We are Americans, too

By Duy Pham

In a recent New York Times magazine article, actor Steven Yeun said, “Sometimes I wonder if the Asian-American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you.” These words hit me harder than expected, particularly during a year where Asian Americans have been disparaged physically, emotionally, and economically while the “progressive” community remains silent.

Anti-Asian rhetoric and violence is not new. Neither is our invisibility. When CLASP found that Asian American students had the highest levels of unmet need, I was told by a colleague that the data must be incorrect. When Asian Americans began to experience some of the highest levels of unemployment during the pandemic, we were blamed by the former President and members of Congress. And when we found that 80 percent of young Asian Americans experienced symptoms of depression (with a higher prevalence of 90 percent among young Asian American women) during the pandemic, policymakers and the progressive community gave no explicit attention to Asian American mental health.

So, when violent attacks against Asian Americans, particularly Asian American elders, became widespread, it came as no surprise to me that we would once again become invisible. It became a part of a natural internal cycle to minimize my own pain and trauma to make sure others around me were comfortable. It’s hard to speak up when being invisible is all you know.

However, I recognize the need to speak up for my community, despite the fact that doing so goes against my internal instincts. The oppression will only continue as long as we and our allies are silent. We must recognize that white supremacy is driving this invisibility. And it is systemic racism that pits my community against Black communities and other communities of color. Freedom is only possible when we are all free.

I had been told by colleagues that they were uncomfortable speaking up because some of the perpetrators were Black. This reminded me of my own discomfort upon seeing Tou Thao, an Asian American cop involved in the murder of George Floyd. Yet, at the root, it’s always white supremacy that’s the culprit.

We know policy solutions can alleviate this pain. They are the same policy solutions we advocate for all oppressed communities: targeted investments in jobs, education, and healing along with the presence of meaningful and culturally affirming community investment. What doesn’t work is more police or more violence. However, as long as we remain just “Asian” to this nation, we continue to suffer in silence. And we’re more than tired of suffering. We are Americans, too.