If you need a night and day moment on how the nation changed between the last administration and the present, look at one of the four executive orders President Biden signed on Tuesday, January 26.
It’s a memo that lifts up the shade that covers us and lets everyone see us for once. Titled “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” it’s a reminder to all that we matter.
Biden’s response included us in his new push for racial equity, a sweeping plan intended to correct the racism and discrimination seen in everything from the economic impacts of coronavirus on unemployment and food shortages, to housing and prison reform.
Biden may not have a cabinet secretary who is Asian American, but he didn’t forget us in his racial justice strategy, a kind of “social stimulus plan” intended to close the gaps of inequality in our country.
We certainly didn’t see that from the last guy, Mr. Doubly Impeached.
From him, we got joking cavalier references to “Kung Flu” and “China Virus.”
It is exposed just how ignorant much of America is about Asian Americans. Unwittingly, Trump’s diction left all Asian Americans, not just Chinese, but Filipinos, Koreans, Southeast Asians, and South Asians, vulnerable.
The number of anti-Asian incidents is staggering. At one point last year, Asian American organizations took in reports of more than 3,000 transgressions—some of them violent.
Trump had no idea what he unleashed. It’s about time someone at the federal level sent a stern message to the nation.
“I’m directing federal agencies to combat the resurgence of xenophobia, particularly against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, that we’ve seen skyrocket during this pandemic,” Biden said on national television. “This is unacceptable, and it’s un-American.”
Biden is calling on the Department of Justice to work with AAPI communities to prevent the hate crimes we’ve seen. He’s also asking the Department of Health and Human Services to put out “best practices” for combating xenophobia in our national response to Covid.
Imagine that. We need “best practices” to remind Americans that we’re American too? To remind people to treat us as human beings worthy of equal rights?
Apparently, we really do.
Just look at the current social media posts from what appears to be Trumpsters looking for their next conspiracy theory.
The latest one involves the Asian American Secret Service agent who seems to be in every shot whenever Biden is in public.
It’s led some in the Twitterverse to deem the agent Biden’s “Chinese handler,” the beginning of a new conspiracy.
In fact, the agent is David Cho, a decorated member of the Secret Service, and the lead in Biden’s detail. He reportedly also protected Trump.
But here’s the big reveal. Cho is not Chinese American, he’s Korean American.
Five generations of Asian Americans and we’re still at “We all look alike.”
You see how important it was for Biden to sign that executive order.
All this is what the previous four years have wrought for us.
It’s 2021, and some people don’t realize that Asian Americans are a diverse group, and that Asian faces are American faces too.
That makes just the act of seeing the new president say the words and sign the orders seem reassuring. There’s more to come as part of the equity rollout. Immigration is ahead in a few days, as Biden sets the agenda.
There’s a lot from the 45th administration to undo.
But don’t forget. The tone set by Biden and his executive order can be easily reversed by any future president who has no sense of who we are.
The winds are blowing in our direction, at least for today.
HARRIS GETS HER SHOT ON
In the meantime, we must revel in the fact that Vice President Kamala Harris is a constant reminder there’s an Asian American of Indian descent near the top.
As Biden did his thing, Harris was at the National Institutes of Health getting her second vaccine shot.
And the TV cameras stayed on the whole thing like breaking news. Harris unveils her guns and gets a dose. We don’t need more “Crazy Rich Asians.” We just need more public officials getting vaccinated on national TV.
It was a double Asian American moment when Harris was administered the vaccine by Nurse Judy Chen, who was so good at her job that Harris at one point asked, “When are you going to put it in?”
A light moment.
But the image of Harris getting the shot hopefully was one that sent a message to all Asian Americans on the fence about whether to get vaccinated.
Don’t hesitate when it’s your turn.
In California, where most Asian Americans live, the vaccine rollout has been so disorganized even all those eligible haven’t been alerted how to get vaccinated. The inequities are already there. Whites are vaccinated at more than twice the rate of Blacks and Hispanic adults, according to a CNN data analysis. No mention of Asians, as usual. (Not enough in the sample, so ignore?)
As a community, we’ve also been hit by Covid unequally, especially when it comes to front-line workers, both in and out of health care.
As I write, I pray for a good friend who is hospitalized, intubated and in an induced sleep, trying to overcome the disease. He’s a fighter, so I’m hopeful he will pull through. But I know if he were awake, he’d be ecstatic that with Biden’s order, we beat the ravages of Trump’s verbal slight, the Kung Flu.
That just leaves us just with all the other examples of anti-Asian racism and discrimination, and the virus too.