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Olivia Munn, Daniel Dae Kim on challenges Asian Americans are facing

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The Asian American and Pacific Islander community has faced a rise of racism and violence since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Hate crimes against Asian Americans have risen 150% in major cities in the past year, along with nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since 2020.

CBS News spoke with actors Olivia Munn, Daniel Dae Kim and Jennifer Cheon Garcia, filmmaker Eddie Huang, chef Melissa King, TV personality Cheryl Burke, API Stop the Hate co-founder Russell Jeung, RISE founder and CEO Amanda Nguyen to discuss the attacks on the Asian community and how Hollywood plays a role in perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

The roundtable discussion is part of the CBS News special “Asian Americans Battling Bias: Continuing Crisis.”

Olivia Munn

CBS News

CBS News: You have used your platform to speak out about anti-Asian hate. How do you think Hollywood has shaped perceptions of Asians and Asian Americans and particularly Asian American women? Are things changing at all?

Munn: I think that we’re all well aware of the fetishization of Asian women in Hollywood and in media. For so long, White people have been able to tell our stories and as all minorities, we are just allowed to support them in telling those stories. It’s really through their eyes and through their opinions of us. So, you know, it’s slowly changing. The people on this call, we’re all part of that change and that movement.

Can you give us a sense of what it’s like to be an Asian American woman in Hollywood? What kind of opportunities are created or not created based on your own experience?

Munn: Typically, as an Asian American, as an Asian American woman, the rules are: to be the submissive wife, or to be the out of control wife, to just constantly, be supporting other people’s storylines, but creating this and perpetuating the stereotype that we are either submissive or crazy.

For me, it has meant that I don’t work as much as I would want to, because, in order to work, I’d have to take a lot more of those offers. So it takes a long time of just saying no to a lot of stuff and hoping that that will dry out one river so that another river can come through. And it’s a lot of that.

If someone wants to be an ally and if someone wants to learn more, what would you say to those people?

Munn: I would say that right now, people speaking up on social media is such a huge source of strength for a lot of us because we have gone for so long feeling invisible and unseen and that these attacks on our community are not important enough for people to clog up their timeline. And so just having that and especially other people in our community, but in other communities and other minority communities speaking up, that has meant so much.

Melissa King

CBS News: As someone in the culinary world who has enjoyed much success, what have things been like for you and your family? You were telling me that in California, you’re accustomed to seeing other Asians and Asian Americans. But this feels different to you and you have a real fear for your parents, who immigrated to this country from Hong Kong and China.

King: It’s just been very upsetting. Things that are happening within the restaurant industry itself, with vandalism of restaurants, a drop in just patronage of Asian restaurants. It’s really become personal for me. I do fear for people of my parents’ age who are elderly. I fear for their safety, I fear for them walking down the street at night and what’s going to happen.

What is it that you have seen in the restaurant community as you’ve watched the months go on here with these pandemic restrictions really being, in some cases, a death sentence for these businesses?

King: What’s interesting is, back to kind of what Olivia was saying was: within her industry, it’s the white man telling the story of us and within the restaurant world, it’s the same thing.

This has been happening for a long time, where people have come here from Asia and we’re not allowed to create our food. We have to create a sort of this Americanized version of our food in order to please the white community. And so we’re not able to be our authentic selves.

What do you think allies can do to help or learn if they want to?

King: I do want to say that people love Asian food, but they don’t necessarily love the people that are making the food. Patronize your favorite dim sum restaurant. Right now, these restaurants are dying and they need your help. 

Daniel Dae Kim

Daniel Dae Kim

CBS News

CBS News: There is this concept of the model minority stereotype. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about that and how that tends to diminish the racial experiences of people within this very diverse group known as the AAPI community.

Kim: The AAPI community is not a monolith. As we all know, there are many countries that makeup Asia and none of them are the same. We have been lucky that many of us have been successful because of the brain drain that happened in the mid-60s, bringing over professionals and people in the science and medical fields.

We’ve also had refugees and immigrants coming from Southeast Asia. The disparity between the highest-earning Asians and the lowest is the largest of any ethnic group in the country. When we talk about model minority, we’re talking about a very small portion of the actual population of the Asian American community.

