Feeling Unheard as a Jewish, Queer Asian Woman

Being a Jewish queer Asian woman is more emotional labor than I have the spoons for right now. It’s PittsburghOrlando and Atlanta—all at once. Yet, here I am, an exhausted community engagement volunteer and social justice advocate, who at the time of writing this article, is already on day six of back-to-back interviews.  

 
Why? Because there has been a sudden and overwhelming interest in the rise of anti-Asian racism now that Asian women have been killed—even though they were thousands of miles away from me here in Vancouver. Where was the media and the outpouring of interest last year, when Elimin8hate—a grassroots anti-racism campaign launched by the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and community reporting center in partnership with project 1907—published the following infographic back in September 2020?  

The graphic clearly showed a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents, including assault and verbal harassment, primarily against Asian women. Sadly, this number has increased and collectively, we now record more than 1,000 anti-Asian incidents since the start of the pandemic with Canada reporting more incidents per capita than the U.S.  

These numbers have not plateaued; instead, the assaults have escalated in severity. I feel like we have been screaming into a void. 

I am familiar with being unheard. This happens when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head. It happens when anti-queer and trans hatred fills the air. And it’s happening now with anti-Asian racism—which is knocking at the door along with misogyny, sex worker and immigrant discrimination.  

There is a pervasive history of objectifying, sexualizing and fetishizing Asian women and femmes. I cringed when I heard this debate on whether the murder victims in Atlanta were sex workers or not. The murderer said he was addicted to sex and that those salons were a trigger for him. We are missing the point by focusing on their occupation and it is not our place to question the ways in which they support themselves and their families. Instead, believe Asian women when they tell you they are being violated. The same way you’d want to be heard as a Jew when the Jewish community is being targeted.  

I worry for my safety. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and interned Japanese Canadians, and I am queer. There is no escape from the intergenerational trauma of my communities. I speak out publicly to advocate for a safer world. But should collective activism fail, would you hide me if my life was in danger? 

I have been separating the tragedy from my own lived experience, having been exoticized for the way I look. Very disturbingly, this has become the norm for me and many other Asian women—we live our lives expecting sexual harassment to happen to us on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I participated in Asian Jewish community affinity spaces to grieve the recent shootings that I began to truly grapple with the complexity of my identities and the deep layers of denial and internalized racism many Asians take on just to participate in society. 

I perpetuate and am also the victim of the model minority myth that paints Asians as a successful entity that has no misgivings, so even I didn’t let myself “go there” to remember (and therefore relive) these painfully “normal” moments “in the life of an Asian woman.” But now I’m here and I’m not alone. We will no longer be silent. 

I have been so busy being a spokesperson for Elimin8hate and drafting a solidarity statement for the Jewish queer trans nonprofit I founded, JQT Vancouver, that I haven’t set aside time for myself—an Asian woman who carries three decades of trauma—to process what this all means to me. It has been brutal being inundated with interview requests, and disorientating being both an ally and a victim. I also hold my communal positions without pay because I recognize that this community work needs to be done. There is little to no funding opportunities for this kind of work. 

I implore the media to examine the harmful role they play in continuing to perpetuate the rise of anti-Asian racism. Instead of sensationalizing the trauma equity-seeking communities like mine have experienced, we should be addressing its history of fetishizing and hypersexualizing Asian women, and take ownership of falsely linking the coronavirus to Chinese people and Chinatowns. More important, let’s leverage the power and influence we can have by educating the public on how to think critically. 

Let this not be a one-off fascination in the trauma of the Asian community, but the beginning of much needed conversations. This time last year, I cofounded a space for Jewpanese people and their families This space has turned out to be a safe space for us to mourn as Asian Jews in the shooting’s aftermath. Many of us have been asked to give interviews and write articles. While I appreciate that we are being heard now, I hope this is not performative allyship.  

Time will tell. The measure will be when we are interviewed and asked to write about our successes. When we are compensated for our efforts to eliminate racialized hate and to help our communities thrive. 

If you are a victim of an anti-Asian attack or witnessed an anti-Asian attack in Canada, please file a report anonymously to www.elimin8hate.org/fileareport. 

If you need to report an incident in the United States, you can do so at https://stopaapihate.org/. For anti-Asian racism resources, go to: https://www.aacommission.org/resources/anti-asian-hate-resources/ 


Carmel Tanaka

Carmel Tanaka (she/her) is a queer Jewpanese woman of color from the west coast on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Her mother is Ashkenazi Israeli and her father is Japanese Canadian. She is a community engagement professional and some of her initiatives include: JQT Vancouver (a Jewish queer trans nonprofit); Genocide Prevention BC; a monthly Zoom call for Jewpanese people and their families; and the Cross Cultural Walking Tours. She also serves on Vancouver Asian Film Festival’s Elimin8hate team. She was recently named one of Be’chol Lashon’s 7 LGBTQ+ Jews of Color You Should Know.

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Carmel Tanaka

Author: Carmel Tanaka