Interviewed by Dr. Lindsay Clare Matsumura 

Institute for Learning

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have significantly increased. We reached out to Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan, university administrator, a former elementary school teacher, and author of over 350 children’s books—many of which draw on her Chinese-American heritage. We talked to her about what educators can do to raise awareness of and combat anti-Asian hate. 

Before reading her interview, you can listen to Dr. Loh-Hagan share information about the origin of the term Asian American and the inclusive acronym APIDA, which stands for Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi, Americans.

Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan
Q: Help us understand the historical context of anti-Asian hate.

Asians started immigrating to the U.S. in large numbers in the 1800s.
Since then, they have been the victims of anti-Asian hate. It’s important to understand that anti-Asian hate is an American tradition. It is not new.
It is a part of our history. It can be seen in the law books and on the streets. For example, the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 were laws that sought to prevent Asians from immigrating, these laws specifically targeted Asians. In its worst form, anti-Asian hate has
manifested as hate crimes.

Asian American history is not effectively taught in our public schools. This is another form of racism; by erasing, minimalizing, and/or marginalizing Asian American history.

Again, such crimes have been happening since the 1800s. In the Chinese Massacre of 1871, seventeen Chinese people were hanged. During World War II, over 127,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated. In the 1970s, the KKK set fire to the boats of Vietnamese shrimpers living in Texas. In 1982, Vincent Chin was killed in broad daylight. In 1999, a white supremist shot and killed Joseph Ileto, a Filipino American postal worker. After September 11, South Asians faced discrimination and violence. In 2021, a shooter killed six Asian American women in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I could name more examples. I’m going to bet that the majority of our U.S. population can’t name these or other incidents—Asian American history is not effectively taught in our public schools. This is another form of racism; by erasing, minimalizing, and/or marginalizing Asian American history, we are failing to create an informed and educated citizenry, one that is committed to racial and social justice.

Q: What conditions exist that may be contributing to anti-Asian hate movement? 

This recent escalation of anti-Asian hate can be traced back to comments referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”. Not only are such comments inaccurate, but they are also racist, causing unconscious or conscious biases. Research from Stop AAPI Hate (AAPI Asian American Pacific Islander) suggests that APIDA people are more scared of anti-Asian hate than of COVID-19. APIDA people have been pushed, beaten, kicked, spit on, called slurs, etc. Their homes and businesses have been vandalized and/or collapsed. The root causes of anti-Asian hate are related to yellow peril, the perpetual foreigner stereotype, the model minority theory, exoticized stereotypes, lack of representation, etc. Seeing APIDA folks as “foreigners” or “outsiders” allows white supremacy to exploit and oppress them. Throughout history and even today, APIDA people have been the victims of scapegoating—they have been blamed for economic insecurity, for national insecurity, for public health crises, and more. It’s also important to recognize the lasting impacts of the colonization of Asians and Pacific Islanders. 

Q: What are some practical things that educators can do to raise awareness of and/or counter anti-Asian hate?

Teaching is a superpower; use your power for good. Education is the key to justice. First, educators need to do the necessary intellectual work to learn more about the history and heritages of communities of color. Then, they can include APIDA narratives and perspectives in their curriculum (for ideas see the Asian American Education Project). Second, educators can teach critical literacy. Hate is commonly fueled by propaganda, fake news, etc. Teaching students how to critically read/think is a valuable skill. It’s vital to be able to see the issues of power and privilege at play. Third, step up—if you see something, say something. Do not let hate win. Together, we can be better.