The hate is hard to fathom.
David Chou, 68, a U.S. citizen born and raised in Taiwan, chained shut the doors of a Southern California church on the morning of Sunday, May 15. He proceeded to shoot at the elderly Taiwanese parishioners before killing a man who tried to disarm him.
Chou went into Irvine Presbyterian Taiwanese Church in Laguna Woods with two 9mm handguns and bags containing Molotov cocktails. John Cheng, 52, was killed in the shooting and five other people injured, including a 92-year-old. Chou has been charged with murder and attempted murder.
Why on earth would someone who hails from Taiwan target a Taiwanese church? Chou's motivations seemed to lie in the long-simmering tensions on the island between native Taiwanese, known there as "benshengren," meaning "born here," and Chinese who migrated to Taiwan after the 1949 civil war, who are known as "waishengren," or those "born outside."
Little known to people outside Asia, the animosity is real between the two groups. The Chinese Nationalists and their followers who retreated from China following the Communist revolution in the 1940s built an apartheid system on Taiwan, where a privileged 15% or so of the population held most government positions. The tide didn't turn until the island's first democratic election, held in 1996. Native Taiwanese now reign supreme there.
Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff Don Barnes described the shooting last month as "a politically motivated hate incident." Tensions between the mainland and Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, are at their highest in decades, and Beijing has stepped up its military presence by flying fighter jets toward the island.
Just like the U.S. has shameful chapters in its history, Asian nations' stories are also filled with conquest and humiliation brought on by neighbors in the region. The hostilities carry over to new generations, with families recalling their hurt and shame.
Here in America, that history is not forgotten. While Asian Americans put on a unified front for festivals and parades, when it's over and done, they often retreat back to their own ethnic enclaves.
With the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in recent years, community leaders are calling for more unity.
Put aside past slights, activists are saying, and work together as a pan-Asian group that can accomplish more politically and culturally when it acts as one.
At Bergen County's celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, unity was the theme. At the Hackensack ceremony, leaders from various ethnic groups emphasized the time is now to work together.
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In New York City, Asian Americans are targeted, with vicious random beatings on the minds of many in the community. In February, seven Asian American women were assaulted in the city within a span of two hours. The alleged perpetrator, Steven Zajonc, 28, is facing felony hate crime charges.
There were 131 crimes targeting Asians reported in New York City in 2021, 28 in 2020 and one in 2019, according to NYPD.
"Asian hate crimes are becoming more prominent especially after the start of the pandemic," said Chang H. Lee of Palisades Park, president of the Korean American Association of New Jersey. "We need to show that an attack on one of us will not be tolerated by any of us."
The attacks throughout the country have targeted East Asians, with Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and others suffering beatings and slashings as we are scapegoated for the coronavirus pandemic. Asian Americans also suffer from microaggressions, such as being told to go back to where they came from.
It's against this backdrop that Asian American leaders in New Jersey are calling on one another to cast aside differences and become allies.
"It's important that we work together. It's the only way we can make Asian representation strong," said Albert Chin, president of Chinese Community Center of New Jersey.
As an ABC, an American-born Chinese, Chin knows all of the inside quarrels within the Chinese community. People from mainland China disagree with people from Taiwan about reunification. Chinese from Hong Kong consider themselves to be different from those with roots in the mainland or Taiwan. That's just on the Chinese front, said Chin, who also noted the division between North and South Korea.
There are old wounds from World War II that never fully healed. Michelle Song, of Somerset, former board member of KAANJ, is particularly upset about the issue of comfort women. During World War II, up to 200,000 Korean girls and women along with women from other Asian countries were forced to work in brothels run by the Japanese military.
And then there is language. Each Asian nationality has its own distinct written and spoken language, unlike Latin countries who largely share a common Spanish. People are comfortable speaking in their native tongue and New Jersey has the second highest foreign born population in the country behind California at 22.7%.
Princeton resident Ying Lu, who is a member of the Chinese American Parents and Children Education group, noted that Asian immigrants have many of the same concerns about education, but the language barrier poses a challenge.
Despite obstacles, steps are being made to join forces. Lee, the newly elected president of KAANJ, is doing outreach to other Asian communities in New Jersey, talking to other groups.
"It's showing our support for each other, empowering ourselves," Lee said.
Collectively, a pan Asian coalition would be a force. In Bergen County, Asian Americans account for 17% of the population and in boroughs such as Fort Lee and Leonia, it's almost 40% Asian. Across the state, Asian Americans account for 10% of the population and are the fastest growing minority group.
Global politics aside, in America, Asian Americans need to unite as one, Chin said. Together, our profile will be elevated and our needs better addressed.
"Slowly, Asians are getting into politics," Chin added. "There are not enough of us. Together, Asians will be stronger."
Mary Chao 趙 慶 華 covers the Asian community and real estate for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news out of North Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Laguna Woods shooting in California shows Asian tensions