In the wake of the March 16 Atlanta shootings and a year filled with pandemic-instigated racist slurs, hate crimes and stereotypes, Asians all over the world have expressed their solidarity with the #StopAsianHate movement on the streets and online.
For Helen Cheung,* a 20-year-old Hongkonger who now lives in New York City, the #StopAsianHate protests allow her to seek solace when non-Asians come together to support the Asian community. “The solidarity helps me process the grief after such incidents,” she said.
In the east, the recent spike in race-targetted hate crimes has left Hongkongers with mounting uncertainty and questions regarding what lies ahead if they plan to emigrate to the west.
The 2019 anti-extradition bill protests followed by the enactment of the national security law in Hong Kong has made many rethink their stay in the city. While the British National (Overseas) passport paves the path for Hongkongers with this status to live in the UK and gradually become a citizen there, other destinations are also popular including Australia, Taiwan and the United States.
After eight people—six of whom were Asian women—were killed in three spas across Atlanta by Robert Aaron Long, who is white, people took over the streets and twitter to condemn the growing violence and hate against Asian people. Although this Sinophobic and xenophobic sentiment is not new, it has substantially amplified in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
What does that mean for Hongkongers looking to flee the city—plagued with political instability—and intending to settle someplace safer?
To move, or not to move, that is the question.
“I want to move abroad but Asian hate is one of the dominant reasons as to why I want to stay in the South-east Asian region. I want to wait and understand the global climate on how people would react to me being ethnically Chinese,” said a local student at the University of Hong Kong.
“The recent racist incidents do add on to the anxiety of relocating, but the bigger thing is culture and the ‘immigrant’ status. What is that going to be like—never thought about this in my life,” she added.
Keith Ho, a Hong Kong local born in 1964, recounted his experiences of being an Asian student in London back in the day.
“I have first-hand experience of what racial harassments were like back in the mid-1980s when studying in London. It is this realization of racial differences that I came back to Hong Kong immediately after graduation instead of competing for jobs in London,” said Ho.
“Now—40 years later—these racial harassments have escalated to physical attacks and even murders, so I think it is best to stay put and stay where we can get protection,” he added.
Many Hongkongers are concerned about the treatment they will face in an environment in which Asians are a racial minority.
Non-profit organisation Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian American Pacific Islanders in the US, noted 3,795 incidents between March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021. Although data on hate crimes is majorly underreported and does not portray the full picture, it lends an idea to the vulnerability of a particular group.
In the UK, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London provided initial data on attacks against people of East-Asian ancestry and revealed that the numbers saw a 96% increase over the summer as compared to 2019.
Hongkongers living in the west have also expressed their concerns over the soaring hate crimes.
“My cousin’s co-worker would always call the virus the ‘Chinese virus.’ Then he would brush it off as a joke or even say that it is factual as the virus originated from China,” said Cheung.*
“People do not realise the magnitude of their words until it translates into what happened in Atlanta,” she said.
Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China” or “Wuhan” virus and “kung flu” which furthered this rhetoric and aggravated the anti-China sentiment. He denied all allegations of racism in his narrative.
“I feel hopeless and helpless when I read about such incidents. I tell myself that this is why I need to learn self-defence—but how can I ever ‘self-defend’ my way out of a gun shooting?” said Cheung.*
Fiona Lam, a Hongkonger who now lives in Southern California, has become more vigilant lest something similar happens with her.
“I try to be more alert now when I go out. It is scary. When people come close to you, you just have to be mentally prepared and more on your guard at all times,” she said.
“We are all human beings, we cannot penalise a particular race for a pandemic,” she added.
*Name has been edited as the source requested anonymity.
Featured Image: #StopAsianHate demonstration on March 27, 2021. (Photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash)