May 7, 2022

Asian Americans Are Facing Unprecedented Difficulties in Chicago

By Hannah Ding

Chicago had always been one of the oldest and largest cities that Asian immigrants lived in since the 1870s. Many Asians were born and raised in the city just like many other ethnic families.

According to World Population Review, there are 179,530 Asian Americans living in the city. Asian Americans make up 6.63% of the total population of Chicago.

Zuviriya Anarwala, a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was born in India, and came to America when she was ten years old in the year of 2009.

“I think Chicago is really diverse so that makes it really easy,” Anarwala said. “It’s like your own place where you don’t have to be American or Asian. You can find your own balance. You can find both communities.”

According to the Chinese Exclusion Exclusion Act signed in 1882, Asian Americans seem to also never get to be treated equally as other ethnicities or to be seen as true “Americans”. 

A series of studies were conducted and found that hate crimes targeting the Asian American community have reached some unprecedented levels.

  • According to Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, Anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. more than quadrupled in 2021 compared to the year before.
  • Based on a national report from Stop AAPI Hate, from March 2020 to Dec 2021, 10,905 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported nationally. Based on the reflection of the report, 42.5% occurred in 2020, and 57.5% occurred in 2021.
  • According to a report by the NYPD, New York is one of the cities with the highest 339-percent-increased Anti-Asian crime rates in 2021. In March, an Asian female was hitted in the head and face 125 times. In February, another Asian female tailgated on her way back to her apartment, and got stabbed dozens of times. In January, a 40-year-old Asian female was pushed in front of an oncoming subway. When they were waiting for tomorrow they would never know what they only have is this moment.
  • According to a report released by Federal Bureau of Investigation in Fall 2021, among single-bias hate crime incidents in 2020, there were 6,880 victims of race/ethnicity/ancestry motivated hate crime, and 5.0 percent were victims of anti-Asian bias.

“I feel like most of the Anti-Asian crimes happened especially in the 2020s,” Anarwala said. “Trump said that thing. The whole freedom of speech topic comes up. Things like this can be really complicated.”

Asian-hate is not only in crime, it is also in the life of Asians in Chicago. Emily Sun is a second-generation immigrant whose parents came from China. She said that she and her friends were verbally and physically violated when they hung out together in Chicago.

“They call his name like chink. And one of my friends was pushed,” Sun said. “It was very scary. And I was just very disappointed about the people here.”

Things like this don’t just happen on the street, they are also happening in official offices. 

Ishani Mukherjee, a clinical professor in the department of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a South Asian immigrant who has been in the U.S. for 17 years. She said she faced secondary profiling when she was being interviewed by a White American male in an administrative office in the US that deals with international travel in 2021.

“He just said, ‘Your people’ – which is such a colonial othering thing off the bat – ‘every time they come into this country, they choose to bring all this gold with them,’ ” Mukherjee said. “God knows how many racist or cultural assumptions or prejudices this person has.”

Mukherjee said the official’s racist rant made her sad, as she had been working hard and waiting long to travel internationally.

Recently, an international incident that has caused concern among Asians is Lincoln Mitchell from CNN commenting that Eileen Gu, an Asian freestyle skier is “ungrateful.” Gu used to be Asian American but represented China while winning two gold and one silver in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Mitchell’s comments about Gu led many Asians to believe that it was also a disguised form of racism.

“They should not call her ungrateful, because part of her culture is Chinese,” Anarwala said. “It’s not like she’s not Chinese. She’s gotten the gold medal. And I find it weird. She’s accomplished something, and they have to say something negative about it. It feels like racist.”

Mukherjee said, “I think in baseball, and there are other sports, there are players who have simultaneously represented different regions or different countries. So I think it’s just bad timing that the people need something to create controversy on and it’s sad that it fell on Gu. I felt it’s important to explain why someone would be primed to think a certain way. ”

Anarwala, as a Muslim being, was offended by a female carrying her children, while she was wearing a black turban on her head at a restaurant.

“I kind of went out all black with my cousins and everybody,” Anarwala said. “So this mom, when she saw us, she told all her kids to get out really fast. She was like, ‘let’s go’, you know? And I was like, Will.”

According to the report released by Federal Bureau of Investigation in Fall 2021, among all the the 1,481 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 8.8 percent were victims of anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias.

While Asian hate is on the rise, Asian people in Chicago are trying to fight against discrimination. A Stop Asian Hate rally was held on March 26 by over 65 Asian American organizations. In fact, such protests are not just an isolated case. Another rally was held on Jan. 22 for an Asian grandfather who was shot and killed randomly in Chinatown.

Many of the Asian American communities are also helping Asians in the U.S. to adapt their lives here by offering them the taste of home. When searching for Indian restaurants in Google Maps, hundreds of results pop up. Food can always reflect the culture of an area, and Chicago is a  melting pot of different cultures with various different cuisines from regions all over the world. 

Being able to taste the flavor of their original culture in Chicago, as Anarwala said, Asian Americans can always find a balance between both Asian culture and American culture.

According to the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act signed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in Jan 2021, teaching Asian American history in public schools became a mandatory requirement starting from the 2022-2023 school year. 

Mukherjee, as an expert in intercultural communication and human mobility, said, “We talked about how it’s important in order to build communication competence, particularly intercultural communication competence, it is really important to kind of take a step back from your own cultural location, and then look at not just what others are doing. These factors are there in the US in a lot of us. But how we choose to fight against it, or how we choose to sort of put that aside and give credit to an individual for their experiences and what they bring or the richness screen is what I think is really important.”

Read more: Immigration

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