A recent analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, showed that hate crimes in the United States targeting Asians rose by nearly 150%, from 49 in 2019 to 122 in 2020. The group “Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate” cataloged nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents (as opposed to hate crimes) in the U.S. during the first year of the pandemic. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center study, 31% of Americans of Asian heritage report they have been “subject to slurs or jokes” since the outbreak of COVID-19.
This increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents has occurred primarily in large cities on the East and West Coasts, but Omaha has not been immune. In late February, an explosion and fire occurred outside the Nebraska Chinese Association office, and in mid-March, a carload of people yelled racist slurs at an Asian man walking in the Millard area.
The increase in anti-Asian sentiment is often attributed to misguided attempts to place blame for the suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the virus’s apparent origin in China. Former President Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about the pandemic might have contributed as well. While it is human nature to look for a source of blame for our hardships, it is important to recognize the difference between the government of the People’s Republic of China and Americans of Chinese heritage. The former deserves reproach; the latter do not.
Clearly the Chinese government intentionally misled the world regarding COVID-19 and continues to do so. Respected media outlets have widely reported on Chinese government suppression of news about the virus, denial of access to international health experts and arrests of virus whistleblowers, including doctors and journalists, on charges of “making false comments” and “severely disturbing the social order.”
China’s threat to U.S. national security is also well documented. FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a 2020 speech at the Hudson Institute, “The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China.” In 2019, during a panel discussion at the Center for European Policy Analysis, Undersecretary of Defense John C. Rood said, “It is not an exaggeration to say China is the greatest long-term threat to the U.S. way of life, but China also poses the greatest challenge to the Defense Department ...”
Americans of Chinese heritage have nothing to do with Chinese government malfeasance. In fact, many are descendants of people who fled China to escape oppression and persecution by the government. In contrast to the adversarial actions of the Chinese government, people of Chinese heritage have a long history of significant contributions to this country.
Chinese workers were vital to the construction of the first transcontinental railroad during the 1860s, an accomplishment that led to the United States becoming an economic power. Historians estimate Chinese workers composed about 80% of the total transcontinental railroad workforce.
Americans of Chinese heritage also have a history of U.S. military service. During the Civil War, Chinese immigrants served in the Union Army and Navy, and the Confederate Army. More recently, men of Chinese heritage served in the U.S. military in both World Wars. Historians estimate 12,000-20,000 men of Chinese heritage, representing up to 22% of the men in their portion of the U.S. population at the time, served honorably in the U.S. military during World War II.
Americans of Chinese heritage have also made important contributions to the American way of life and the many amenities we enjoy today. Some examples include:
Eric Yuan founded Zoom Video Communications Inc., which provides the videoconferencing platform many have relied on during the pandemic to continue doing business, educating our youth, and maintaining personal or family connections.
Steve Chen cofounded YouTube in 2005 and is still YouTube’s chief technology officer.
Min Kao worked for NASA, the U.S. Army, Teledyne and Magnavox before cofounding Garmin, the world’s largest manufacturer of GPS systems.
Ching W. Tang invented the organic light-emitting diode, commonly known as the OLED.
David Chu, a leading American fashion designer, cofounded the sportswear company Nautica.
I.M. Pei, an acclaimed architect, designed many famous landmark buildings, including the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston; the Dallas City Hall; the Hancock Tower in Boston; the Javits Convention Center in New York City; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
So the next time you have a Zoom call with your coworkers or loved ones, or watch a YouTube video, or use a Garmin GPS to find your way, or use anything lit by an OLED or wear an article of Nautica clothing, or marvel at many famous American landmark buildings, you can thank an American of Chinese heritage.
Weysan Dun is a retired veteran of the FBI and served as the special agent in charge of multiple FBI field offices around the U.S., including the Omaha field office, which covers Nebraska and Iowa.