MR. KIM: Thanks for having us.
MR. WU: Thank you for having us.
MS. LEE: Daniel Dae Kim, let's start with you. You and Daniel Wu have been using your platforms to amplify this issue. Are you seeing the level of attention that you have been hoping for?
MR. KIM: I think we are in a better place than we have ever been. You know, those of us in the community have known that these attacks have accelerated for over a year now, and though there has always been, you know, hate crimes in America, none like we've seen over the past 12 months.
So, Daniel and I--and I think I can speak for Daniel here--we are both very encouraged that right now there is a dialogue like there's never been, and the fact that we're here talking to you about this today, at The Washington Post, means that this issue is becoming amplified and becoming something more of a national one.
MS. LEE: Absolutely. Well, we are eager to dive into this. You know, as you mentioned, for weeks there have been instances of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders being physically attacked, not just verbally abused but also physically. They are being pushed to the ground. They have been stabbed in the face, robbed. I mean, it's been pretty gruesome to see.
Daniel Wu, can you speak to how this has resonated within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the growing fear among the community?
MR. WU: Yeah. You know, I think the entire community is in a state of fear. Since March, you know, these attacks have been going on and increasing in volume. And especially, it kind of culminated around the Chinese New Year, which is a time where most people are happy and celebrating out on the streets, doing Chinese New Year festivities, and they were not able to do that this year. A lot of people stayed in and stayed away. And so, you know, everyone from young kids to elders are afraid to be going out on the streets and exposing themselves to these crimes.
MS. LEE: Yeah, and I think that fear that we've all been discussing publicly and interviewing the victims and their families about, part of that has really sparked some action. You know, we've seen some progress in that some local law enforcement agencies are ramping up investigations. But, you know, regular citizens, in fact, are even guarding their fellow Asian neighbors in their yards and actually trying to protect them personally.
So, I wanted to talk a little bit about solutions, and I'm going to turn to an audience question here, because we have gotten some questions about this. This one is from Jonathan Lee in New Jersey, and he is asking, "In working with the victims and local Asian American community leaders, what have they told you about what they would like to see done? What sort of solutions are they interested in?"
Daniel Dae Kim, do you want to tell us about what you've been hearing from the community and what potential solutions and progress could look like?
MR. KIM: Sure. I think I'd like to topline this answer by saying it is a very nuanced one. It's a very nuanced issue, because depending on who you talk to there are many different approaches that are being recommended. I think one thing that can't be overemphasized is the importance of community organizations in each locality. They are the ones who are doing the work on the ground, on a daily basis, and they've been working on these issues for a really long time, and they're the ones that are witnessing these events happening in their back yards.
So, I think part of the solution is to really empower those community organizations to do the work that they do, and that means to fund them and to volunteer as well. A lot of that is part of the answer.
I think education is a big part of the solution. There are a lot of people who don't know the history of Asians in America, and that essentially whitewashes our existence from this country. For instance, if you think about the Chinese Exclusion Act, it was actually the first policy of its kind that excluded an entire race from this country, and it was in place for almost 100 years, and it wasn't officially repealed until the 1960s. And so, you combine that with things like the largest lynching in America, in Los Angeles, in the 1870s, where 18 Chinese people were lynched, and there was a mob of 500 people who attacked them, and not a single one of them served any jail time.
And then you go 100 years later, to 1982, with Vincent Chin, where he was murdered. He was attacked because people thought he was Japanese, when he was, in reality, Chinese, at a time when the American auto industry was failing and he was scapegoated. His attackers never served a day of jail time. These are all parts of our history that are widely unknown. But they speak to the fact that we have been a part of the fabric of America since the 1850s, so that's a part of it as well.
And I think deterrence is a part of it also, and that is a controversial subject, I recognize. But this idea that hate crimes differ. The definition of a hate crime differs from state to state, and that is a bit problematic because we don't have a national standard. And so, what happens in one state will be prosecuted in a completely different way from another.
It's a combination of all of those things. But, you know, one thing is for sure. It is a complex, nuanced issue, and one that isn't necessarily solved in a sound bite.
