Juju Chang, AANHPI women discuss violent anti-Asian attacks, how to embrace strength

Teacher Noriko Nasu, author Min Jin Lee, and Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan join Juju Chang on “Together as One: Celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage.”
16:10 | 05/28/22

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Transcript for Juju Chang, AANHPI women discuss violent anti-Asian attacks, how to embrace strength
- Welcome to The Kitchen. And we're here in this glorious setting to talk about something incredibly personal for each of us, fighting the hate being directed against our community. So I feel incredibly proud and privileged to be in company with three inspiring women in conversation. We have Noriko Nasu, a high school teacher from Seattle who sadly was brutally attacked on the street and is now confronting hate crimes on her own, Min Jin Lee, acclaimed author of Pachinko, who wrote an incredibly moving and personal essay in The New York Times describing the violence that you faced and the long history of anti-Asian hate, and Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit-American who heads an organization using technology to fight against caste, apartheid, and white supremacy. First of all, thank you all for joining me because this is such an important conversation that we're having. I want to start with a really painful question if I may which is what was the most searing moment in your memory that you were made to feel othered or marginalized because you're an Asian woman? - I think that as a young girl, what was really so astonishing to me is how many times I had strange men on the street touch me and then say horrible things about my race, either I like Asian girls, or Asian women-- no, they would actually say things like, I like Chinese girls. Chinese girls are easy in bed, or things of that like to have those things happen. It's really quite shocking as a young girl. - That is part of the fetishizing and the hypersexualization that happens with Asian and Asian-American women. Noriko, what for you is a searing memory? - Mm. So I grew up in Japan, and I left when I was 22 and moved to London. And I was shocked that I wasn't even able to walk in the street without people harassing me like she was. I was being followed and being touched and being kissed on the subway. And it was horrifying. - Clearly, it's a dehumanizing kind of attention. Thenmozhi, What about you? - I don't think there's ever one incident. I think growing up in Southern California, I was constantly racialized and targeted with hate epithets. I was eight years old on the Huntington Beach Pier, and someone called me the N word and the B word. And then after 9/11, I was told so many times to go back to my country. I was called the sand N word. And the casualness of how people want to throw you away when you're Asian-American is heartbreaking. JUJU CHANG: Noriko, you're speaking up as a survivor. Tell us about what happened to you that horrible day and why you see it as having something to do with your race and your gender. - I was walking in Chinatown, Seattle with my boyfriend. And there was this stranger following me. He hit me in the face with a rock in a sock. First, I didn't think it was racially motivated. But then I saw the video-- the surveillance video. And it shows that how the guy, the attacker was standing not next to me but next to my boyfriend was not Asian. And he kind of leaned forward and avoid my boyfriend and hit my face. - And your injuries were extensive. - Yeah, I had broken my nose. I had cuts on my face and two broken teeth. And I had a traumatic brain injury. Whenever I look at the mirror, I look different. My face looked different. My teeth feel different. My nose feel different. And that's a constant reminder of that incident. It just really robbed me. - I know you felt strongly that you wanted to confront hate and confront this issue head on. - I think I'm very fortunate that I get a lot of support from the community. And people who experience the hate personally and never shared with others, they would write to me and say, shared their story with me. And I was really moved by that. And at the same time, I was just shocked that it's so prevalent. And it's everywhere. But we don't really talk about it. And I decided I need to speak up for them. JUJU CHANG: And to be clear, prosecutors said that because no words were exchanged, they can't determine a motive and decided not to press hate crimes charges. And the suspect pleaded not guilty. What do you make of the criminal justice aspect of it? - I was really shocked. I mean, I felt like the justice system is not for us. - Min Jin, I'm watching you listen to this story. I saw expressions flash across your face. - I'm so angry. I mean, I'm outraged. And above all, I'm so sorry this happened to you. - Thank you. And I think that it's happened to so many people in this country. And I think that when we feel that, the justice system doesn't work. And we feel that people don't believe us. It makes us believe that we don't matter. - Asian-American women are changing their daily routines. You know, you took the Buddha out of your car. - Yes. - There's an erasure of identity. What did that feel like when you had to take that out? - It's like, I cannot be myself. I have to hide, like-- but at the beginning, I wasn't-- I told my friends, like, I'm going to put it away and that no one took me seriously. Like, oh, no, that doesn't happen in Seattle. And then I got attacked. | so there is a-- I think a lot of times, people don't take your word seriously. - - Coming out of the Trump administration, I remember the first thing that people told me. And I don't know if this happened in your guys's families. But immediately people told my mom, don't put Indian decorations outside of the house because people will know that you're an Indian house. And my mom could become a target of a hate crime. And I remember my mom cried because she was so worried. And kids were saying we're really scared, Thenmozhi, Auntie. We don't know what's going on. I said, well, what's-- tell me what's happening. And they would talk about how they would play the wall at school. And they had to play the children on the other side. And they had to like, climb the wall to get back in. And then this one kid was telling me about how she would have nightmares because she thought that Trump was going to come and take them out of their home. And she drew it on this, like, paper. And I just think what it means to have absorbed all this hate for all this time, it's just, it's impossible for like, any one person to carry the burden of it. - And yet, we all know how difficult hate crimes charges are, whether it's a language barrier. The witnesses might not be able to understand what's being said. And we talked about the casual sexualized harassment that we all experienced growing up. And I think that was some of the controversy around the Atlanta spa shootings, right? Eight people are killed. Six of whom are Asian or Asian-American women. The sheriff comes out to a microphone and says the shooter says it wasn't about race. He had a sex addiction. And many in the Asian-American Pacific Islander community took issue with that. - Eyeing the