As part of celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month, Middlesex welcomed award-winning journalist Juju Chang to speak via Zoom during Assembly on May 7, 2021.
A co-anchor of ABC News’ Nightline, Ms. Chang has covered major breaking news for decades and has been recognized with numerous honors, including multiple Emmys and Gracies, as well as DuPont, Murrow, and Peabody Awards. Having completed two hour-long specials this year concerning the rise in hate crimes toward the AAPI community, she spoke about the origins of this aggression and shared some of her own story as a Korean American growing up in California.
Born in Seoul, Ms. Chang moved as a young child with her family to Sunnyvale, where she started kindergarten before she had learned to speak English. “I felt like ‘the other’ a lot,” she recalled. This sense was caused by more than the initial language barrier, however, as she described some of the “othering” that people of AAPI heritage continually experience. Many are made to feel that they are “perpetual foreigners,” as they are regularly asked, “Where are you from?” And many are labeled “model minorities” who excel at STEM subjects and attend Ivy League colleges. Such stereotypes “render so much of our population invisible,” Ms. Chang said, which leaves those who live in poverty unacknowledged and unassisted.
During the pandemic, Ms. Chang related, she and fellow journalists poured themselves into their work and soon began to see a racial divide emerge, as COVID-19 disproportionately affected densely populated, urban neighborhoods where BIPOC essential workers lived. When the murder of George Floyd sparked a moment of racial reckoning, Ms. Chang reported on the protests, observing that they seemed to involve Americans of all ages and races.
Yet, a spike in hate crimes soon followed, she noted, as “fear of COVID was weaponized against Asian Americans.” With the President referring to the virus as “Wuhan flu” and “Kung flu,” Ms. Chang stated, “Blaming and scapegoating the Chinese was conflated to all Asians, resulting in a dramatic spike in violence against Asian Americans.” Long-standing AAPI prejudice that has shown itself before – such as in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II – was once again unleashed with this rhetoric.
Ms. Chang she was pleased to learn that Frederick Douglas had opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act, arguing instead for Chinese immigration and citizenship. “It’s all about unity in this moment,” she affirmed.
This year’s co-editors of The Anvil, Brian Choi ’21 and Shreya Jain ’21, led the way in asking Ms. Chang questions about her path to journalism, her career experience as an Asian American woman, and her suggestions for dismantling AAPI stereotypes. Though she often covers many tragedies and acts of violence in her work, Ms. Chang “can’t help but have hope” when she sees people stepping in to help – and sees a younger generation that is unwilling to tolerate racism. “This is a time of solidarity,” she stressed, adding that progress can be made for all people of color when everyone stands together against hate, oppression, and structural racism.