PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Members of the Asian community in Oregon and Washington are still processing the mass shooting that killed 8 people, including 6 Asian women, in the Atlanta area. Although the suspect in the shooting has claimed it was not a racially motivated attack, the crime is taking a great toll on the community.
Two experts who spoke with KOIN 6 News — Gordon Nagayama Hall and Jennifer Fang — described their feelings as shock and anxiety, especially for Asian women who said this reminds them of some of the disturbing stereotypes they must deal with regularly.
“In some ways Asian Americans are an easy mark, particularly Asian American women who are seen as people who will not retaliate,” said Hall, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. “There’s a constant source of anxiety and in some cases, depression, for Asian Americans.”
Even though the suspect claimed race was not a motive provides very little comfort, he said.
“Although this person claims this wasn’t racially motivated, most of the victims in my understanding, were Asian women and it seems more than coincidental that most of the victims were Asian women and he wasn’t just indiscriminately killing women.”
The anxiety over recent incidents has gotten so bad, he said, some people have even been concerned about leaving their homes.
“People are afraid to go out,” he said.
Many Asian women also report being triggered by the shooting because they’ve been stereotyped sexually throughout their lives, said Fang, the director of education at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon. She also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Portland in the history department.
She said those stereotypes are deeply rooted in American history, in part starting with the Page Act in 1875. That was enacted to prevent sex workers from immigrating but instead resulted in a near-total ban of Chinese women.
“In the United States they were portrayed as prostitutes that threatened the moral fiber of the United States,” Fang said. “So that the sexualization of Asian women, like, that comes from somewhere. It comes from that period in time.”
She also believes long-held stereotypes that Asians are a model minority can also make them a target as well.
“Along with that ‘model minority’ stereotype is this belief that Asian Americans are really well behaved and won’t speak up against injustice,” Fang said, “and will just swallow the bitterness, if you will. And I think that that stereotype makes Asians in America vulnerable to this type of violence. So, that’s a problem we are all dealing with, as well.”
Gordon Nagayama Hall said if you’d like to support Asian filmmakers who are busting stereotypes and offering a different perspective through film, check out the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon. It’s a virtual event that runs from March 19 – 28.