Stop Asian Hate Rally in Times Square. Photo by: Katie Godowski
Associate Professor Peiwei Li remembers being on high alert after the 2021 Atlanta spa shooting in which a gunman killed eight people, six of them Asian women, amid a national rise in violence and animosity toward the community.
“I remember walking outside. I was hypervigilant about if somebody was walking behind me,” she says. “That is what racism and discrimination does to you.”
Before the shooting, Li and fellow academic Pengfei Zhao had already initiated a multi-year research project to document the experiences of the Chinese diaspora in the United States during and after Covid, the rise of xenophobic rhetoric and the community’s response.
“Between how the Covid policy manifested and this racialized discourse about the virus, it had specific impacts on this population,” Li says. Yet, she feels Asians are often left out of race discussions and are treated as a monolith.
“The Chinese diaspora is very diverse, in terms of social, economic, education, the history of immigration, but the discourse often is kind of flattened,” Li says. She includes anyone of Chinese ethnicity living in the United State under the term diaspora.
Nearly two years later after the pandemic began, the project has grown to include students from both Lesley and the University of Florida, where Zhao teaches. The work has also been bolstered by a $75,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation Racial Equity Research Grants.
Phase one is focused on collecting the experiences of at least 100 ethnically Chinese families — from restaurant owners to academics, city dwellers to suburbanites and children to elders.
“It is crucial that we listen to individuals rather than broadly categorizing them, which can reinforce racial stereotypes. Often the media we consume operates by generalizing and oversimplifying, which does not permit us to understand the narrative’s complexities. It is imperative to give voice to individuals in these communities to spread awareness and increase cultural sensitivity,” says Art Therapy graduate student Carolyn Brazil.
Many in the Chinese diaspora have personal stories of discrimination or know someone who does, including the Lesley researchers.
Counseling graduate student Yongliang Ouyang says he feared for his mother after she experienced animosity on public transportation in Boston where a man yelled at people wearing masks to remove them and then pretended to cough.