“The indignity of being Asian in this country has been underreported,” the poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong writes in Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. Hong, 44, is the daughter of Korean immigrants and was raised in Los Angeles. Although she has written about race in her poetry, Minor Feelings is her first nonfiction book, a blend of memoir and cultural criticism. Her essays explore the painful and often invisible racial traumas that Asian Americans experience—traumas that have become impossible to ignore over the past year, as reports of anti-Asian racism and violence have increased.
Yesterday, a gunman killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, at massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Hong told me by email that she was grateful to see an outpouring of sympathy from people outside the Asian American community, but also expressed the concern that police and commentators would downplay the significance of the event. “I’m already seeing media trying to whitewash this incident,” she wrote, “saying it’s not racially motivated, taking words of the police over the stories of these women.”
Earlier this year, several attacks on elderly Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area were captured on videos that went viral. One victim, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, died from his injuries. Although authorities in many cases have not determined—or are reluctant to say—whether these attacks are racially motivated, the overall pattern of violence is stark. Since March 2020, about 3,800 racist incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been reported to the group Stop AAPI Hate. Last Thursday, President Joe Biden condemned “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated”—marking a contrast with his predecessor, who referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as “the Chinese virus” and “kung flu.”