May Flowers: AAPI Heritage Month in the Wake of COVID-19

By Alexa Yoo

The month of May can mean many different things. 

Colloquially, flowers will follow April’s showers. Wary and winter-beaten Midwesterners and East-Coasters will emerge, paler and popping vitamin D tablets like it’s  the kind of recreational addiction that fuels the Las Vegas economy. Outdoor eateries flourish; chalk-laden “special of the day” signs line the pedestrian path and it is like everybody has suddenly “taken up running” as their latest endeavor. 

The world, essentially, blooms. It is a season of healing after the clutches of a particularly cruel winter in a world that is still struggling to right itself after a catastrophic past few years. 

In several communities, this time has been made even harder than others. They, too, have begun to scab over; still resounding from the hatred and anger that has been showered upon them but banding together in communal strength and with the rare kind of love that can only be shown and not spoken. 

May belongs to people such as this. May belongs to the AAPI community.

Since the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAPI community has suffered the brunt of the bigotry and xenophobia that is attached to the virus’ geographical beginnings. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a 77% increase in hate crimes against Asian individuals and communities between 2019 and 2020. Incidents involving stabbing, brutal beatings, and elder abuse began to percolate into social media and mainstream news outlets—and experts reported that, likely, crimes such as these were vastly underreported. Even those that received media coverage were often doubted; their status as “hate crimes” called into question and subsequent outraged cries silenced by political figures who refused to acknowledge the fundamental crisis of hatred and racism riddling the world.

As a Japanese/Korean-American woman residing in both the U.K. and the Midwest, I experienced that hatred firsthand. I will never forget the cruel taunts, the enraged screams – or the silence from those who witnessed my pain and stood by. “AAPI” became a war cry rather than a unifier—a dangerous label rather than a beautiful and complex identity. I began to see May as a time of fire and justice and unmitigated rage.

In May of 2020, I spent all thirty-one of those days furiously researching, writing, phoning, and (perhaps most significantly) arguing with strangers on the internet. I dove deep into the Asian Affinity Organization I co-founded at my university; sharing my pain and wounds with those who understood only too well. In May of 2021, I campaigned on social media platforms, graduated from an American university with highest honors (which I took to be a metaphorical flipping of all the birds to those patriots who told me to “go back to my own country”), made a cross-country move, and began what is essentially two full time jobs with an intention to focus on increasing diversity in the business-oriented and entrepreneurial workspace. This constant fighting and relentless advocacy became almost a tradition—to relive the pain in order to refute it. 

Somebody asked me what Asian American Pacific Islander Month meant to me somewhere between reporting hate comments on Instagram and writing my local politicians—and I soon realized that what used to be a time to celebrate had become a time of reckoning and anxiety, of conflict and melancholy. It had become something I no longer recognized. And I had, too.

But May of 2022 looked like framed Japanese greeting cards from my grandmother, smelled like redolent marinara sauce and handmade pasta with friends, and sounded like Hawaiian music blasting from my car’s stereos on car rides home from work. It was chaotic and sweet and full of tea; it was walks to dog bakeries with coworkers and grilling steaks after work just because. It was a month of well-needed rest and weeks of remembering what May can mean to so many people.

I write this belatedly – partly because I am admittedly burnt out on speaking out about “my story,” but mostly because I took this May to revel in the kind of joy that I hope comes to mind when others think of the AAPI community. The world is healing, and I want to, too. This is not to say we should simply forgive and forget – I don’t think I will ever recall the events of the past few years with anything less than the sharp acuity of the sudden loss of life amongst the communities I hold so close and dear – but I hope this May can serve as the turning point for a healing world who will continue to hold our communities to a higher standard of compassion. 

And so, as this year’s May comes to an end, I am wishing you rest and kindness and empathy. I am wishing you freshly brewed coffee and bear hugs from friends and that first big stretch in the morning. And I’m wishing, with all my heart, that in this year—May brings you healing, too.

 

If you’d like to learn more about combatting AAPI hate in your community, I’ve included a couple of good articles below. I’ve also included a couple of books authored by AAPI writers that I have enjoyed reading. I encourage you to do your own research and take the time to listen to your AAPI loved ones, friends, and family. And, most importantly, I hope this post helped put the past few years into perspective.

Informational Articles to Read:

 

AAPI Authored Books:

  • Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
  • Frankly in Love, by David Yoon
  • Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Last Children of Tokyo (The Emissary), by Yoko Tawada

 

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