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Asian Americans see generational divide over racism

ATLANTA (AP) – The fatal shooting of eight people – including six women of Asian descent – at massage establishments in Georgia in March propelled Claire Xu into action.

Within days, she helped organize a rally condemning violence against Asian Americans that garnered support from a large group of activists, elected officials and community members. But her parents objected.

“’We don’t want you to do this,’ Xu, 31, recalls after telling them. “‘You can write on stuff, but don’t put 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 the protests or worry about their consequences. They also found that older generations tend to identify more closely with their ethnic groups – Chinese or Vietnamese, for example – and seem reluctant to acknowledge racism.

This divide makes it harder to form a collective Asian-American constituency capable of wielding political power and drawing attention to the wave of aggression. against people of Asian descent in the United States since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, community leaders say.

“In our home countries, where our ancestors came from, they wouldn’t even imagine that a person from Bangladesh would be put in the same group as a person from Laos,” said Angela Hsu, President of Georgia. Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

But these differences obscure a shared experience of “feeling like we are constantly seen as outsiders in our own country,” said US Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey.

Much of the recent violence against Asian Americans has targeted the elderly, and some elderly people have attended rallies to condemn it. But Cora McDonnell, 79, said she didn’t want to speak out, even though she’s now afraid to walk all the blocks from her Seattle home.

She emigrated from the Philippines to the United States in 1985 and said her culture was “more respectful”.

“You might be speaking in your family, but not really publicly,” she says. “You don’t really let things slip away.”

Lani Wong, 73, said she understood the sentiment, although she did not buy into it.

“Don’t stir the pot, don’t get involved,” said Wong, president 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 shooting.

E. Lim said it was “infuriating and truly sad” to hear his parents criticize the massage work done by some of the victims of the Georgia shooting.

“It’s almost like this desperation of denial so that they don’t have to recognize that there is a world that hates them,” said Lim, director of organization and civic engagement for Americans. Asians Advancing Justice-Atlanta.

Atlanta-area pastor Tae Chin said his Korean mother-in-law also questioned the work of victims while urging him not to focus on race. Four of the women killed were of Korean descent.

“’Work hard. Just live. Just be a good person, and they’ll see someday, ”Chin, 41, recalls in 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’re doing.’”

Allison Wang’s parents had the same tendency and thought she was wasting her time protesting the shooting.

“I think they think it’s more important to focus on your career and your family and that we don’t really feel like we can make a difference,” said Wang, who helped Xu to organize the rally in downtown Atlanta.

For Raymond Tran’s family, the political history of one of their countries of origin played a role in opposing his involvement in any organization. The Los Angeles-raised lawyer said when he was growing up, his parents told him about an uncle imprisoned and tortured by Vietnamese Communists after joining a group of students.

Racist policies in the United States strictly limited immigrants from Asia until the 1960s, so many Asian families had been in the country for only a generation or two. It is not unusual for new immigrants to focus on the needs of their families, avoiding drawing attention in favor of assimilation.

Asian immigrants face the added burden of the stereotype of the “model minority” which portrays them as industrious, law-abiding and uncompromising, and attributes their achievements to these traits, historians and advocates say.

“It divides the generations,” said Maki Hsieh, CEO of the Asian Hall of Fame, a program that honors Asian leaders. “It separates Asians from each other, and ultimately it separates them from other groups.”

Xu said her parents were concerned for her safety, but she believes their objections to her activism also stemmed in part from a desire to stay out of trouble. They understood the need to speak out against anti-Asian violence but did not want it to do so, she said.

“I believe with all my heart that if this is how everyone thinks, then there will be no 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 – which keeps Asians in the United States from “going under the racial radar,” said Nitasha Tamar Sharma, Director. from Northwestern University’s Asian American Studies program.

In addition to holding rallies and vigils across the country in the wake of the Georgia shooting, young organizers shared stories of racist dating and used the hashtag #StopAsianHate to raise awareness of the dangers Asian Americans face. are faced.

“In America, we are all one,” said Hsu, the bar chairman. “We are seen in the same way.”

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