By PY Liu
On March 16, 2021, eight people including six Asian women – Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim and Yong Ae Yue – were murdered by Robert Aaron Long, who described his life as “pizza, guns, family, and God.”
These women were immigrants, small business owners and mothers. Long’s violence was motivated by his religious beliefs, an attempt to supposedly “eliminate sexual temptation” and it came as a shock to his Crabapple First Baptist Church community.
But this violence was neither a surprising nor solitary event. It was an alarming manifestation of the growing white Christian nationalist movement and part of a long history of marginalization of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the United States, including the continued fetishization of Asian women and surge of anti-Asian hate related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This blog has documented the many ways through violence and policymaking that white Christian nationalists have been trying to impose their desired version of America, one that is white without impurity, exclusively Christian and patriarchal, with no place for minorities, and with “biblical values” ingrained in its Constitution.
Today’s white Chrisitan nationalist ideals correspond with America’s shameful history of excluding immigrants of color, Asian immigrants in particular. The AAPI community is painted as perpetual foreigners in American society by past legislation and popular sentiment. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a law that limited Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S., was not repealed until 1943. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, provided an immigrant quota for each geographical region but completely banned any immigration from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.” The banning of any immigrant of Asian descent contrasted with the absolute favoring of their European, white and Christian counterparts and reveals the hypocrisy and anti-Asian xenophobia of policymakers at the time.
Even after gaining legal citizenship, Asian Americans and immigrants have not been fully afforded safety and belonging in this country. Out of mere suspicion that Japanese Americans might be disloyal, the U.S government created Japanese-American internment camps during World War II that incarcerated approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans.
The U.S government continues to direct xenophobic sentiment at its own Asian citizens, as President Donald Trump, who embraced Christian nationalism, and members of his administration repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus” or “Kung flu” throughout the ongoing pandemic. As AU’s Rob Boston wrote last year, “White supremacists, racists and other extremists are exploiting the uncertainty and fear stoked by coronavirus to spread hate.”
These xenophobic attitudes have contributed to hate crimes as well. Stop AAPI Hate received 6,603 reports of hate crimes from March 2020-March 2021, including verbal harassment, physical assaults and civil rights violations. A recent paper published in the Ethnic and Racial Studies found that Christian nationalism was the strongest indicator of COVID-related anti-Asian racism and xenophobic rhetoric. White Christian nationalists have fueled an unprecedented wave of anti-Asian sentiment that will take years if not generations to dismantle.
In addition to historical exclusion and present-day discrimination, members of the AAPI community have faced racially and religiously motivated physical violence. The Asian American and Pacific Islander community is among one of the most religiously diverse populations in America, with large numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindu people. In 2012, a white supremacist gunman killed six Sikh Punjabi men and fatally wounded three at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, an incident that devastated South Asian Americans and the larger AAPI community. The gunman, Wade Michael Page, was obsessed with the concept of “racial holy war” and lashed out at the local Sikh community. The defamation of Islam as a regressive and violent religion is supported by white supremacist beliefs and groups. According to the FBI’s 2019 hate incident record, Muslims are the second-largest target of religious hate incidents in the United States, an inevitable consequence of extensive Islamophobia.
Combating white Christian nationalism is essential to the safety and well-being of all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. No one deserves to be a target of extreme violence because of what they look like, where they’re from or what religion they practice. I am grateful to be interning for Americans United for Separation of Church and State this summer to support its work to educate the public about religious freedom and safeguard the religious rights of all people, including members of the AAPI community in this country.
Religion can be a positive force in our society, but Christian nationalism harms the AAPI community along with other communities of color and of religious minorities. AAPI identities, cultures, and history should be not only included but celebrated when we call for true religious freedom.
To help us protect AAPI lives and advance AAPI freedom, check out the following organizations and initiatives: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Stop AAPI Hate, Asian American Advocacy Fund and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
PY Liu is an organizing intern at Americans United and is supported by Civil Liberties & Public Policy.