Shared at the Vigil for Victims of Asian American Hate Crimes held Sunday, March 21 in Conshohocken Borough, Pennsylvania.
My name is Jenna. My full name is Jenna Lee Kim Fredericks Antoniewicz. My given name was Kim Tae Hee in South Korea. I’m an immigrant, was adopted by my family when I was 11 months old, and raised in Upper Bucks County… Hi…! There’s no way you can know this about me just by seeing my face.
Here we are, living in world devoid of nuance, everything simmered down to a quick meme or a headline. How did we get here? Somewhere across our history and our screens we became busier people with more to do and less time to listen and learn about each other. Somehow, we’re decades removed and STILL finding relevance and inspiration in the words of our Civil Rights Leaders of the 1960s.
I join you in heartbreak over last Tuesday evening’s horrific murders in Atlanta. There is shock and fear, outrage and sorrow… And after any tragedy, there are questions. So many questions. We are left with the procedures and processes to strip away at variables in an attempt to uncover those answers… but know this: No system can – or should – separate a person from her ethnic or racial identify. The 8 individuals who lost their lives, including the 6 Asian American women, were targeted for a reason. Their faces. Their skin. Their beautiful eyes. We cannot separate these victims from their identities, nor should we.
But many have tried. How did we get here? Please let’s not forget the racism, xenophobia and ‘othering’ that has existed for Asian American and Pacific Islanders for decades. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 where Chinese immigrants were blamed for declining wages and job opportunities… The Japanese Internment Camps by Executive Order in 1942 during WWII… The murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 by 2 men blaming his face for their job loss at Chrysler motors. And of course blame for an uncontrollable pandemic in the year 2020. We fought for our right to vote. Often times people assume we are not citizens.
We have a history of scapegoating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. To our government, our faces have been “an outside threat” or “national security risk.” While we are certainly not unique in feeling marginalized or underrepresented… What MAY be unique is the quiet. And the silence. Still a relatively young racial and ethnic group of many first- and second-generation families… language barriers, the desire to seamlessly assimilate, and the weight of the so-called Model Minority surrounds us. Until recently, on our screens, our women were over romanticized, our men demasculinized, and still we wonder. How did we get here?
What I’d like is for us to leave here today remembering there is history and narrative, culture and tradition, experiences and unique epiphanies about identity behind each of our faces. We cannot assume a meme or a gif or a headline is going to reveal it all. We don’t have to “pick sides.” It doesn’t have to be “this” or “that”… it can be all of us together with a renewed vow to make our neighborhoods, or policies, our government more aware, educational, and inclusive. I call on my fellow municipal leaders to make unified statements in support of ALL of our underrepresented and marginalized communities. I urge allies to consider how privilege – including the privilege of serving in any leadership capacity, can lend a voice to our causes. I implore all of us to take the time to learn the story behind a face.
The time for silence is over. Let’s make them hear us.
Director of Communications and Development