MS. LEE: Yeah, absolutely, and I'm really glad that you placed this moment in the broader context, because, you know, we're here specifically because we are prompted by these recent attacks, but as you mentioned, this is just one part of an ongoing history of violence against our communities, of people of color broadly, but AAPI communities as well. And I think that context is really important to think about.
That's why I want to zoom out a little bit, because as we discussed even before hopping on here, this is not an isolated problem. You know, under COVID specifically, we've all been seeing all these instances of anti-Asian racism. You know, people are blaming Asian American and Pacific Islander communities for COVID. There are terms like "China flu" or "the China virus" or "Kung flu." We have seen this happen over and over again.
So, can you guys talk about how COVID has reinforced the sentiments that so many Asian Americans have been facing? You know, this is not just one thing that we've been going through now. It's been a history of this, and we are consistently portrayed as a perpetual outsider. Daniel Wu, I was wondering if you can speak to that.
MR. WU: Yeah. I mean, you hit the nail on the head there. Because the Asian American diaspora is so complex and there are so many layers and so many generations have come to America, we are constantly looked at as foreigners, as others, and then, thus, invisible. And so, we really haven't had a place in American society in the fabric, like Daniel was saying earlier.
And also, the Asian American diaspora is not a monolith, but we're treated as a monolith. There are so many different cultures--the Southeast Asians, there's East Asians, there's South Asians. All of us come from different cultures, speak different language, but we are all being treated as the same, and I think that is leading up to part of the problem. And we have a president that uses words like "Kung flu" and "China virus" and tries to create division, it affects us on a daily basis, because people hear that rhetoric and then they look at us and they see us as foreigners bringing over this virus, and then becoming a target of attack.
And so, part of it is the lack of visibility for Asian Americans in mainstream media, in the social fabric, and all constantly being treated as others, and I think that's part of the major problem of where the xenophobia comes from.
MS. LEE: Yeah. I want to play a clip--oh, go ahead.
MR. KIM: You know, someone once said that we have, you know, a privilege card, because we are not necessarily African American or Latinx. And part of that privilege card has been perpetuated this idea, the model minority myth. But what we've been finding is that in times of stress that privilege card gets taken away very quickly and then we're reduced to someone--to a group of people who is considered other and not American.
And the fact that we're not talking about members of the Chinese government, you know, who are being attacked. We are not talking about even people who are Chinese, from China. We are talking about Asian Americans. We are talking Chinese Americans who have no connection to China, and beyond that we're talking about Asian Americans who have no connection to being Chinese. So, all it takes is to look vaguely Asian for us to be subject to attacks, and that is incredibly problematic.
MS. LEE: So, you're getting at something that we've been hearing from a lot of our readers and viewers, you know, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across this country feeling exactly the way that you guys are talking about.
So, I want to play a brief clip for you. Last May, my colleague, Tracy Jan, reported on the discrimination that AAPIs are facing in the medical profession, including the medical professionals who are treating patients for COVID. Here's internal medicine physician, Audrey Sue Cruz, in California. Let's take a look.
MR. WU: Horrible. I've seen worse, you know, frontline workers on their way to work being attacked. You know, they're on the front lines trying to save people, and then at the same time they are being attacked as they are heading to work. It's a sad and tragic situation to come across.
MR. KIM: And if you think about the physical distance, geographically, between the Philippines and China, not that it is excusable even if it is someone from China, but it shows an extreme lack of awareness of how large Asia is, and as Daniel was referring to, how diverse the Asian diaspora is. And we are not even talking about Oceania or, you know, the Pacific Islands. So, it's a really broad brush that people are painting us with.
MS. LEE: Yeah, I think as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, so many of us have been there, right, being asked, "Where are you really from?" "What language do you speak?" I have been asked before, "What did you speak before English?" you know, and this constant otherizing, it's an undercurrent in our AAPI experience, I think. And, you know, what does this clip and her experience and some of the experiences that you're talking about, what does that say about really the barriers and challenge facing the AAPI community in overcoming the sort of treatment that's been so long a part of our existence in the country?
