Arts & Features Writer
At the age of seven, while playing with his neighbor, Adam Wan encountered his first experience with racism.
“I don’t want any fucking Mexicans in my yard,” yelled his neighbor’s grandfather as he pulled out a gun and threatened Wan to leave.
“We knew very quickly who we were living with,” the now 21-year-old said. “I was not of that race and not of that ethnicity, but also how could you be so vain; you don’t even know me.”
Being the only Asian student in his middle school, and not white passing or athletically talented, Wan became the perfect target for his four white teachers. The treatment stopped only when another Asian student joined his school.
“I never told my parents about the treatment because it wasn’t until after my middle school experience did I think back on the events,” he said. “I was singled out every single time on a common denominator.”
As the only Asian student in his elementary school, Alex Ear, the president of UNC Asheville’s ASIA club, encountered racial insults and jokes.
“It started with the eyes as usual,” the 20-year-old said “Being picked on was very obvious because of how I looked.”
As Ear transitioned into high school, the jokes continued and the blessing of an increase of Asian students became a double edged sword, as they were quickly compared to each other.
“Once I got to college none of that was here. Which I was glad for,” he said.
At UNCA, Ear said he’s had minor experiences with racism.
“Just stuff I’ve already dealt with and I already know how to deal with them,” he said.
While scrolling through TikTok, 20-year-old Kristine Tan, sees a video of a girl explaining the negative impacts of the fox eye makeup trend where makeup is applied to give the person almond shaped eyes. Some accentuate the look by pulling their eyes back.
“I’ve seen people calling those who speak out or post about racism against Asian’s ‘snowflakes,’” she said.
During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Tan felt the increasing need to speak out against the rise of attacks on Asian Americans, but decided against it.
“You shouldn’t voice something, my opinions, when another minority group is going through it,” she said. “Even now, I feel like we’re still silenced because there are still people out there who will be like, ‘oh you’re sensitive, this shouldn’t be a big deal.’ But these are people who are not Asian, they don’t know what it’s like.”
Ear said the coverage of Asian hate and of minorities in general always happens too late. He said he is glad the administration addressed the rise of Asian hate crimes following the shootings at three Atlanta-area spas on March 16, where a man killed eight people, six of which were women of Asian descent. Although, he said he wished more attention had been given to the issue before.
“When Black Lives Matter happened, everybody knew and the school made an announcement, but they didn’t also announce that we were still also getting hate, since Trump basically put the blame on Asian people and there was not much coverage of that,” he said.
As Ear and Tan returned to campus, they hesitated, worried about the possibility of becoming a target.
“I remember I saw a kid just getting beat up by a person because he thought he brought COVID,” Ear said.
Prior to returning, Tan saw videos of people spitting on Asians.
“I was just scared for my safety, especially when they’re attacking people who look mostly Asian,” Tan said. “I didn’t want that happening to me, obviously. That’s very scary, but I don’t know, a part of me was like ‘what are the chances?’”
A Stop AAPI Hate report counted 3,795 incidents of Asian hate crimes from March 19, 2020 to February 28. Sixty-eight percent of the reports came from females and out of 2,716 incidents, 40 percent ranged from the ages of 36 to 75.
Tan’s voice heightens as she expresses her gratitude for her grandmother not being in the U.S.
“That makes my blood boil so much,” she said. “She can’t really defend for herself like that. It’s very heartbreaking to see that.”
Tan said she would rather take the hate for her parents then have them experience it.
“Our parents did so much. They immigrated here, worked their asses off even if they didn’t really know the language in coming here and it’s like why is it happening,” she said.
The model minority myth suggests that Asians are the ideal immigrants because they have good careers, are hard working and do well in school.
“We’re not a minority example or anything like that,” Ear said.
In high school, Tan compared herself to the other Asian students in her school, often feeling like a bad Asian for not being musically or academically talented.
“I feel like a disappointment for myself almost and I shouldn’t, because everyone is different,” she said. “I wish I could be like that.”
Wan said movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Always Be My Maybe perpetuate the false narrative of the model minority because of their depictions of Asians living lavish lifestyles.
“We’re not as rich, or as high up and well to do as people think we are,” he said. “There are always going to be those top one percent of every minority, but I know for a fact that my grandpa, my grandma, my dad and my uncle, came from Singapore to the United States with absolutely nothing but what they had on them.”
Wan said the perpetuation of the myth leads to less government funding for homeless and underserved Asian populations.
“I do stand firmly on the fact that Asians are a forgotten demographic and a forgotten minority and are often left out of the situation,” he said.
His tone hastens as he talks about Asian discrimination on campus.
“The fact that you are disregarding one group of people or just not really including them in the conversation is perplexing to me. Because we don’t face just as much as you and our oppression is not the same, but our oppression is still valid and it should still be considered,” he said.
Ear said speaking with and interacting with Asian students on campus is a good way to stop Asian hate.
“We are not a different species, we are the same human. We’re the same as you guys, we’re not different from anyone else,” he said.