An Open Letter on Anti-Asian Racism and Femicide
Imagine what our piece of Northern California looks like when you fly out of or in to Sacramento? You see flooded rice fields, manicured for a few generations and so fertile that they are the envy of the agricultural world. You see rivers and tributaries with carefully controlled flood plains and hundreds of miles of levees bracketing them as they wend their ways from Sierra to sea. You see the rails of a transcontinental railroad fanning out across the nation that those very rails bound together.
A very large proportion of the people who nurtured, shaped, and ‘tamed’ this vast landscape were people of Asian descent, and so many of the comforts and benefits we enjoy in our daily lives are the direct result of their labour. Our status as one of the most diverse or the most diverse cities in the country has a lot to do with the friends, neighbours and colleagues we have who represent the array of south and southeast Asian populations who abound in our region. We live in a state where the third largest ethnic group (after Latinx and Caucasian) is considered “Asian and Pacific Islander,” and this is also the case for Sacramento County as well as the City of Sacramento. Our diversity is part of our strength, and our fellow Californians from the Asian American and Pacific Islander population have made prodigious contributions to our culture and all sectors of our lives and our economy.
As our Governor said yesterday “the Chinese Exclusion Act was in 1882 not last year.” Our services area is represented by three members of congress, two of whom are Asian Americans. One of these, Congresswoman Matsui, was born in a Japanese American internment camp during World War Two in old stables in the Arizona desert that were turned into a prison for American citizens of Japanese descent. Putting politics to one side we must celebrate the fact that our most recent federal Senator is of Asian American and African American descent and is now our first Asian American and African American Vice President. But we still see a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans across the country and here in California where we have the largest population of Americans of Asian descent.
We condemn the rise in hate crimes and violence towards our Asian American Pacific Islander communities – most recently punctuated by the murder of six Asian American women in Atlanta who died simply because there were of Asian descent. We stand peacefully against the hatred and racism that has been intentionally intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to equity, inclusion and being a force for good focused on the solution.
And during this month we celebrate Women’s History Month which started here in Sonoma County in 1978 as Women’s History Week, was endorsed in 1980 by Presidential Decree by President Jimmy Carter, and was extended to be Women’s History Month by President Reagan in 1987. At the time of his decree, President Carter wrote “from the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” Putting politics to one side we must celebrate the fact that our most recent federal Senator is a woman and is now our first female Vice President.
With the emergence of the COVID 19 pandemic came the increased isolation and risk of gender based violence, with many survivors of domestic violence cut off from others and trapped in a home with their abuser. In European pharmacies if a woman asked for “Mask 19” it meant she was enduring domestic violence. And with this came an increased rate of femicide. Femicide is defined as the intentional murder of women because they are women (the gender based component is not captured by the use of the word “homicide”).
We condemn the rise in violence towards women – most recently punctuated by the femicide of six Asian American women in Atlanta who died simply because there were women. We stand peacefully against the hatred and misogyny that has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to equity, inclusion and being a force for good focused on the solution.
During our all staff meeting last month, Dr. Marks described “disproportionate exposure” and went on to show how our excessive exposure to a message – whether it is right or not – implicitly impacts our perception of a person, thing, or event. You may remember Dr. Marks often says “sir” to female police officers because he has been disproportionately exposed to make police officers, and his story about the father, son, and surgeon which revealed many gender biases? An attempt to restore ‘proportionate exposure’ is a good first step to sensitizing yourself, appreciating diversity, and starting to inoculate against implicit bias. In our homebound and streaming worlds, I am offering two suggested sources for videos, documentaries and movies about the Asian American and American Women’s experiences and history. I would encourage you to watch some of them and share your feedback with others as you dip further into the beautiful complexity and diversity we live in.
The Asian American Experience
Women’s History Movies and Shows
We are all more alike than unalike. We must stand together against these interpersonal tyrannies.
A. Jonathan Porteus, PhD
Chief Executive Officer
This letter was sent to the WellSpace Health team on March 23, 2021.