Asian Americans see generational split on confronting racism

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Claire Xu, poses for a photo, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Decatur, Ga., Xu was propelled into action following the mass fatal shootings of eight people, six of them Asian women, at a Georgia massage businesses in March. She organized a massive rally condemning violence against Asian Americans that drew support from a broad group of activists, elected officials and community members. But her own parents were opposed. 'We dont want you to do this,' Xu, 31, recalled their telling her afterward. "'You can write about stuff, but dont get your face out there.' (AP Photo/Akili-Casundria Ramsess)

ATLANTA – The fatal shootings of eight people — six of them women of Asian descent — at Georgia massage businesses in March propelled Claire Xu into action.

Within days, she helped organize a rally condemning violence against Asian Americans that drew support from a broad group of activists, elected officials and community members. But her parents objected.

“'We don’t want you to do this,'” Xu, 31, recalled their telling her afterward. "'You can write about stuff, but don’t get your face out there.'”

The shootings and other recent attacks on Asian Americans have exposed a generational divide in the community. Many young activists say their parents and other elders are saddened by the violence but question the value of protests or worry about their consequences. They've also found the older generations tend to identify more closely with their ethnic groups — Chinese or Vietnamese, for example — and appear reluctant to acknowledge racism.

That divide makes it harder to forge a collective Asian American constituency that can wield political power and draw attention to the wave of assaults against people of Asian descent in the U.S. since the coronavirus pandemic began, community leaders say.

“In our original countries, where our ancestors came from, they wouldn’t even imagine that someone from Bangladesh would be lumped in the same group as someone from Laos,” said Angela Hsu, president of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

But those differences obscure a shared experience of “feeling like we’re constantly thought of as being foreign in our own country,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, of New Jersey.

Much of the recent violence against Asian Americans has targeted the elderly, and some seniors have attended rallies to condemn it. But Cora McDonnell, 79, said she did not want to speak out, though she is now scared to walk to the church blocks from her Seattle home.