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Eternal Foreigners

Eternal Foreigners

How Rising Anti-Asian Sentiment Affects the WWU Campus 

By Eli Haynal

The news has recently been filled with stories of anti-Asian hate crimes perpetrated by individuals angry over COVID-19’s emergence from the Asian continent. It is easy to think of these events as far removed from daily life on the Walla Walla University campus, but the Asian and Pacific Islander Club President, Alden Kiel Yabut, emphasizes that this is a real and present issue for the student body. 

Yabut first clarified that anti-Asian prejudice is a current issue on campus: “One individual has told me that people have started avoiding her on campus, another person has told me that he has received more insulting comments. I myself have been called racial slurs on this campus, even before COVID-19.” [1] 

“The biggest issue that I see is that we as a community are struggling right now and no one seems to care,” says Yabut. The dangers of prejudice are apparent to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, and they want to spread that message but are finding resistance: “We are crying out for help and the most I’ve seen being done is an Instagram post or story here and there.” [2] 

The Asian and Pacific Islander Club provides a space where these concerns can be shared. “As an organization, we try and support our fellow AAPI community members here on this campus as best we can, however we can. The problem is that no one really wants to bring these topics up into the light,” says Yabut. [3] 

He also offered an explanation for this reluctance: “Many of us are raised with a pacifist mentality. ‘If we can push through an issue without causing a commotion, we’ll be okay’ is what I’ve been personally taught, but now is not the time to keep our heads down.” [4] 

In light of these sentiments, Yabut called on the student body as a whole to take a larger role: “It pains me to see that most of the student body see these anti-Asian attacks and do not care. The University does not care. If they do care, they don’t show it,” says Yabut. [5] 

He described the horror of the recent attacks, saying, “Asians across the country (especially our elders) had been assaulted in the streets, people have been stabbed and beaten in broad daylight, eight people were killed, six of them being Asian women. These people had names and families. Their names were: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez and Paul Andre Michels.” [6] 

Photo by Jason Leung

According to Yabut, remembrance is a necessary response in this situation: “One of the most important things that the student body can do is remember, because the AAPI [community] does. We remember people making fun of our eyes, we remember the insulting accents, we remember the small [genitalia] jokes, we remember you telling us that our food smelled gross, we remember the stereotypes.” [7] 

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Secondly, he called for understanding: “Because of recent events, I can’t help but worry that I or someone that I love might be the next victim. These attacks have been happening across America, meaning no Asian American is safe. We are scared.” [8] 

Finally, he offered some advice on how students can be more educated on Asian American or Pacific Islander culture: “Personally, I immigrated into this country as a young child and I grew up in poverty. Many other Asian immigrants can relate to my upbringing, and others have lived with more financial success. I feel like the most important thing to understand is the diversity of cultures that fall under the Asian/Pacific Islander ‘umbrella.’” [9] 

“Some of us are short and some are quite tall, just like all other peoples, and our skin tones range from a lot of melanin to not so much. The thing that I believe binds us all together is a culture of respect and familial bond,” says Yabut, “we respect the older generations immensely because they are our links to the past. They worked hard for a better life for their children and grandchildren and we as the younger generation want to take care of them.” [10] 

For many Asian Americans, this desire for a better life led them to immigrate to America, and Yabut closed with powerful words about the Asian American experience: “At the end of the day, I know that we want to be accepted by this country and our peers. Many of us want to be seen as Asian Americans, not just another eternal foreigner.” [11] 

References 

  1. Email interview with Kiel Yabut, 4/1/2021. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
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