How do we balance the celebration, the hurt, and the work of Asian America?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
I took one precious vacation day this week to finish my taxes and get my garden started, only to be met by a day of snow. In April. Snow in April (or even May) is so Michigan, it was hard to be angry, so I took a picture of the snow and joined everyone else in poking fun at #puremichigan.
This April feels even more full of spring and celebration than usual, as people begin to come out of COVID isolation and with Ramadan, Passover, and Easter coinciding. April also brings Songkran, the Thai/Cambodian/Laotian water-splashing New Year’s festival; Holi, the Hindu festival of colors; Burmese, Nepali, Tamil, Bengali, Sikh, and Hindu New Year’s Days; National Poetry Month; Earth Day; the Merrie Monarch hula festival; and local favorites in my town: Festifools and Hash Bash.
I recently attended the inaugural Michigan Ramadan Market, in which Muslim American artists, craftspeople, bakers, cooks, and entrepreneurs – mostly women – brought together beautiful Ramadan-themed art, calligraphy, clothes, home décor, children’s toys and books, and delicious food from za’atar croissants to Egyptian kunafa to Bengali beef haleem and naga wings. The organizer, Fatima Siddiqui, said that she saw a lot of Christmas craft fairs, but she had never seen a Ramadan craft fair, so she created one. And the community came out in support and celebration.
Last week we mourned the somber anniversary of the 2021 shootings at an Indianapolis FedEx facility, which killed eight people, four of them Sikh American: Amarjeet Kaur Johal, Karli Smith, Matthew R. Alexander, Samaria Blackwell, Jasvinder Kaur, Jaswinder Singh, Amarjit Sekhon, John Weisert.
The FBI has determined that these were not hate crimes, although the Sikh American community has urged investigators to recognize how bias played a role in the attack.
“The shooter chose a place known for hiring people of color, specifically a Punjabi Sikh-majority, for his attack,” Amrith Kaur, Sikh Coalition legal director, said in a statement. “We are not dismissing that mental health issues nor the toxic masculinity discussed during the press conference played a role in this attack. But it is important to recognize that bias can be a factor in addition to these other issues.”
In California, a suite of three No Place for Hate bills addressing anti-Asian American hate and harassment continue to move forward — SB1161, AB2549, AB2448. Together, they declare street harassment a public health problem, seek to collect data and design solutions to hate incidents on public transit, and empower businesses to take a stand against customer-on-customer harassment in their stores.
“Street harassment is a pervasive issue that causes harm not just to individuals but to our society as a whole,” said Cynthia Choi, co-Executive Director of CAA and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. “People who have experienced street harassment may limit their freedom of movement, which can then impact their economic opportunities and further ripples out on their families and communities. We all win when women and vulnerable community members feel safe and have freedom and respect in our shared spaces.”