During the coronavirus pandemic, Asian Americans have experienced a sharp increase in racist verbal abuse and physical attacks. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the World War II internment of Japanese residents, to the 1982 killing of Chinese American Vincent Chin, anti-Asian racism has taken different forms over the course of our history. On Monday, March 8 at 3:00pm ET, national reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee speaks with author and historian Erika Lee, together with author and activist Helen Zia, about how the past can help inform our understanding of where we are today.


Author and historian Erika Lee says immigrant communities have been historically singled out during public health crises. “There was a specific spark in 2020 and 2021, and that was the divisive political rhetoric of many of our leaders who insisted on calling the coronavirus the China virus, etc…This allowed what had been a certainly again a deep-rooted sentiment and stereotype about Asians and Chinese people, in particular, to justify the violence we have seen this past year.” (Washington Post Live)
Asian Americans have experienced a sharp increase in racist verbal abuse and physical attacks during the coronavirus pandemic. Author and activist Helen Zia says she fears it will only get worse. “Learning from history, we know that it’s not going to end today. Sadly, it’s going to continue and will probably get worse, and I hate saying that but that’s what history shows us.” (Washington Post Live)
Activist Helen Zia says Asians Americans have to know the history they’ve been deprived of in the fight to end racial injustice. “We have a role to play, and it’s not just an Asian American thing, but all Americans who care about the future of this country and this world really should understand this history too.” (Washington Post Live)
Author and historian Erika Lee shares the story of Wong Kim Ark and the landmark 1898 Supreme Court case that guaranteed birthright citizenship, regardless of a parent’s immigration status. “This is a landmark decision. It matters to all of us. It’s not just something that applies to the rights of Asian Americans.” (Washington Post Live)

Erika Lee

One of the nation’s leading immigration and Asian American historians, Erika Lee teaches American history at the University of Minnesota, where she is a Regents Professor and Director of the Immigration History Research Center. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, Lee grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, she is a frequent commentator in the media and the author of four award-winning books including The Making of Asian America: A History and America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States. Called “unflinching and powerful” by Carol Anderson (author of White Rage) and “essential reading” by Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist), America for Americans won the American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and was highlighted in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the New York Public Library as one of the most important books illuminating the Trump era and informing essential issues in the 2020 election.

Helen Zia

Helen Zia is a writer, activist and Fulbright Scholar. She is the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, about the contemporary civil rights struggles of Asian Americans; her latest book, Last Boat out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Fled Mao's Revolution, was an NPR best book of 2019 and shortlisted for a 2020 national PEN AMERICA award. An award-winning magazine journalist, she was the Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine, where her reporting on neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations sparked new thinking on the relationship between race and gender in hate violence.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Helen has been outspoken on issues ranging from human rights to countering hate violence and homophobia. Her leadership in the landmark civil rights case of anti-Asian violence in the 1982 hate killing of Vincent Chin in Detroit has been documented in the Oscar-nominated film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” Helen has honorary doctorates from the University of San Francisco and the City University of New York Law School. She attended Princeton University on a full scholarship and was a member of its first graduating class of women. Helen quit medical school to work as a construction laborer, an autoworker, and a community organizer, until she discovered her life’s work as a journalist and writer.