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National

The History Of Anti-Asian Sentiment In The U.S

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tuesday's deadly shootings in Georgia come as hate crimes against Asian Americans surged by nearly 150% last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. But the history of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. begins way before the pandemic and way before former President Trump's racist remarks about the, quote, "China virus." Here to talk with us about that history is Dale Minami. He is founder of the Asian Law Caucus and former professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Welcome.

DALE MINAMI: Hi. How are you?

CHANG: I'm good. I just want to start by asking you what's been going through your mind the last couple of days as you've seen this news in Georgia unfold.

MINAMI: Gee, there's so many adjectives - disappointed, destroyed, disgusted. It's just appalling what's been happening and what has happened throughout history, actually. But today was - yesterday was a particularly bad day.

CHANG: Yeah, I agree. Well, I want to turn specifically now to really this whole past year. Let's start there, the rise in anti-Asian attacks, both physical and verbal attacks. I'm including in there the way former President Trump framed the coronavirus as a thing that came from Chinese people. What parallels do you see between what's happening now in this country and what has happened in periods in the past when people in this country turned on Asian Americans?

MINAMI: I think during periods of great tension in this country, our insecurity, fears and anxieties rise, and that undercurrent of racism that has gone through the United States history throughout its beginning tends to overflow. And that from the first immigration of Chinese to this country in the 1850s, to the present, you've seen an ebb and flow of such violence. 1871, there's a massacre of 20 Chinese Americans in LA. They were lynched. We've seen the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, demonization of Chinese during the McCarthy era and the aftermath of the Gulf War and September 11, when Muslim and Indian Americans were very much subject to violence and discrimination.

CHANG: I also want to point out to people listening to this interview that you led the legal team that overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu. He was the civil rights activist who was arrested for refusing to enter a Japanese internment camp in 1942. How do you think the legacy of war has played into this history we're talking about, the way Asian identity has been perceived in this country?

MINAMI: The tensions rise exponentially during times of war. In the last three major wars, the United States fought war against Asian countries - Japan, Korea and Vietnam. And that leads not only to dehumanization of those people simply to justify, you know, psychologically the killing of the, quote, "enemy." And those images remain. The antipathy remains and survives. And to dehumanize these people of color and bring that back to your own country, the United States, leads to a justification for just terrible treatment of Asian people.

CHANG: Well, as we're talking about this long history of anti-immigrant sentiment in this country, the ebb and flow of it, as you put it, I mean, you personally have had a long career thinking, litigating, writing about anti-Asian feeling in the U.S. Is it possible for you to picture at this moment where things might go from here? I mean, does now feel like a moment of change to you?

MINAMI: It does. I think partly when you see Black Lives Matter being legitimized and that folks, including white folks, are supporting that movement, there's hope that there's allyship that can be created among all races, including Asian Americans. And education of other groups to understand the common humanity we all have is really critical but perhaps the hardest thing to do. I think we have to change this whole culture to understand that reckoning of racism needs to be had in this country, and it includes Asian Americans.

CHANG: Dale Minami, founder of the Asian Law Caucus. Thank you very much for your time today.

MINAMI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.