" Xu, 31, recalled them telling her
afterward. "‘You can write about stuff, but don’t get your face out
The shootings and other recent attacks on Asian Americans have
exposed a generational divide in the community. Many young activists say
their parents and other elders are saddened by the violence but question
the value of protests or worry about their consequences. They’ve also
found the older generations tend to identify more closely with their
ethnic groups — Chinese or Vietnamese, for example — and appear
reluctant to acknowledge racism.
That divide makes it harder to forge a collective Asian-American
constituency that can wield political power and draw attention to the
wave of assaults against people of Asian descent in the U.S. since the
coronavirus pandemic began, community leaders say.
"In our original countries, where our ancestors came from, they
wouldn’t even imagine that someone from Bangladesh would be lumped in
the same group as someone from Laos," said Angela Hsu, president of the
Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
But those differences obscure a shared experience of "feeling like
we’re constantly thought of as being foreign in our own country," said
U.S. representative Andy Kim of New Jersey.
Much of the recent violence against Asian Americans has targeted the
elderly, and some seniors have attended rallies to condemn it. But Cora
McDonnell, 79, said she did not want to speak out, though she is now
scared to walk to the church blocks from her Seattle home.
She immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1985 and said her
culture was "more respectful."
"You talk maybe in your family, but not really publicly," she said.
"You don’t really blurt out things."
Lani Wong, 73, said she understood that feeling, though she does not
adhere to it.
"Just don’t stir the pot, don’t get involved," said Wong, chairwoman
of the National Association of Chinese Americans. "I think that was the
mentality of the older generation."
Some young Asian Americans said they were frustrated by family
members’ reactions to the shootings.
E. Lim said it was "infuriating and really sad" to hear her parents
cast aspersions on the massage work done by some of the Georgia shooting
"It’s almost like this desperation for denial so that they don’t have
to recognize that there is a world that hates them," said Lim,
organizing and civic engagement director for Asian Americans Advancing
A pastor in the Atlanta area, Tae Chin, said his Korean mother-in-law
also questioned the victims’ line of work while urging him not to focus
on race. Four of the slain women were of Korean descent.
"‘Just work hard. Just live. Just be a good person, and they’ll see
someday,’" Chin, 41, recalled her saying on a phone call after the March
16 attack. "I’m like, ‘That’s why we have this problem to begin with,
because that’s exactly what we do.’"
Allison Wang’s parents were similarly inclined and thought she was
wasting her time protesting the shootings.
"I think they believe that it’s more important to focus on your
career and family and don’t really feel like we can make a difference,"
said Wang, who helped Xu put together the rally in downtown Atlanta.
For Raymond Tran’s family, the political history of one of their home
countries played a role in opposing his involvement in any
organizations. The attorney raised in Los Angeles said that when he was
growing up, his parents told him about an uncle imprisoned and tortured
by Vietnamese communists after joining a student group.
Racist polices in the U.S. strictly limited immigrants from Asia
until the 1960s, so many Asian families have been in the country for
only a generation or two. It’s not unusual for new immigrants to focus
on providing for their families, avoiding attention in favor of
Asian immigrants face the added burden of the "model minority"
stereotype that portrays them as industrious, law-abiding, and
uncomplaining, and ascribes their achievements to those traits,
historians and advocates say.
"It divides generations," said Maki Hsieh, CEO of the Asian Hall of
Fame, a program that honors Asian leaders. "It divides Asians from each
other, and ultimately it divides them from other groups."
Xu said her parents worried about her safety, but she thinks their
objections to her activism also stemmed in part from a desire to avoid
trouble. They understood the need to speak out against anti-Asian
violence but didn’t want her to do it, she said.
"I wholeheartedly believe if this is the way everybody thinks, then
there won’t be any progress," she said.
The younger generation is also coming of age during a period of
renewed racial awareness — reflected in last year’s Black Lives Matter
protests — that makes it impossible for Asians in the U.S. to "fly under
the racial radar anymore," said Nitasha Tamar Sharma, director of the
Asian American Studies program at Northwestern University.
In addition to holding rallies and vigils across the country in the
wake of the Georgia shootings, young organizers have shared stories of
racist encounters and used the hashtag
#StopAsianHate to raise awareness about the dangers Asian Americans
"In America, we are all one," said Hsu, the bar association
president. "We are viewed in a similar way."
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