I’m a mental health therapist. I have been working in private practice for three years now, my primary location is in Cary, North Carolina. While my practice caters to those who have the ability to obtain insurance or pay out of pocket, I do oﬀer a number of free and low cost sessions for those in need. Through my work I have had the honor of witnessing the stories of individuals growing up as first generation Americans. It is amazing to witness the stories, confusion, pain, and delight as they explore their own heritage and blend it into the American system in which they are growing up.
This month we are celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. The United States government chose May to celebrate this heritage in honor of the first Japanese individuals to immigrate to the United States in 1843, and also in honor of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, in 1869, that was worked on predominantly by Chinese immigrants. Since its establishment in 1978, the celebration of Asian/Pacific American Heritage has grown to be a full month and many corporations and nonprofits have made it their mission to educate society about the impact of these amazing cultures.
It is important to identify the category of Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Many Americans may not know the broad categories or presence of these cultures in the society. According to the census, Asian Americans are defined as Chinese (except Taiwanese), Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese people. Pacific Islanders are identified as Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, Samoan, and Guamanian or Chamorro (1).
There are roughly 5.2 million Asian identified individuals in the United States. These individuals have a significant impact on our society, including a 2.5% representation in the military and roughly 577,835 business as of 2018. Additionally, there are roughly 1.6 million Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander identified individuals within the United States. 7.2% have served in the military and there are 6,653 Native Hawaii and other Pacific Islander owned business (1).
Like many minority races, the incidents of violence toward Asian Americans has increased recently. A report released by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University showed that hate crimes had increased by 169% between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 (2). In the research reported by Stop AAPI, a non profit focused on stopping hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islander, it was stated that reports were submitted primarily by women (68% of reports). With this data presented it can be hypothesized there may be an intersection between the violence against women and against Asian Americans.
After reading these statistics it becomes almost impossible to ignore the dangerous trend in American engagement across cultures. While it may feel hopeless to make changes, there are small things that individuals can do to provide support and respite to marginalized individuals. An important thing for everyone to recognize is the benefit and beauty of established safe conversations. Asking someone “Are you okay” when the news is reporting the murder of their fellow people is not an eﬀective way of engaging with someone. It pigeon holes them into responding “oh I’m fine” or “don’t worry about me”, because it is uncomfortable to try and explain just how painful and terrifying it is to witness hate and crime against someone within your community.
Holding space for someone may look like asking “is there a way I can support you”, or “I’m here if you want or need to talk to someone”. It is possible that someone may not want to talk about the events going on in the news, and would rather hold conversations about the present moment. It might be too raw, too close to home, or too overwhelming to address in the moment and it is important to remember to honor their needs.
Find resources to educate yourself. There are thousands of articles, websites, and groups available at your fingertips when using the internet. The Smithsonian Institute (3) has created a center for Asian Pacific American heritage, PBS (4) has several active websites and articles tracking the history as well as current events and trailblazers and asianpacificheritage.gov (5) is an excellent resources that links to articles, teaching material, exhibits, and more. These are all fairly easily accessible through the internet, but don’t be afraid to look further.
If podcasts are more your speed, check out “Self Evident” by James Boo, Talisa Chang, and Julia Shu, “Asian Enough” by Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong, “Long Distance” by Paola Mardo, “Southern Fried Asian” by Keith Chow, “They Call Us Bruce” by Phil Yu and Jeﬀ Yang, “Saturday School” by Ada Tseng and Brian Hu, “At The Moment: Asian American News” by Sylvia Peng and Janrey Serapio, “Asian Americana” by Quincy Surasmith, or “Modern Minorities’ by Sharon Lee Thony and Raman Sehgal.
- https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2021/asian-american-pacific- html
- https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/new-report-finds-169-percent-surge-anti- asian-hate-crimes-n1265756