Meet the Moms Who Are Fighting Anti-Asian Hate

As anti-Asian hate rages across the nation, moms are taking a stand. But the fight isn't new.

Asian mother and 2 yr old girl are sitting at table in backyard. There is a pink tray with craft supplies along with a cellphone and laptop on the table.
Photo: Erin Brant/Stocksy

Lily Chin relived the trauma of her son's gruesome death on national television for a reason. Wearing a dark blazer and a pink and white ruffled blouse, she was the epitome of maternal grief on The Phil Donahue Show. Through sobs, she said the two white men who beat her son with a baseball bat killed him "like an animal." In 1983, Vincent Chin's mother didn't have the internet or social media to crowdfund and raise awareness, so she laid her feelings bare on the popular talk show to remind her fellow Americans to resist the urge to look away from anti-Asian hate and violence.

Her son was dead, and she wanted everyone to see why: racism. Through her advocacy, Lily joined the long line of moms who have been at the forefront of the struggle against racism and anti-Asian violence.

Forty years ago, the Vincent Chin case captured national headlines and galvanized wounded communities of color to find their places in what Rev. Jesse Jackson called a "rainbow coalition." But it was Lily who drove the movement. Like all the mothers who preceded her in the fight, she found a deep reservoir to show up, retell the story, and fight for justice. But like the mothers before and after her, Lily's role in the fight against racism was often reduced to the grieving mom trope.

Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, sees it all the time—how the role of moms and parents gets narrowly defined. "Like, 'stay in your lane. Feed your kids vegetables. Take them to soccer practice, and then shut up,'" says Kulkarni, a mother of two daughters, ages 19 and 22. "And that's actually the opposite of what motherhood is. It's actually the most expansive thing that you can do as a human being."

While anti-Asian hate still rages across the nation, moms are continuing to lead the movement for safety and justice.

A photo of Vincent Chin
A photo of Vincent Chin. Getty Images/Bettmann

Why Moms Need To Fight Anti-Asian Hate

Before the June 25 Unity March, an AAPI-led, multicultural march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Gloria Pan spoke to organizers at a pre-meeting. She is the senior vice president of member engagement for MomsRising, an advocacy organization with more than 1 million moms and family members. Most of her work is focused on gun control, but anti-Asian hate is an adjacent issue, says Pan, especially in her personal life as a mom to two young adult children, Cole and Jake. The intersections of racism and safety drive her work.

"I'm very concerned about the future that they're going to be inheriting from us," says Pan, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Her children live in different cities, so she worries about them in ways that many moms do, but also in ways that AAPI moms feel keenly as the violence against our communities continues to escalate. Since the start of the pandemic, reports of anti-Asian harassment, attacks, and killings have skyrocketed.

But anti-Asian hate is hardly new. While racialized violence against people of Asian descent has been a steady concern, there were surges in violence against South Asian communities post-9/11, as a result of the U.S. war on terror.

"Whenever there is a national emergency, there's always the search for a scapegoat," says Pan. "And the easy scapegoat has always been Asian Americans."

A recent report from the Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH) finds that more people now incorrectly blame AAPIs for the spread of COVID-19 than at the start of the pandemic. And the latest data from Stop AAPI Hate is sobering. In the last two years, 11,467 incidents of anti-Asian harassment or violence have been reported. And 1 in 3 parents are concerned about their child being a victim of anti-AAPI hate. It is a constant state of anxiety, and for many, it's easy to feel numb to it and look away.

Do you know who can't look away? Moms who worry about their daughters traveling on the same New York City subway transit system where in January Michelle Alyssa Go was pushed in front of an oncoming train. Moms who feel just what Lily Chin did: unbridled grief, then steely resolve to protect their children.

"You cannot give up. There is no choice," says Pan.

At the Unity March, participants chanted, "This is what community looks like!" Some linked arms tightly, holding each other up in the fight.

How Moms Are Punching Back

In New York City, the Sisters in Self-Defense help train AAPI women and community members in self-defense techniques and situational self-awareness. Why? Because, lately, simple things like taking a walk feel fraught in the AAPI community. Ava Chin and Alison Kuo founded Sisters in Self-Defense after six AAPI women were killed in the Atlanta spa shooting in March 2021.

"I don't see it getting better," Chin, a writer and professor of creative writing at the City University of New York, says about the violence. "But I can do things to help the community."

The self-defense classes attract diverse participants who learn to throw and take punches. Sometimes, class ends with knuckles in various shades of purple. During the pandemic, safety concerns have driven up demand for self-defense courses. But there is a dual awareness of both general safety concerns and racialized violence in the AAPI community.

Chin finds empowerment in teaching people to punch back, including her own daughter Mei Brunette, 10, who has been training in martial arts since toddlerhood. Mom and daughter run self-defense drills together: If somebody grabs you like this, what do you do? Brunette, a burgeoning artist, also created a makeshift weapon out of yarn and sharpened popsicle sticks.

"It's both really cute and cuddly as well as kind of, like, deadly," says Chin with a laugh.

Alison Kuo and Ava Chin of Sisters in Self-Defense
Alison Kuo and Ava Chin of Sisters in Self-Defense. Tommy Kha

It's the sign of the times. At IMPACT Bay Area, a non-profit that provides self-defense and empowerment in the San Francisco Bay Area, executive director Linda Leu has seen a "huge increase" in AAPI enrollment—among them, moms carrying anxiety over how to protect their children.

"But what I don't see as much is moms saying, 'I am worth fighting for' or 'My safety is important,'" says Leu. "We can learn so much from just watching our mothers and I think it's an important opportunity for moms to teach their children by example to value themselves and to courageously stand up for themselves and others."

How To Join the Fight

AAPI parents are born into the fight against racism. Here is how you can support the cause.

Report or help someone report anti-Asian incidents

Simply filling out the six-minute report on Stop AAPI Hate could have a therapeutic effect. It provides comfort in knowing you are not alone. Self-reporting racialized incidents also provides important data for advocates to push for policy changes.

Reach out to people who are affected by anti-Asian hate

Never underestimate the power of the check-in to melt away angst about scary experiences and news. New research shows that casual check-ins are important and meaningful.

Advocate for your community to take a stand

You are the best advocate for equity at your place of work or children's school. Do these organizations stand against racism? If not, what would it take?

The difference between hope and optimism, according to writer Eric Liu in a 2018 tweet, is agency even when there is so much to be angry about. "If that's true, then I would say I want my children to have rage and hopefulness," says Kulkarni through Zoom framed by fingers of sunshine bursting through a background window. "I want them to be hopeful that they can be change agents in ensuring a better tomorrow."

Through Kulkarni's work at Stop AAPI Hate, the nation can reckon with hate and racism through data. We think of moms as agents of culture, but moms are also agents of power. "And isn't that really the heart of parenting?" says Kulkarni. "To bring a child into the world to have self-actualization and be who they need to be in this world?"

Lily Chin did not have that chance. At the 40th commemoration of Vincent Chin's death, his cousin Annie Tan gave a graveside speech attributing Vincent Chin's legacy to his mother's decision to speak up.

"Lily said, 'Our skin color is different, but our blood is the same,'" said Tan at the event in Detroit, the city where her cousin was killed. "And we will never forget to make this a better world."

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