L-R: Jennifer Lee, Vivian Louie, Grace Kao, Mae Ngai
The May 2020 celebration of Asian/Pacific American heritage month coincides with the troubling rise of hate crimes and violence directed towards Asian Americans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses owned by Asian Americans have lost revenue and individuals have been verbally harassed and physically assaulted as the coronavirus spread, first in China and then throughout the world. Racist nomenclature has fanned the flames of anti-Asian sentiment, with President Donald Trump calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus.” Many RSF scholars are on the leading edge of Asian American studies, and several of them have been cited in recent media about how Asian Americans are faring during these challenging times.
A CNN article details the extraordinary financial challenges faced by Asian Americans in New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic. In April, Asians were two to four times more likely to file for unemployment than any other racial or ethnic group. Scholars and policy experts attribute these spikes to the concentration of people of Asian descent in industries that were hard hit by shelter-in-place orders and related business closings, including restaurants, small businesses, and nail salons. RSF author Jennifer Lee (Columbia University) was cited in the article for her views that Trump’s racist name for the coronavirus, though it has been abandoned since its first use in March of this year, has had lasting damage. Lee wrote a comprehensive chronicle of the rise of anti-Asian hate during the pandemic with Monica Yadav for the Social Science Research Council. She co-authored the RSF books The Asian American Achievement Paradox (2015) with Min Zhou and The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in the Twentieth Century (2010) with Frank Bean.
Vivian Louie (Hunter College, City University of New York) wrote an opinion piece for the New York Daily News about why Asian American studies are critically important now. Her article traces discrimination against Asian Americans from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the internment of the Japanese during World War II to the surveillance and harassment of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans after 9/11. Louie, a visiting scholar during the 2007-2008 academic year, is the author of the RSF book, Keeping the Immigrant Bargain: The Costs and Rewards of Success in America (2012).
Grace Kao (Yale University), co-author of the RSF book, The Company We Keep: Interracial Friendships and Romantic Relationships from Adolescence and Adulthood (2019), with Kara Joyner and Kelly Stamper-Balistreri, was cited in the Washington Post, USA Today and The Hill press coverage about anti-Asian racism during the pandemic.
In contrast to this disturbing news, PBS recently premiered Asian Americans, a documentary film series exploring the historical and contemporary experiences of Asian American immigrants to the United States and their descendants. Incoming visiting scholar Mae Ngai (Columbia University) features prominently in the first episode of the series, which is streaming for free on the PBS website until early June.
RSF celebrates the work of scholars who examine both the historical and contemporary contributions of Asian Americans to American public life and ongoing struggles for equality and social justice for all Americans. Read more here about the foundation’s Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration program.