It does a great disservice to those of us when we need services from the government, or our community, to not be able to ask or to be considered OK by them because they see doctors, lawyers and CEOs.

Helen Zia 

CBS News: Why are you angry right now?

Zia: Well, as all the other panelists said, this is not new. It’s our particular role that white supremacy and systemic racism has given to Asian-Americans to isolate us, to blame us, to attack us. In this case, you know, all of us on this panel were aware of just the intensity of the hate that was going on starting 15 months ago. It’s infuriating that it’s taken a terrible mass killing for other people to recognize it. The words from our president, as heartwarming as they are — we want to see action.

What went through your mind when you hear about the shootings at the Asian spas in Georgia?

Zia: This is the culmination for Asian Americans, 15 months, ever since the coronavirus was first detected, that our communities have been under siege. Many of us, even back at the beginning of this year, said this was going to be bad. I’ve worked on hate crimes and anti-abortion violence before, and I knew it was going to be bad, it was going to get worse. Some of us even privately talked about the possibility of mass killings because we knew it was possible. So here we are kind of at our worst nightmare and sad to say, I don’t think it’s over yet.

Jennifer Cheon Garcia

Jennifer Cheon Garcia

CBS News

CBS News: What went through your mind when you hear about the shootings at the Asian spas in Georgia?

Cheon Garcia: Many things went through my mind, I still get really emotional when I think about it because of all those people who don’t have their family members anymore. I just thought to myself, when I heard that 911 call, that sounds like how my father speaks. It just made me so sick because I could hear how calm and how afraid she was and how much I just wanted to go and protect them, but that’s why I think it’s so important that we have conversations like this and people coming together to talk about this because this can’t happen anymore.

What is making you angry during this moment? 

Cheon Garcia: It’s still an ongoing fight. I mean, hearing more in-depth about our history — what will it take? My mom was born and raised in Mexico City and my dad was born in Korea and grew up in Seoul. There’s nothing about their cultures that were the same. They still don’t even really speak the same language. But what they spoke about was that American dream, that coming to a promised land and for the opportunity for my brother, my sister and myself and our kids and our kids’ kids’ kids’ kids. Even though you’re born American, you are still treated like a foreigner — that’s why I’m angry.

Does this feel like an inflection point to you for Asian Americans? 

Cheon Garcia: I am optimistic but I am cautiously optimistic. I know that there are way more good people than they are bad, it’s just the bad has had the microphone for a very, very long time. But we’re taking that microphone back.

Cheryl Burke

CBS News: What went through your mind when you hear about the shootings at the Asian spas in Georgia?

Burke: I’m still in shock. It’s hard to process. I lost sleep. My family is from the Bay Area. I have family in Atlanta and I can’t help but think, God, forbid — those cries for help. The fact that they’re not saying if this is a hate crime or the fact that they even had to think about it — call it as it is. It’s really frustrating that this is 2021 and like Helen said, I don’t think it’s over.

What is the state of the American dream for Asian Americans in 2021?

Burke: To not live in fear, we really need to turn this around and we need to change that stereotypical, “Asian Americans don’t speak up for themselves.” But you’re talking to the wrong generation, because my generation, this generation you see right here on the panel right now, we’re going to be and we are so loud and clear that it’s so important that we don’t shy away from just even learning and educating. Don’t be too shy or introverted enough to just ask questions, because I think a lot of people turn inward during a time like this because they don’t want to offend anybody.

Russell Jeung

CBS News: Stop AAPI Hate has been a place where people have turned to report hate incidents. What does the data show?

Jeung: Since March last year, when we started our website tracker, we’ve received almost 3,800 incidents from Asian Americans about the incidents of hate that they’ve been experiencing. They’ve been horrific, people have had slurs slung at them. They’ve had racial profanities. They’ve been pushed and shoved.

We’ve received reports from all 50 states now, so it’s widespread, it’s commonplace and I think it’s led to an atmosphere of fear and anxiety within the community.

How does the concept of the model minority diminish the racial experiences of people within the AAPI community?

