Guest columnist Nghia Trinh: Doing our part to stop Asian hate

  • Nghia Trinh is a staff attorney for the Harry H. Dow Asian Outreach & Advocacy Project of Community Legal Aid. Submitted photo

Published: 5/13/2021 1:07:35 PM

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is observed annually in the month of May to celebrate the culture and diversity of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. 2021 is a particularly profound year for the AAPI community, given all that has happened since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The surge in anti-AAPI hate crimes across the globe has been alarming, but even more disturbing are the unreported offenses that AAPI community members endure in silence. Most readers may be unaware that some of your AAPI neighbors face harmful discrimination and bigotry on a regular basis.

To many in the AAPI community, such events are non-incidents — we don’t want to inconvenience your day by discussing our own private matters. Enduring the humiliation of being called a racial epithet or being physically threatened by strangers on the street is simply the price we pay to live in this country. This self-trivialization of lived experiences, some of which is due to our culture and upbringing, is unfortunately commonplace among AAPI community members.

Asia is the largest continent in the world, in terms of both land mass and population. With this vast space comes a great number of extremely diverse cultures. What we all share in common seem to be modesty and humility as we internalize racism so as not to upset anyone else.

We are well aware of the stereotypes — the bad driving, the math geniuses, the model minority. While we may laugh along when a friend slants their eyes or mocks our elders’ broken English, inside we are acclimating ourselves to a harmful disconnection from our AAPI heritage. Being AAPI should be a celebration of our culture and our origins, blended with the tapestry of the melting pot that is America. It should not be an assimilation into American culture that leads to the erasing of our identity.

These dynamics at times extend into an unwillingness to ask for help or even to acknowledge that help is required. In October of last year, I was hired to lead the Asian Outreach Project at Community Legal Aid. The project addresses the need for legal advocacy in low-income, limited English proficiency populations by increasing access to free legal services for the AAPI population in the Worcester area.

When AAPI clients realize that my services are free, their shock and gratitude are at the same time heartwarming — because we’ve made an impact on someone’s life — and disconcerting, because they did not know that such services were available to begin with. Once AAPI community members reach out, they realize that help is available for those who need it.

So no matter what your ethnicity may be, create some time in your life to familiarize yourself with a bit of AAPI history and culture this month. AAPI history is complex and diverse and too often marginalized. Let’s all do our part in stopping Asian hate.

Nghia Trinh is a staff attorney for the Harry H. Dow Asian Outreach & Advocacy Project of Community Legal Aid.


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