“Defeating racism, tribalism, intolerance and all forms of discrimination will liberate us all, victim and perpetrator alike.” - Ban Ki-Moon
You've probably seen in the news and all over social media in the past year all about the horrendous attacks on Asian Americans. Particularly in the past few months where eight people were murdered in a string of mass shootings across massage parlours in the US, Atlanta, Georgia. Or the 65 year old Asian American woman who was violently assaulted and told 'you don't belong here' on her way to church in New York. However this issue is far from being solely an American issue, Asian hate crime is a huge issue in Australia too.
A study from the Australian National University (ANU) showed in a survey of more than 3,000 people found 84.5% of Asian Australians reported at least one instance of discrimination between January and October in 2020. A survey by the Asian Australian Alliance recorded377 incidents over a 47 day period from April to June 2020.
We talk with Emmy Hayakawa about her experiences with Asian hate growing up in Australia and as an adult today.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Australian born Japanese- both parents of Japanese descent. Born and bred on the Gold Coast. Attended school and University on the Coast. Graduated with a degree in Languages and Linguistics. Currently working as a store manager in a Japanese store.
Where were you born and raised? And where were your parents born and raised? I was born and raised on the Gold Coast. My parents were born and raised in Japan. They came to the Gold Coast 30 odd years ago as they wanted to raise their children somewhere other than Japan. They both worked for a travel company and had visited the Gold Coast a couple of times and really like the environment. They wanted freedom, ample opportunities and a voice for their children. It was actually my mother's side's family who bought a house on the Gold Coast initially before my parents bought a house nearby and started our little family.
Have you ever experienced racism in Australia towards yourself or friends and family? To some degree, yes I have experienced racism. When I was a child, there was a sing-along hand gesture game where we would put our fingers to the end of our eyes halfway through the song and we would say, “Chinese, Japanese” slanting the eye up and down. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as an adult now, I see how this inappropriate remark was ingrained into us as children and was totally normalised. I haven’t experienced much bullying racism firsthand but my brother was bullied when he was a child because he was Asian. There was a time when someone called our home phone and we didn’t pick up because we were eating dinner. The answering machine stated for the caller to leave a message and then a child on the other line, whom knew my brother started saying, “[my brother’s name] is Asian, ching chong chinaaaaaa” repeatedly. My brother was probably only 8 or 9 at the time and he cried that night at the dinner table. Nowadays working in a Japanese store now, I do experience mild racism. People presume that I don't speak English and tend to ask questions as if I'm incompetent of understanding. Sometimes they even go as far as to avoid me (even though I’m closer) and will go to my caucasian co-worker to ask a question. When they do get a chance to talk to me, they’ll often commend me on how good my English is and proceed to ask me when I came here. It’s sad that so many assume that all Asians can't speak English. In a way I understand why they have that kind of perception with Asian restaurants usually run by people on a working holiday visa or are essentially “fresh-off-the-boat”. However, it is 2021 and the majority of immigrants settled with children 30 or more years ago so there really is no need for this.
Has the racism gotten worse since the start of Coronavirus? For a short span of time, when COVID-19 was named “China-virus”, I did feel like people were very wary of Asians around them but it was more about being scared of Asians rather than being angry at them. I do remember a news piece broadcast on 7 News during the peak time where someone verbally abused two Asian passengers on the bus and told them to go back to China but it is definitely not at the extent of which it is in America where elderly men and woman are getting knocked to the ground, getting kicked on the street, and being spat/ urinated on.
Do you feel that Asian Australians have allies in the society at the moment, when it comes to standing up to violence and verbal racist attacks? I have some amazing co-workers who would stand up for me any day of the week if they saw me being racially attacked. I’ve been fortunate enough to have people like my coworkers around in my life so I’d like to believe that there are people around in society who are allies and will stand up to violence and verbal racist attacks if it happens in front of them. There aren’t really any anti-racist advocates I know of here in Australia but I do follow a number of Asian Americans who are posting about recent attacks and are standing up for these people and voicing victim stories.
What do you believe is something we can all do to become better allies to the Asian Australia community? Be educated. Be unassuming. Treat everyone with respect.
And finally what is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Treat others the way you would like to be treated.