Jeung: Sometimes we’re the model minority. But in times of war and times of pandemic, in times of economic downturn, we’re pushed out from being insiders to America to being outsiders of America. 

If someone wants to be an ally and learn more, what would you say to those people?

Jeung: I would tell others: as you’ve heard like Olivia and Melissa just talked about, we are orientalized. We’re often seen from other people’s points of view. We don’t have our own narratives being told. So I would tell our allies, hear our stories. Hear how we want to be portrayed. Hear how we are human, how we’re grieving now over the shootings of our community. Hear our stories and rather than trying to compare stories, just allow Asian Americans to be centered for the moment and to know what we’re going through during this time.

Eddie Huang

Eddie Huang

CBS News

CBS News: What went through your mind when you hear about the shootings at the Asian spas in Georgia?

Huang: I’ve been very outspoken in my entire life, just like Tzi and Helen and everyone on this panel has been speaking about, I have engaged in the American experiment. It’s probably the greatest thing I’ve been a part of and I love being a part of it —and I love speaking about it from a Taiwanese Chinese American perspective. But watching this for the first time, I just. I was really in shock, like, “People really hate us.” Like, right now.

How has Hollywood shaped perceptions of Asians and particularly Asian Americans?

Huang: In Hollywood, Asians have always been the butt of jokes — and how do you become the butt of jokes? Well, first you have to dehumanize us. You have to strip us of our agency. You have to strip us of our dimension. You have to fragment and break us down.

So then you get Charlie Chan, you get Fu Manchu. Everybody adores Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But there’s a yellow face character in that film that’s absolutely disgusting. Hollywood’s history is riddled with stuff like this and we’re just coming out of it.

I think it’s about reclaiming our humanity and I do think it will make it much harder to attack us physically once people see us as whole human characters.

Tzi Ma

CBS News: How has Hollywood shaped perceptions of Asians and particularly Asian Americans?

Ma: In the beginning, you know, we’re the convenient scapegoat. We’re the yellow peril. You know, we are the Fu Manchus and we are the Suzie Wongs. Hopefully, you know, of the collective effort of #OscarsTooWhite, #MeToo movement, all of those things have assisted the change in Hollywood. And I really find that for the very first time, we have a foothold to propel us forward.

I’m shooting a show in Vancouver and it’s the first time I’ve ever had an Asian American woman showrunner — and I’ve been doing this for a minute or two. All of the entire writers’ room is reflective of inclusion. The representation — women, people of color, LGBTQ, all the directors — also reflects that. I have never seen that, ever. So that’s progress. We need to continue to do it because we are a multicultural, multi-ethnic community. There are still voices that have not been heard and those voices need to be developed and those voices need to be heard.

How did you feel when you heard about the shootings in Atlanta?

Ma: When I first heard the news, I was heartbroken. I could not get rid of the sadness that was washed over me. I wish I could say I was shocked and surprised. Unfortunately, I’m not.

We’ve, you know, marched, we’ve done demonstrations. We’re not as silent as people say we are. And I want to correct the record for that. We’ve been active for many, many years, all the way back when the first railroad workers who came from China to build this continental withdrawal, of all us. I am proud of who we are. And I want to remind everybody, we are children of those people who came under tremendous hardship.

If there’s not a call to arms with that kind of message, I don’t know what is.

Amanda Nguyen

CBS News: You posted a video on social media in early February drawing attention to recent attacks, particularly against Asian American elders. Why did you create that video?

Nguyen: Quite simply, I didn’t see our stories getting represented in the mainstream media but I wanted people to understand what was happening in our community.

I think that when that video was posted, it was like fire meets gasoline, because not only did people feel like their grief was being brought to light- and that they could be validated in how they were feeling- but also other communities said, “Oh, that is a clear call to action.”

What are the implications of that model minority myth?

Nguyen: Well, the implications and consequences have been deaths, we’ve clearly seen this.  All of this comes from systemic oppression and systemic erasure of us from our history, our education. From the mainstream media, the news, to our federal government. In 2009, there was a study done that showed that some federal agencies don’t even include AAPIs in their definition of racial minorities. When you systematically erase us, it dehumanizes us.

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