For most of her life, Natasha Christensen, Monroe Community College Faculty Association, flew under the radar.
As the child of Taiwanese immigrants, “It was assumed that I was law-abiding, studied a lot, followed rules and people didn’t look at me as a threat,” said Christensen, a professor of sociology.
That changed with the pandemic, when some Americans unfairly blamed and attacked Asians due to the virus. “I went from freely navigating to being scared to live my life and teach what I’d spent the last 35 years of my life studying,” she said.
Christensen’s experience isn’t unique. In the wake of the pandemic, violence against Asian Americans is on the rise in America.
NYSUT’s Civil and Human Rights Committee opened their virtual meeting to members Wednesday to learn more about the issue and discuss solutions. NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham hosted the event.
Combating Anti-Asian Hate
“An injustice against one is an injustice against all,” Abraham said. “Only by raising awareness and increasing education can we combat the growing attacks on our Asian brothers and sisters.”
Christensen joined with Preya Krishna-Kennedy, Bethlehem Central Teachers Association, to explore the historical roots of racism and violence against Asian Americans, and help participants raise awareness within their communities. Discussion topics included the wide-range of diversity within the Asian community, America’s history of cultural bias and hate crimes against Asians and many Asian- Americans’ feelings of cultural exclusion.
“Our goal is to give some context for the violence over the past year,” said Krishna-Kennedy, a high school social studies teacher. She explained that the issues aren’t without precedent — Asian communities have experienced discrimination ever since arriving in the United States in large numbers in the 1850s. Examples include the Chinese Exclusion Act, which strictly limited immigration, and the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II.
Despite coming to the country from more than 20 nations, speaking a variety of languages and having a wide range of cultural experiences, participants said a shared commonality is a feeling of otherness.
“I grew up not being reflected on television, in magazines or in other areas of American society,” said Christensen, who experienced a myriad of micro-aggressions growing up. “I got questions like ‘Where are you from?’ ‘How do you see out of your eyes?’ and ‘How do you speak English so well?’ despite being native born.”
“All of us struggle with the fact that we are not seen as Americans by the general population,” said Krishna-Kennedy, the daughter of Indian immigrants, who remembers having to explain that she wasn’t a Muslim, or a terrorist, after the 9/11 attack.
In breakout sessions, participants discussed how to build awareness and reduce race-based violence against Asian Americans. All agreed that education is key.
“We can’t just depend on laws, we need to teach ethnic studies,” said Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang, who is the American Federation of Teachers’ representative on the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s executive board and chair of the AFT’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Task Force. “These are parts of American history and they should, and need to be, taught to help people understand the systems of oppression.”
Suggestions for building awareness included hosting implicit bias trainings, starting book clubs focused on culturally diverse literature and incorporating lessons about Asian-American history into classrooms.