On March 31, a group of North Allegheny students published an open letter in regard to anti-Asian hate addressed to the North Allegheny School District on behalf of the North Allegheny AAPI community. NA For Change fully supports the sentiment of the letter, and, in an act of solidarity, posts their letter on our website.
Please read their letter in full below:
“It feels like we’re also taught much of the world through a scarcity mindset, where someone’s win constitutes your loss. I’ve hesitated before posting this because I’m afraid advocating for the AAPI community might inadvertently invalidate other groups’ lived experiences. But, I then realize that’s silly. That’s false.”
To the North Allegheny District Leadership,
We, the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community at North Allegheny, have been deeply hurt by the recent surge of hate crimes targeted at our community. In just the past year, there have been almost 3,800 hate incidents aimed at AAPI individuals—a 149% spike since the previous year, despite a 7% decrease in hate crimes overall. These attacks have included verbal harassment, physical assault, and shunning, among other acts. And almost two weeks ago, when eight people were killed in a shooting in Atlanta, six of them were Asian women.
This problem has not happened in a vacuum. This drastic increase in hate crimes has been attributed to the racist notions surrounding COVID-19, and at North Allegheny, where 17.5% of students identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander, we have witnessed and experienced this spike in racism firsthand.
We appreciate the statement that the district released recently addressing the attacks on our community, and we implore North Allegheny to follow through on its promises in that statement—namely, to work with AAPI students and faculty to create a school environment that acknowledges and actively combats hatred.
It is the district’s responsibility to protect its students from harm and foster an environment in which every student has access to the educational experience they deserve, without having to worry about hearing slurs, enduring microaggressions, facing misconceptions about their communities, and experiencing other forms of discrimination. It is not enough for the district to recognize the problem—we are asking for immediate action in response to the tragic events that have occurred recently.
We request that the district facilitates a mandatory event for all North Allegheny high school students directly addressing the racism that is most commonly seen in this community. Students should be educated on the various forms racism takes in everyday life, including racist insults, ostracization, online harassment, and other microaggressions. This event should uplift AAPI voices, and we ask that it is put together largely by members of the administration and/or staff—BIPOC students should not be burdened with educating their white peers on the racism they face. In the past, events addressing racism have been organized almost entirely by students—such as the Black History Month discussions run by the NASH Student Council—and we would like to see that supplemented with activities planned by adults in the district.
We understand this past year has been difficult and stressful, and we know that organizing an event for all 9th-12th grade students will be challenging, especially considering the various instructional models that are being employed at the time. But this is an urgent issue. Every day the district refuses to educate students on racism is another day an AAPI or other BIPOC student might be forced to endure an uncomfortable or traumatic event, just based on their culture or appearance. We request that this event is carried out before the end of the school year, in any format that is most convenient—online, in person, or a mixture of both.
We recognize that one event will not disassemble all of the inequities and forms of discrimination that harm BIPOC communities, and it will not stop all hate crimes on the basis of race from occurring. But by educating North Allegheny students on how they can personally improve their behavior and support their AAPI peers, we can create a community of understanding, with more acceptance and celebration.
It has been a challenging year in terms of grappling with issues of race and identity, biases, and personal faults. It has been exhausting for many of us, and all of the problems can feel too overwhelming to solve. But while institutional change may be gradual, individual change does not have to be. While our proposed solution may not be perfect, it is better than the alternative of inaction. We can do our part to tackle them little by little—in the case of the school, an integral part of the community, we can work to solve this problem through education.
North Allegheny has always made a point to celebrate its diversity, and we would like to see the district make an effort to protect its AAPI students during this time. We strongly believe that proper education openly addressing racism and highlighting the experiences of AAPI individuals will benefit all students and improve the experience of all current and future AAPI North Allegheny students.
- Email NASD Leadership requesting a mandatory event for all North Allegheny High School students.
- Send the letter and action items to supporting friends, family, and community members.
- Share a testimonial—your experience or witnessed experiences of racism at North Allegheny.
For accessing NASD Leadership contacts, an email template, our graphics, or sharing a testimonial, use this.
The rest of this letter contains personal thoughts and excerpts from student testimonials. Read the full testimonials here.
We’re taught racism from a distance as if removing ourselves from it will absolve ourselves from the role we play. As if absolving ourselves will disinfect our affluent, suburban bubble from the grime of injustices in the “surrounding” world.