MR. WU: I mean, I have an example, my daughter is in a Chinese immersion school and she was doing distance learning, and they were singing in music class, "This land is your land, this land is made for you and me." And I was standing next to her while she was singing, and it's a beautiful song, sung by beautiful little children, beautiful voices. But when I'm hearing the lyrics and I'm thinking about what's been happening, I can't help but think this song is not true. This land is not made for you and me. It's made for a certain group and then we're considered others. And this sort of irony and the paradox in the lyrics of that song, of her singing it, a person of color really hit home for me and made me sad. I almost broke down crying, thinking about it.
And, yeah, that is a problem we face. We are constantly looked at as others and foreigners, and we're not looked at as part of the American fabric, and that needs to change. And I think the steps that we're doing now are trying to change that. You know, I think we're coming together as a community. I think part of the problem before the Asian American diaspora is that, as I said earlier, multi-cultures, multi-languages. And in themselves we are very disparate.
And so, this situation has brought us together, and I think this is a step in the right direction.
MS. LEE: Daniel Dae Kim, did you want to answer that as well?
MR. KIM: I just want to focus on the last thing that Daniel said, and that is that I think the Asian American community has united in a way behind this that I've never seen before in my lifetime. And I think as a result of that we are in the midst of an inflection point. The real question is, now that we have galvanized around a particular issue, how are we going to take this momentum, not just to stem the tide, but to also improve awareness in such a way that improves our quality of life over the long term?
And, you know, I think one of the complex things about this is that there is a tendency in our society to kind of be accused of always want to take from America, you know, to take, a victim mentality. But this is not that. This is about acknowledging our contributions to America, and this is about saying that we are Americans. So many of us, and Daniel included, we are so tired of having to say, "We are American." We should be beyond that, at this point. And it should be a celebration of our pride and our achievements and our accomplishments and the fact that, sure, there are going to always be a group of people who will look to scapegoat others, but hopefully the majority of people can come together in a moderately sensible way to recognize that those of us who are Americans pledge allegiance to this country, and we can sing "This land is your land and this land is my land" and really believe it.
MS. LEE: Yeah. You know, obviously I'm Asian American myself. I'm Korean American. Daniel Dae Kim, like you I was also born in Korea and left when I was little. And, you know, for 1.5 and second-generation Americans like the three of us, I think this moment just also kind of sits differently with us, because our families have chosen to come here and integrate into America for a reason. You know, they left the lives that they had and they came here and they raised us to be American.
You know, especially witnessing the attacks against the elderly, knowing that they could be our parents or grandparents who are being treated like that, I think is just extremely traumatizing and also, unfortunately, not that surprising, in a way, maybe because of that history that we've been talking about.
I was wondering if I could ask both of you what it's been like for you personally, as immigrants and children of immigrants, to not only witness this but continue to talk about this, over and over again, and try to bring this to the consciousness of America. We can start with Daniel Dae Kim and then Daniel Wu.
MR. KIM: Well, as you pointed out, we have been vocal on this issue, and to be frank, both Daniel and I are tired, because we've done a number of interviews. But we also both agree that the cause is bigger than our fatigue. The cause is bigger than either of us. And so, it's why I'm really glad to be working with someone like him on this issue. Because if we can do our part, and amplify this issue and get the word out, then we can hand the baton to those who are better equipped than we are--the community organizers, the politicians, the district attorneys, and anyone else who wants to use their expertise to help the cause, in general.
And so, this is what gives me hope, and I'm really glad that we're able to have forums like this, just to talk about this issue, because it does become tiresome to have to say, over and over again, "We are American."
MR. WU: I would say that the last straw for me was seeing the 91-year-old being pushed down to the ground in Oakland, because my father is 91 years old. And when I saw that video, I couldn't help but think, you know, my father escaped war, civil war, all these things, to come to America to have a better life, to live the American dream. And that's what he wanted for his kids, for our generation, and to bring us to a better place. But to see that man being pushed down to the ground and think about his story, and think about the struggles that he went through to get here, to this country, and all of that, and to be wiped out in one push to the ground like that is just terrible for me.
