Insider: AAPI communities shaken by stabbing of woman in NYC's Chinatown and ongoing trauma of hate crimes

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The fatal stabbing of Christina Yuna Lee, a 35-year-old creative director, has amplified fear and concern about the safety of Asian American women. Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

By Gwen Aviles/Insider

Nancy Wang Yuen says she was walking to a bus stop in Los Angeles when a white man shouted “mock Chinese” and racial slurs at her.

“We bombed your ass in Hiroshima!” she remembered the man telling her.

The experience was frightening, but wasn’t an isolated incident, she said. Every day she would brace herself to get harassed on public transportation as she traveled to and from graduate school.

“Asian American women and other women of color have all experienced threats in public spaces,” Yuen, a sociologist and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” told Insider. “We’ve all experienced some version of this where you don’t feel safe on the streets because of your race and gender.”

While the past couple of years certainly mark an increase in violence against AAPI people, there’s a well-established history of verbal and physical assault in the US against these groups.

As Stanley Mark, senior staff lawyer at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALFEF), detailed, Asians were subject to immigration legislation, including the Immigration Act of 1924, that openly barred them from entering the US and becoming naturalized citizens.

“Because of that legislation and the longstanding legacy of discriminatory against Asian Americans, the narrative that they are forever foreigners persists,” Mark told Insider. “There’s a precedent for this violence.”

Mark recalled the 1982 killing of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American draftsman, who at 27 years old, was killed by two white men who used racial slurs while beating him and reportedly blamed him for the contraction of the US auto industry.

“The men beat Chin in the ’80s because they thought he was Japanese and they blamed him for the downfall of the auto industry,” Mark explained. “Now, in 2022, we’re seeing how rhetoric about the pandemic [i.e. referring to the coronavirus as ‘China virus’] and about economic competition from China is fueling violence.”

Asian American advocates like Mark are calling for a multi-pronged approach to address the surge of verbal and physical attacks against AAPI people.