Over the past several weeks, we have seen tragedy compounded by tragedy. Our hearts ache for the eight victims and their families in Atlanta and the victims of anti-Asian hate crimes occurring across the country. As we mourn, we stand in solidarity with Asian Americans in our communities, with Asian American farmers, and with all victims, survivors, and individuals impacted by racist, xenophobic, gendered, and classist violence.
Unfortunately, violence against AAPI communities in this country is not new. The escalation of anti-Asian rhetoric and violence over the last year has been preceded by a long history of state- and culturally-sanctioned anti-Asian violence in the U.S. This history has included FBI surveillance and military action against Asian American communities and Asian villages, dehumanizing images of Asian people used in war propaganda, caricatured and hypersexualized representation in popular culture, immigration bans and restrictions, and exploitation and lack of protection for refugee and immigrant workers today. This both subtle and overt violence has promoted distrust, suspicions, mocking, erasure of the complexity and richness of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, scapegoating and collective punishment in times of national crisis and economic downfalls, misogyny, and physical violence.
The horrific violence in Atlanta is a manifestation of a culture of white supremacy that glorifies individualism while imposing austerity and scarcity that lead to fear of the “other.” Government institutions have not only failed to stand fully against inequity, but historically have perpetuated and reinforced white supremacy. These institutions have failed to keep us safe from violence and failed to keep guns out of our communities regardless of whose hands they are in. We all have a responsibility to end this violence, and to do so without increased policing in communities of color. Everyone deserves safety, and it’s too often in this country that communities, especially communities of color, are not safe at home, at work, or in public spaces.
The U.S. has a shameful history of creating policies designed to deny, limit, and take away access to agricultural land and economic viability for Asian Americans. These policies were lobbied by white-led institutions and policy makers, agriculture associations, lenders, and farmers and ranchers who felt economically threatened by Asian American farmers. These strategic racist policies include but are not limited to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1913 & 1920 Alien Land Laws, the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1935, and 1942 Executive Order 9066 and the ensuing theft of more than 250,000 acres of Japanese American-owned land. Anti-Asian xenophobia has also been expressed through U.S. imperialism, which is intricately connected to militarism and misogyny, from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war in Afghanistan, to military control in Okinawa and Guam. We continue to frame recent events through a zero-sum lens, from the China trade war and scapegoating blame of economic decline on China. This narrative permeates agriculture, where a mainstream portrait of the U.S. farm economy portrays a sector principally threatened by China in order to obscure the responsibility of our domestic agricultural policies.
Many of us have learned a numbness to violence, and this numbness bleeds into our advocacy work where it can prevent us from trusting the future and celebrating progress. Numbness and paralysis are valid forms of protection against violence, but for the sake of the next generation of farmers, it cannot prevent us from moving our work forward.
As an advocacy organization in a larger ecosystem of advocates focused on remaking food and agricultural systems, we have a responsibility to interrogate these connections and work in community to dismantle food and agriculture policies rooted in these racist histories. Without such a reckoning, we will not be successful in creating the brighter future we know is possible and necessary.
Footnote: While we use the terms Asian and Asian American in this post, we acknowledge that this language is insufficient in conveying the richness and breadth of the more than thirty different nationalities and ethnic groups represented within Asian American communities, as well as the Asian diaspora in countries around the world.
Eli Tizcareño, David Howard, Katherine Un, Martin Lemos, Sophie Ackoff, and the staff of the National Young Farmers Coalition
Gratitude to our Board Members Kellee Matsushita and Larry Tse for their review