And so that's really what pushed me to stand up and make a stand about this, because I couldn't help but see my father being pushed to the ground every time I see these videos. Every attack I see, I think about my mother, my grandmother, my father, all these things. Their generation was, when they got here, I think they were thankful to be here and so they put their heads down, worked hard, and didn't complain. And in some ways, they trained my generation to think that way too, but I realize that that is not the right path now. We do have to stand up and we can't be silent anymore. That is the greatest thing I learned from these experiences, is that as a whole, as the larger Asian American diaspora, we are united together and we can make a change. And what Daniel is saying is there is hope, and I'm seeing it now, and so I'm very hopeful.
MS. LEE: Yeah. You know, I'm glad you brought up that attack, because I wanted to ask you about that. You guys have been very vocal about your $25,000 payment that the two of you have offered in request for information about that attacker who pushed the 91-year-old Asian man in Oakland, California. That was in January. The suspect, a Black man, has been charged, and I bring this up because there has been a lot of discussion around ally-ship during this moment, how AAPIs have been joining Black and brown Americans in solidarity, in support of each other, toward racial justice. There has been a lot of conversation around that, and specially about that payment offer that you guys have made.
What was the thinking behind making that offer, and what is your response to concerns that the offer ran contrary to the efforts among Asian and Black activists who are trying to work together for community-driven solutions toward racial justice rather than prompting increased policing? Daniel Dae Kim, do you want to take that on?
MR. KIM: Thank you for asking that, and I know Daniel Wu has thoughts on this subject as well. But I will say that when we first offered the reward it came out of a place of frustration, heartbreak, and exasperation, that these issues were not being talked about, in any way. And we are lucky enough to have a platform where people will hear us and listen, and, you know, we all know that money talks. So, $25,000, in order to raise awareness for this issue, as well as help find information on the perpetrator of this crime, I think they were the primary reasons we offered it.
Now there a couple of things about the Black-versus-Asians part of this. Neither Daniel nor I believe that this is a Black-against-Asian issue or an Asian-against-Black issue. This is an everybody-against-racism issue. There was never an assumption on our part that the perpetrator of this crime was Black. That was never part of the reward. It was whoever the perpetrator was should be brought to justice.
Now there is no part of Daniel or I that wants to set any community against one another, because I think that is actually antithetical to what we are trying to do. I agree with community organizers that it takes everyone to come together to solve this issue, and historically and systemically, I think the two communities have been put at odds with one another because very often they are in underprivileged communities, together, in enclosed spaces. And even the idea of the model minority myth is a relativistic term, because you are asking, you are a model minority relative to what other minority?
So, in that myth is this idea of comparison between minorities. And so, these are the ways that systemically we have been put at odds with one another, but that is not what we are advocating, and I really do believe, and applaud, the efforts of all the community organizers who are trying to bring our communities together, because that's what it takes.
When we first started talking about this, you know, we reached out to African American community organizers as well. In our first clubhouse conversation we had Van Jones and W. Kamau Bell, because we value their input as well, because I think we are all in this together.
I know we could talk about this for longer, but I know Daniel has stuff he would like to say about it as well.
MR. WU: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot to unpack, because visually where you see a lot of videos that it looks like Black youth attacking Asian Americans, but there's also white people doing it too. Don't forget there's that Michael Lofthouse, the CEO in Monterey that felt it was okay, a single person sitting at a table, to berate an entire table of 12 people celebrating a birthday, an Asian American family. That's not okay either. And there was the case of Patrick Mateo recently in New York, who shoved down a 55-year-old woman to the ground, knocked her out, and he was let go.
So, you know, that's not the focus at all. The focus is to just stop the attacks on our community in general. But again, we are also very clearly reaching out to different communities and trying to understand the real root of the problem and how to attack that for the long term, as well as the short term. And I think it needs to be looked at in the greater holistic whole as well, and allyship is part of that. It's very important, that we can't blame the actions of an individual on entire communities. That is very important. That's kind of the message that I'm trying to get back to the Asian American community, because there seems to be an us-versus-them mentality, and I want to make it very clear to them that these are actions of individuals. It is not the actions of an entire races, and we have to be clear about that when we're looking to fight against these types of attacks.
