Standing firm under fire

Matthew Metz on the spike in hate crimes against Asians.

Micah Sapienza, Guest Writer

As a follow-up to my previous article looking at the rise in violence to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), I had the pleasure of interviewing alumnus and former Horizon writer Matthew Metz, a half-Chinese Westmont graduate ‘21 born and raised in Hong Kong. His background, international experience and independent research brought a broader perspective on the nature of the increased attacks, the complications surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, and what people both within and outside of the AAPI community can do to push back. 

Micah Sapienza (MS): Thanks for meeting with me, Matthew! Regarding the topic of increased aggression towards the AAPI community, what sparked your interest and subsequent research? 

Matthew Metz (MM): Thanks for your interest in this topic! I’m half Chinese, and was born and raised in Hong Kong. My father was English-speaking, so I grew up in an ethnically mixed household. Consequently, the recent spike in violence and hate crimes was pretty directly applicable, and I believe I have a unique insight because of my background.

MS: That definitely makes sense! In your opinion, what were some of the contributing factors to the increased aggression we’re seeing? 

MM: In order to grasp the broader picture, we need to rewind back to the outbreak of the coronavirus, and specifically the factors that contributed to the outbreak. Firstly, the Chinese people have an unfortunate international stereotype of being “dirty,” despite a fairly common germaphobic streak in the culture. China struggles with institutional and cultural vulnerabilities in providing sufficient healthcare, a factor that was underlying before the virus. There is a precedent for less stringent health codes and historically poor containment procedures by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], which compounded when the WHO [World Health Organization] and the CCP were obfuscating the nature of the virus and its virulent nature. As such, around the time of the outbreak, you have a large portion of white-collar Chinese, coming from that culture, seeking better healthcare internationally, while receiving unclear information about the virus from their government, and you have a perfect storm for an international outbreak.

MS: That’s an interesting angle I hadn’t really considered regarding the cultural or societal vulnerabilities prevalent in mainland China. It seems the CCP’s handling of the situation didn’t help. 

MM: I’ve written op-ed pieces in the past addressing the CCP and their poor management of various cultural challenges. To further complicate matters, there has been an international pushback against the Chinese government, particularly in Europe, which was not helped by the influx of Chinese citizens seeking medical aid. Furthermore, the CCP has been equating any criticism of the government as a criticism or attack against the Chinese people — and vice versa — further muddying the waters, so all of this is forming a climate conducive to xenophobia and racism not only towards Chinese people, but often towards other ethnically Asian groups that aren’t even remotely Chinese!

MS: I can see how that could easily snowball into broad swathes of aggression towards Asians in general. Has this increased aggression been seen internationally as well? What groups are most prevalent in these attacks? Who is being targeted? 

MM: [One sees] these culturally obtuse, set-in-their-ways, less-educated white people lashing out in fear and ignorance towards all manner of Asian groups, often targeting the elderly and most vulnerable. It largely seems to be spur-of-the-moment attacks of opportunity, just attacking out of nowhere. It’s sickening. Not that it’s exclusive to whites only, but that seems to be a large proportion engaging in what could easily be defined as terrorism. After all, what is terrorism but ideologically backed violence with the intent to ignite fear?

MS: That’s just evil and heartbreaking. Have you been impacted by these attacks? 

MM: I’ve been blessed to say that I haven’t experienced this myself, but it’s had an impact on me. It’s become prevalent enough of a point that I’ve actually considered getting a gun so as to keep myself safe, a notion I hadn’t really considered before. You see a similar sentiment from a lot of the AAPI communities, a sense of needing to take matters into their own hands to stay safe. 

MS: I see. That’s actually been pretty common of late, with a lot of people buying firearms for the first time in response to the unrest. Tell me more about some of the responses you’ve seen from AAPI communities.

MM: Well, despite the universal nature of these attacks, regardless of Chinese ethnicity, the cultural background amongst the Asian communities is complex. Even the title of AAPI they created to track these attacks is a bit of a misnomer, as it gives the misrepresentation of unification amongst Asians. The reality is, there are historical and cultural divides amongst Asian communities that remain deep-rooted. I was even taught from an early age not to like or trust Japanese people, which was something I had to work against as I got older. What has been interesting and even encouraging to see, however, is the increased solidarity we’ve been seeing amongst Asian communities in the face of these challenges — a silver lining, if nothing else.

MS: Thank you for sharing that with me. I would imagine there is a lot of complexity in the interplay between various Asian cultures, and that image of united solidarity is an encouraging one! What do you see as possible ways to help push back against the violence?

MM: As to what could help defend against this increased aggression, some efforts have been made by local governments — various task forces set up specifically focused on Asian hate crimes. The organized efforts made by these various Asian communities have made a huge difference. The same way Stacy Abrams flipped Georgia is how we can see change: through consistent and organized efforts and representation. 

MS: That makes sense. Organized efforts always go much further than scattershot bursts of effort. As far as Westmont students are concerned, what can we do to be informed and involved?

MM: Westmont, as a community, has an opportunity to be involved in bringing healing as well, probably first and foremost by fostering a community of connection. Empathy and connection go a long way, and organizing and showing solidarity for members of the Asian community is a powerful thing. I would also strongly encourage helping our representatives do their jobs, being in touch with local leadership, and commenting at city council meetings. I was at a city council meeting recently, and they were thrilled to have younger members of the community present and involved in the proceedings! Lastly, staying plugged in to multiple news sources has been pivotal for me. I tune into the BBC, Reuters, The Associated Press, The Hill and Axios to try to get an objective and broader perspective, and I would encourage Westmont students to do the same. 

Editor’s note: See Sapienza’s Nov. 5 article for more discussion about sources indicating that violence against AAPI individuals was mainly perpetrated by other minority groups rather than white perpetrators.

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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