evidence of our lives, those women were absolutely targeted because of their race. And any time someone says to me that you could somehow deracinate me, desexualize me and say that you know what. That was just a crime. It was an economic crime. I say that's nonsense because I cannot take away my race or my gender or my socioeconomic class or my ethnicity. And it's ignorant to say those things to me. And also, I disagree. And I will disagree until I die. - I interviewed the FBI who said there are burglary rings that target certain ethnic businesses because of stereotypes that they believe. THENMOZHI SOUNDARARAJAN: The thing that's so frustrating is that they'll deracialize as in the context of these crimes. But they have no problem racializing us when they want to racially profile us. When you think about 9/11 and the Muslim ban, think about how many South Asian-Americans and Muslim Americans that were clearly targeted for state Islamophobia. - I want to make sure that you address the tensions within your own community of being Dalit-American. - Within the South Asian community, caste-oppressed Americans are minorities within minorities. If you're born into a lower caste like my family was, you basically are sentenced to a life of separate places of worship. We live in separate villages. And you face punishing, punishing violence back at home. So for me, I mean, I really think about this moment around the Atlanta shootings as a call to action and organizing. Because in many ways, it was a moment that was an inflection point of deep despair. And everywhere across the country, including with caste-oppressed Americans, we have mobilized in ways you have never seen before. We do community safety patrols where we're walking intergenerationally people to their homes. You know, caste-oppressed Americans are leading the Civil Rights movement towards caste equity where we're fighting for equitable workplaces. And we got 23 campuses and the Cal State system, the largest public university system in the world to add caste as a protected category. And we're breaking the silence to tell our truth and demand the right to heal. JUJU CHANG: 9/11. It was a classic example of a time when a part of our community was targeted. And many feel that the rest of the community either didn't recognize it quickly enough or do enough to act in unison. - Well, I think that we're all racialized to be Asian-American under white supremacy. We're expected to do what we can to be the model minority to live the American dream. But in reality, we're pitted against each other. And we're more often rewarded to be silent and complicit with the violence each of us face than we are to come together. JUJU CHANG: I wonder, Noriko, where do you see constructive change? - What I want to see is working on the homelessness problem and the mental health issues. I don't want to put the blame on the homeless people. But I think it's a shame that we live in one of the richest country in the world. And we can do better. - How do you feel about your attacker? He did undergo a mental health evaluation. - I feel conflicted because I could see he's anger and hate and the pain. I'm not there yet to forgive him from the bottom of my heart. But at the same time, I feel like he's also a victim of the society. I just have to wonder what kind of childhood he had and why he ended up like that and what could have been done to save him. - Yeah. There's a lot for you to have to contend with. It's extraordinary, though, for you to even be thinking about it in those terms. - I think it's for myself as well-- JUJU CHANG: Mm-hmm. - --for my peace. I don't want to have hate inside me. I want to let go. So I'm trying really hard. I'm not being able to do it. I haven't been able to do it yet, but I'm working towards it. - It's not something to be rushed. And so, so how do we overcome that fear? How does our community, our allies unite to stand up to hate? - I think, though, what's really troubling for me is that all of us are tying ourselves into knots trying to figure out how do we de-ethnicize ourselves? How do we take away markers and signifiers that we're Asian? We keep trying to make ourselves more Americanized, whatever that means, or to become more Anglo. And by the way, it's not working. - Mm. MIN JIN LEE: We can achieve our-- to our very, very highest levels, and it's still not enough. And again, our race is somehow considered white adjacent. And therefore, we don't have problems. And obviously that's not true. So one of the things that I find really unfair is that you're asking the victims-- find the solutions. You're a teacher in high school. Why are you thinking about federal solutions? - Right, right. MIN JIN LEE: How is that fair? How is that fair? - Exactly. - Right? And in New York, I have asked individuals to tell me what are you doing differently? And people are saying I'm carrying pepper spray. So is that the answer? Of course not because if you know how pepper spray works is you remove it and you spray it. But apparently, supposed to cover your eyes. - I have pepper spray when I was attacked. - Right, and how did that work out? It doesn't work because none of us are quick draw pepper spray people. And I've also been told that we should arm ourselves. I got an email just yesterday telling me that we should arm ourselves. I mean, is that the solution? And I know that's not true. - And yet, how do we fight this structural nature of what we're up against? The solution is also not to throw up our hands and say it's bigger than us. - We cannot do this by ourselves. We have to constantly build coalitions with ourselves and also other communities of color, as well as with our white allies who say this is not OK. - I also think teaching history is really important too because it's not like this is the first time people have been racist towards Asian-Americans. And the fact that it's cyclical and it happens over and over and over again from yellow and dusky peril to Vincent Chin to this moment that we're in right now, because it's not-- we're not the problem. Everything that you're saying I totally agree with. - Right, and xenophobia held by other communities of color are very important. Whatever messages that are occurring, it's that all of us are internalizing the messages that the outsider is bad. And whatever that is going on, we need to go to the root of that too. It's very important to address that. - How do we move forward? - I think that it's a really difficult time. But it's also a very important time. And I take great courage. And today, hopefully that all of us who are watching are actually thinking I want to have greater awareness. We will talk to our friends. And then for members of our community, I hope that you will say that you won't just brush it off. They will say that it hurts. - Noriko, thank you so much for sharing your story and for both of you for sharing your wisdom often born of pain clearly. So thank you so much for being with us. Let's keep this conversation going as Min Jin suggests using the hashtag soulofanation to voice your thoughts, your opinions on the topics we talked about today. Thanks for joining us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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