MR. KIM: Can I add, also, that when we first heard about the criticism for our reward, I was a little bit hurt by it, because people were placing assumptions on what we were doing that were incorrect. And what we did intend to do was to raise awareness, and I think we did help spark that awareness. I think it was a combination of people like Amanda Nguyen and Gold House and other organizations, also, and reporters like Dion Lim and CeFaan Kim and yourself who are amplifying this issue. That is what we wanted to do. And as a result of that raised awareness, now we've raised in the hundreds of thousands of dollars all to go to the community organizers who are helping on the ground.
So, the way I see it, it's really all part of the same effort. And, you know, I disagree with those who think that what we did was hurtful more than helpful.
MS. LEE: Thank you for that and I appreciate you guys answering that so honestly. It sounds like you guys also have some time to process that sort of reaction as well and think through it. I do think it sparked a lot of dialogue around exactly what we're trying to talk about, which is the role of allyship, where we stand in connection to each other, the Asian American community really confronting a history of anti-blackness among some in the community and trying to figure out how to talk about, come to terms with it, and how to rectify it, and how we should be moving forward.
So, in the final minutes that we have, I want to just take a moment to acknowledge what is happening here, which is that you're here with me and we're talking about this, and talking about the impact on the AAPI community. Because we know that Asian Americans are underrepresented in media, especially Asian American men. And the two of you have built your careers to build this platform to be able to speak out on behalf of the AAPI community, and that's a big deal. And, you know, Daniel Wu, you've written so poignantly about the impact that seeing Bruce Lee on screen has had on you and how formative it's been for you.
So, briefly, I was wondering if, Daniel Wu, you can speak to the impact that you're hoping to have for people who don't see enough of Asian Americans on screen, don't see enough Asian American men on screen in this way, and what message you're trying to send by the work that you and Daniel Dae Kim are doing.
MR. WU: Sure. I was actually having this conversation with Andrew Yang the other day, because we were talking about how our parents' generation didn't want us to go into entertainment, didn't want us to go into politics, because those are not suitable professions and may leave you exposed. But I think that's also leading up to the problem of why we are underrepresented, because we're not seen on the public level that much.
And so, part of what we're doing, you know, Daniel Dae Kim and I, being in entertainment, helps to create that exposure, to get us more out there. And then Andrew Yang running for president, now running for mayor of New York, we're seeing Asian Americans now getting into politics, getting into positions where they can effect change in society and no longer being a bystander and then no longer being invisible and no longer being an other. And I think those are really important steps.
Part of my career, most of my career of 20 years was in Hong Kong, and a lot of people are like, "Why would you come back to America to essentially start over again?" It's a really good question. I mean, one is I'm American, I'm from here, and so I do want to have my place here. But secondly, I'm doing it for my daughter's generation, for the next generation. Because after doing my show, you know, I'd run into kids who would say, "You know, I want to be an actor now too." And so that inspiration is really important to be able to give them a pathway to see that it's okay to follow in these professions, and it actually is very important for our place in this American fabric.
MS. LEE: Thanks. Well, I could really talk to you guys for the rest of the day about this, but unfortunately, we're out of time. And I just really want to thank you for being here, for being out there, for being visible, for speaking up, and for joining us today. Thank you so much for joining us, Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu.
MR. WU: Thank you for having us on your platform.
MR. KIM: Yeah, no, and I have to say that you are doing the same work. So, really, we appreciate you amplifying this issue and being as passionate about it as we are. You asked the questions today but I know you have a lot of answers too.
MS. LEE: Thanks.
Well, thank you all for joining us. I will actually be back here on Monday, March 8, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, for a conversation with author/activist Helen Zia and historian Erika Lee. We will talk about how history and the context of history can inform our understanding of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience today.
So, thank you once again for joining Washington Post Live. I'm Michelle Ye Hee Lee. See you next time.
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