But it doesn’t. Unlike putting away ornaments during the holidays, we can’t neatly pack a messy past and hope to tie it up with a sweet ribbon of “unity.”
Racism isn’t always the stereotypical caricature that we often assume it to be. It’s not a lack of niceness. It can be blatant. It can also be subtle and insidious.
It takes the form of deciding to inaccurately pronounce someone’s name. Or even worse, not bother trying at all.
“I had a teacher call me the wrong name every class for the first two nine weeks even though I corrected them each time. It’s very rude and…it hurts even though it happens a lot. So what my name is Indian, that should not make a difference. If they get it wrong, I’ll correct them and that’s fine. But it should never be the teacher saying it is too hard of a name to pronounce.”
It’s when blatantly hurtful, racially-charged insults go unnoticed and uncared for.
“There is a student who rides my bus everyday [and] says racist things. He has said Indians are dirty and they need to go back to their country. He has also said that Asians eat dogs and purposefully avoids them because he thinks only Asians have Coronavirus. While my friends and I have tried to talk to teachers about this, we have heard nothing about any punishment.”
“I was in 6th-grade tech-Ed and there was a boy…who was partnered with a girl who was Asian. The entire class he would walk over to me and say things like, ‘I can’t understand her,’ ‘She should go back to where she came from,’ and, ‘She is ugly and annoying cause she is Asian.’ I told the teacher what happened but the student was never punished, and to this day, we are now both entering sophomore year, he still says these things…without being punished.”
“One day,…a white male student approaches me and says…, ‘You’re Chinese and you people eat cats and dogs.’ This wasn’t the first time he has said stuff like this. He is the kid that would say ‘open your eyes’ ‘chink’ or ‘ching-chong’. Trying to remain calm, I responded with ‘No’ and walked away to tell my teacher. She directs me to the counselors. There my counselor tells me that I AM the one that needs to fix this. That I AM the one who needs to avoid him. That I AM the one that has to be the solution. She made me feel as if by being Asian I created a target for myself. She made me feel as if my appearance justified his actions.”
“As a student of South West Asian descent who went to school around the time of the 9/11 attacks, I was constantly called a ‘terrorist’ and ‘Bin Laden’ by white male classmates. Teachers looked the other way and nothing was ever done to address anti-south west Asian (middle-eastern as the less educated refer to it) racism.”
Making fun of someone’s food.
“In first grade, I covered up my ‘spinach paratha’ with my right hand while using my left to eat it as fast as I could—in fear that the kids with whom I sat in the cafeteria would laugh at my lunch, which looked different from their turkey sandwiches.”
“Lunch would be the time when people would make fun of the food that I brought, or they would show me racist memes while laughing. But when I would look offended they would say ‘oh but it’s not about you.’”
“[One] teacher would claim we could have snacks in class but not curry because he hated the smell. All the white guys in the class would laugh and constantly make jokes about it. As an Indian female that stuff replays in your head and it makes you wonder if your culture is even worth being celebrated. “
Or their very own language.
“There have been many times at NA where people have come up to me and started speaking nonsense then said that’s how the ‘language’ Indian sounds. It’s become normal for me to use the names, grandma and grandpa, because one time a kid made fun of the traditional name for them.”
This includes physical features.
“My little sister is in 4th grade at FES. She told me after our discussions about race that she saw racist jokes from boys in her grade—young, 9/10 year old boys. One boy pinched the outer corners of his eyes outwards, and said: ‘Look, I’m Asian!’”
“I’ve also been told I’m pretty for a girl who has ‘dirty’ skin.”
I wonder, at one point does each jab or joke strip someone’s love for their food, language, name, or anything that makes them who they are? Being Asian-American often feels like existing as the “none of the above” choice, the empty space between, between more important things. Even when showing this letter to my parents, both immigrants from China, they worry it’s “too offensive.” I wonder if they worry because it’ll make us seem ungrateful, un-American—but the person who told us “go back to your country” a few years back already thinks that. And when did we dichotomize criticism and patriotism?
It feels like we’re also taught much of the world through a scarcity mindset, where someone’s win constitutes your loss. I’ve hesitated before posting this because I’m afraid advocating for the AAPI community might inadvertently invalidate other groups’ lived experiences. But, I then realize that’s silly. That’s false.
This letter isn’t rooted in a want to vindicate all who have acted in a certain way. It stems from the fact that we believe people can change, and we can elevate expectations of how to treat others. So, thanks for reading this.
The North Allegheny AAPI Community