In the past week, the news has been filled with a terrible story coming out of Atlanta: eight people, six of them Asian-American women, killed in a rampage by a 21-year-old white man who that same day had been able to purchase the handgun that he used in his crime.
There should be no speculation as to whether this slaughter was racially motivated. How could it be anything else, given the women who were specifically targeted?
Asian American and Pacific Islander women have long navigated the intertwined horrors of misogyny and racism, embedded in the Western cultural canon of literature and films casting them as tempting, tragic and exotic “others.”
And recently, in the wave of racist rhetoric and acts that have washed over the United States in the era of Trump and his repellent references to the “China virus” and “Kung Flu,” women have been particularly targeted.
According to the organization, Stop AAPI Hate, there have been 3800 hate incidents directed at Asian American and Pacific Islanders reported over the course of the pandemic. Women reported 68% of those incidents.
But even with Trump banned from creating more anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter, the racism continues unabated — most recently in the form of far-right outrage over the decision by the estate of Theodor Seuss Geisel to cease publication of six of the author’s children’s books because they contained derogatory portrayals of Asian people and other racial stereotypes. Pundits on Fox News howled — how dare such images be suppressed, even by the estate that controlled them?
But none of this is new. The ugly truth is that Asian-Americans of all genders have, throughout American history, faced discrimination that has actually been codified into law. Our region has played an outsized role in this systemic injustice.
One of the first acts of the Washington territorial legislature, in 1953, was to bar Chinese people from voting. Later, the same legislative body passed another law restricting the rights of Chinese people to testify in court against white people.
The Page Act of 1875 stopped the entry of women into the United States for “immoral purposes”— effectively barring all Chinese women from entering the country by branding them as prostitutes. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, passed seven years later, prohibited immigration by Chinese men.
These laws had consequences: in 1885, in Tacoma, Chinese residences and businesses were set on fire. The following year, white people attacked Chinese people in Seattle, Walla Walla and Pasco.
The laws kept coming.
The Immigration Act of 1924, or the Johnson-Reed Act (named for Washington representative Albert Johnson) excluded anyone from what was declared an “Asiatic Barred Zone,” except for Japanese and Filipinos.
In 1935 and 1937, the Washington Legislature tried to pass two laws banning interracial marriages — aimed primarily at Seattle’s Filipino community, which fought back to block the bills from passing.
Then, of course, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, came Executive Order 9066, and the forced internment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast into concentration camps.
These included more than 100 Vashon Islanders — members of a thriving Japanese community of families and their children. On one terrible day, every islander of Japanese ancestry was escorted at gunpoint off Vashon and incarcerated.
(Just so you know: Days before Franklin Roosevelt signed that executive order, Theodor Seuss Geisel published a political cartoon in a New York newspaper. It depicted a vast column of identical, sinister-looking Japanese-American men, lined up from Washington to California, all collecting boxes of dynamite — insinuating that every person of Japanese ancestry in the United States had joined in Japan’s war against the United States.)
Here on Vashon, the local newspaper at first supported the Japanese citizens of Vashon. But later, to its everlasting shame, The News-Record published a 1943 editorial that urged, “Leave the Japs Where They Are.” In 1945, the newspaper supported Gov. Monrad Wallgren’s opposition to allowing the Japanese to return.
At The Beachcomber, in 2021, we use this space to condemn racism.
The names of the dead in Atlanta are Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, and Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, and Suncha Kim and Yong Ae Yue.
We mourn the loss of these lives and the legacy of white supremacy that led to them.