In the midst of a global pandemic, our country has seen a disturbingly sharp rise in anti-Asian attacks, harassment, and rhetoric. As President Karol V. Mason pointed out in her letter to the John Jay community, “Hate is deadly and we cannot be silent when we see it. Instead, we must stand together and confront the rising anti-Asian racism our country is witnessing.” In support of our Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, we recently brought together a group of AAPI students and faculty to express their feelings, thoughts, and concerns in a safe space. With their permission, our “Stop Asian Hate” article series reflects elements of that gathering in an effort to educate the entire John Jay community about AAPI culture, experiences, and history. We hope that their pride in their heritage, and their determination to fight hatred and bigotry, inspires us all to confront anti-Asian racism.
Joie Ning ’24, an International Criminal Justice and Gender Studies major and a Macaulay Honor’s student, grew up in two neighborhoods in New York City—Bayside, Queens, and Chinatown in Manhattan. “When I was younger, living in Chinatown created a root of identity for me. But for the longest time, I didn’t like Chinatown, and I was really happy when we moved to a nicer, bigger space,” says Ning. “What’s interesting is that as I got older, I kind of realized I missed everything from Chinatown.” Some weekends Ning would head back to Chinatown to visit her great grandmother, take dance lessons, and just enjoy feeling a part of the culture around her. “When you’re younger, and you’re growing up in Chinatown, there are things you focus on that you don’t like—how crowded things are, how busy it is, how dirty it tends to get, how it feels like you’re living in an impoverished neighborhood—but that’s a part of the identity. It’s a part of what it means to be an immigrant because you’re living through it all together as a community,” says Ning. “I feel like when I came to Queens, I had a crisis of sorts because I was genuinely becoming Americanized.”
Ning’s deep appreciation of her Chinese roots came shining through as she described going back to Chinatown for a tradition called the Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day. “Essentially, you pay your respects to your ancestors. I visited my ancestors at the cemetery, took a walk around Chinatown, and went to a Chinatown ice cream factory. It felt like I was coming home, which was nice because for the past few months, I didn’t feel like I was home.” Ning shared with the group why she felt isolated, how she developed a better understanding of racism in America, and how she hopes all communities of color join together in the fight against racism.
What makes you proud of your heritage?
Something that I’m really proud of from my heritage is the dedication and discipline toward education. I’m Chinese-American, so my culture has always placed a great importance on education. That focus made me serious about the idea of constantly learning and knowing how to become a better person through what you learn and what you study. That’s why I’m pursuing a social justice track, because I think it’s really important to examine how we can be better people.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, I hope to be working at the United Nations. I don’t really know how it’s possible, but I’m going to try.
What has living through the pandemic been like for you?
Even before quarantine, there was a lot of tension around being outside. On the news we saw what was happening with the virus in China, and that put my family on high alert. Around February 2020, we were preparing for New Year’s celebrations, and my parents were like, “Be careful outside. We don’t know what’s happening, but if it’s going on there, it’s going to come here.” I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to bring a mask to school, but I didn’t want to because it would make me stand out. I wasn’t afraid of standing out in a sense that I thought I would experience a hate crime—back then, we hadn’t experienced hate crimes—but it felt like an overreaction. Obviously, it wasn’t.
As the pandemic continued, did your concerns deepen or change?
As the virus slowly became a global problem, there was a lot of anti-Asian racism happening. I had deep concerns about whether going outside was something safe. I was only going outside once every three weeks for an hour-long walk. I know that’s not really healthy, but I think there’s a stigma around mental health issues and seeking out mental health services in the Asian community.
For the longest time, I viewed race-related violence in the same way that I identified death. I knew it existed, but it never really happened to me. Then I saw the shootings in Atlanta, where six Asian women were murdered, that’s when it hit me that it could have been me. At the height of the violence happening against elderly Asian people, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. One morning I told my grandma that I was going for a walk to clear my head, and she said, “You can’t do that. You can’t go outside.” She explained that it wasn’t safe to go out alone, and she said that she was going with me on the walk. She’s 73 years old and probably the strongest person I know, but neither of us is going to hold up well in a fight. I was really nervous as we headed for the park, but while we were walking, I was able to talk to her about a lot of stuff that I’d never expressed before—my fears for our family, my frustration at staying inside, my anxiety over brutal acts of racism, and my sadness at having to withdraw from a world that I feared might hurt me.
At some point I realized, this is exactly what the Black community has faced for years, for decades. I realized that I had never experienced this, but this is what they experience on a daily basis. It gave me a better understanding of how life must have been so difficult for other people of color, and that I did have a sense of privilege before this. It made me see that we’re all in the same boat. It’s a shared experience now, but none of us should have to experience it at all.
Over the course of the pandemic, I have had so many conversations at home because we’re trying to unlearn some things. There is so much division between communities of color and it’s just odd to see. If we are experiencing the same things, this shouldn’t be something that divides us. I’ve had conversations with my parents, and conversations with myself too, about how I have internalized certain anti-Black beliefs that come from my community. As communities of color, it’s so important that we unite to fight acts of racism together.
Finish this sentence: I’m proud to be Asian-American because…
It’s my identity. There isn’t anything that is so inherent to you that anybody should ever be ashamed of. I think I grew up feeling a lot of shame as an Asian-American and struggling between cultures—being Asian, but also not being Asian enough within my own culture. We really have to embrace who we are no matter what. I’m not going to look like anybody else. This is who I am. I’m going to be Asian for the rest of my life. There’s so much about my culture and my identity that makes me proud. I have never been prouder of my heritage than I am right now.
To protect and support our AAPI communities, use these resources as a guide to help #StopAsianHate.