How to Support Asian American Communities Through Food and Action
The recent Atlanta shooting spree that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, has devastated Asian communities around the country, marking a full year in which Asians have been targeted with a tremendous amount of open bigotry.
Bias against Asians in America captured media attention in 2020, as the pandemic began blazing across the world. People started avoiding Chinatowns and Asian restaurants, illogically blaming them for the virus and crippling their businesses. And since then, there's been an uptick of harassment and physical attacks against Asian people, with the elderly often being victimized. According to Stop AAPI Hate, there have been 3,800 reported incidents of hate crimes against Asians since last March, though hate crimes are likely woefully underreported.
But let's be clear: this bias and "othering" of Asians and Asian Americans has long existed in the United States—from the state-sanctioned racism of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese internment camps during World War II, to media caricatures of Asians and everyday microaggressions that have never really stopped.
As an Indian American, I can remember vividly as a child bonding with a Korean American student, the two of us shamed as the cafeteria outcasts with our "stinky" foreign food neatly packed by our moms in a series of Tupperware (food that, as Ruth Tam pointed out in her excellent 2015 Washington Post essay, is now incredibly trendy). Racist playground chants, physical harassment, cruel jokes about eye shape, accents and food choices—all of these incidents are burned in the memories of many Asian Americans, most of whom suffered silently.
Now, this suffering is impossible to ignore. The mass killing in Atlanta is another symptom rather than a culmination of the racism Asians face; in fact, there were multiple attacks on people in the recent aftermath as well as hateful letters sent to Asian-owned businesses and ongoing violent incidents around the country. It's more important than ever for allies to step up and support efforts to not only put a stop to hate crimes, but to also engage with Asian Americans and Asian communities to bring about long-term change. So how can we make this about more than just a hashtag that fades away with the next news cycle? Read on for a few concrete ways you can help.
6 Concrete Ways to Support Asian American Communities
Be intentional about learning
Learning Asian American history is the first step in understanding how we got to where we are today, and consuming and sharing content from various Asian perspectives is key for developing empathy. There are ongoing Zoom workshops, Clubhouse talks and other social media events led by Asian American organizers that you can find with a quick search. Seek out Asian writers, historians, filmmakers and documentaries. Here are a few to get you started:
Support Asian American cookbook authors
Food is one of the best (and most fun!) ways to learn about culture. Asian Americans are not a monolithic group, and understanding the nuances of different Asian cuisines and the ways cooks connect it with their American experience can be really eye-opening. Not only will you get to try cuisines and cooking techniques you might not have known, but you'll get a ton of cultural context in the storytelling. Here are a few cookbooks to start off:
- Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from my Indonesian Kitchen by Lara Lee
- Xi'an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York's Favorite Noodle Shop by Jason Wang
- Judy Joo's Korean Soul Food: Authentic Dishes and Modern Twists by Judy Joo
- The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes by Nik Sharma
- Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories by Grace Young
- Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen by Edward Lee
Seek out chefs and organizations that are doing good with food
A number of chefs have mobilized to help raise money for community organizations or are donating food to people in the Asian community who are in need. Kevin Tien, chef at the Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C., co-founded Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, a weekly takeout dinner series from which most of the proceeds will be donated to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate. Tien and his co-founders have gotten 45 chefs on board. Heart of Dinner in New York City delivers hot lunches and fresh produce to Asian seniors in need. Started by Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai in 2015, the organization has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, and is seeking donations to hit its goal of providing 250,000 meals. A collective of New York City chefs started the #EnoughIsEnough campaign to raise money for organizations including Heart of Dinner, Send Chinatown Love and Welcome to Chinatown. OpenMeal is an organization that helps Asian restaurants and people who are food-insecure by collecting donations to provide free meals from Asian restaurants to those who are hungry. Several other chefs are donating portions of proceeds to similar organizations around the country. You can do your part by eating at their restaurants and also donating to these organizations.
Eat in your local Chinatown and other enclaves
Speaking of supporting restaurants, many Chinatown restaurants are in dire need. Show your support by ordering takeout or delivery from these restaurants (if possible, try and order directly from the restaurant to save them fees from third-party apps) and, once restrictions allow, dine at their establishments. Cookbook author Grace Young has a great guide for the best ways to continue supporting Chinatowns in your area. And don't forget about other enclaves such as the Koreatowns in New York and Los Angeles and many other clusters of Asian restaurants and businesses around the country.
Write positive online reviews and notes to Asian business owners
In addition to a drop-off in patrons, many Asian business owners have received nasty letters and their businesses have been vandalized. Business owners pour their hearts into their establishments, and kind words from the community can make a big impact during this difficult time. Take a few minutes to share a positive review and even send an email expressing what the business means to you.
If you see someone being harassed, report it to authorities and contact Stop AAPI Hate. As mentioned, hate crimes are often underreported, and many states don't even track them. Having data empowers organizations like Stop AAPI Hate to get media attention and resources to continue to fight these attacks. Additionally, if you are safely able to speak up for someone who is being harassed, whether it's as simple as shutting down a racist joke or walking alongside an elderly person to prevent an attack, do so. Many organizations, such as Hollaback!, also provide free bystander intervention training so you know how to respond when you see acts of harassment or violence. No matter how small, these gestures make a big difference.
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