'I feel so drained and angry': AAPI influencers on fighting anti-Asian hate and prioritizing mental health

·5 min read
Public support of the Stop Asian Hate movement has grown over the last year. (Photo: Getty)
Public support of the Stop Asian Hate movement has grown over the last year. (Photo: Getty)

While Asian American influencers like Kim Saira, who is also an activist and artist, have long been advocates for their culture and community, Saira tells Yahoo Life that the Black Lives Matter movement is what “encouraged and inspired me to spend more time learning about anti-racism and examine how I can truly be better and contribute to change within my community.”

However, with the rise in anti-Asian violence, AAPI influencers and allies have been witnessing their own community being harassed and attacked. But Saira says this has only added to her desire to fight systemic racism and white supremacy. “To say the least, it has been incredibly distressing, anxiety inducing, and maddening,” Saira says. “Every time I see a new headline of an attack, I always get scared that it could be a family member, neighbor, or friend.”

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., reported in February 2021 that there had been nearly 3,800 identified instances over the past year. Less than a month later, in March 2021, six Asian women were among the eight people killed during a shooting that took place in Atlanta at three different spas.

“Seeing the AAPI community targeted has brought up a lot of fear, sadness and anger for me,” Meg Lee, an artist and QTBIPOC (queer, transgender, Black, Indigenous, people of color) activist, tells Yahoo Life. “As an Asian American trans non-binary person, I feel so drained and angry from all of the anti-Asian hate crimes, as well as all of the anti-trans bills and transphobic discrimination and violence.”

With the increase in anti-Asian attacks, recognizing Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and mental health awareness month — both of which happen to be during the month of May — is especially significant. Highlighting the relationship between the two is key in the work of anti-racism and the preservation of mental health for members of the AAPI community. “I struggle openly with anxiety and depression, and both have heightened this last year,” Owin Pierson, a 29-year-old LGBTQIA+, mental health, and AAPI advocate and influencer, tells Yahoo Life.

Some of the influencers, including Pierson and Saira, say that therapy has played an important role in their lives over the last year. “I’m very lucky and fortunate to be going to an Asian therapist who is helping me navigate my anxiety and depression,” Saira shares. Pierson says that he’s also “really grateful” that his therapist is “hapa” (half Asian). “That level of connection is so important to me, but also it’s so rare for Asians to admit to struggles and get help,” he says. “I’m realizing there aren’t many Asian therapists, but also there aren’t many Asians willing to go into therapy.”

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than other Americans. ADAA reported that language barriers and stigma are two hurdles that keep Asian Americans from seeking therapy. Organizations, like Asians Do Therapy and Project Lotus, are working to reduce stigma and increase accessibility.

“Without invalidating and disregarding the trauma and fear that many folks in the AAPI community have endured due to all of the unjustified violence, I think there have been some positives that have come from the Stop Asian Hate movement,” says Lee. “I feel such a strong sense of community and solidarity for the first time in my entire life.”

Public support of the Stop Asian Hate movement has grown over the last year, and in April, the Senate passed an anti-Asian hate crimes bill sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng and Sen. Mazie Hirono. “Seeing community efforts, like fundraisers to help victims of families and businesses that have suffered from anti-Asian hate, getting proper acknowledgement of these incidents as hate crimes, and seeing volunteer based safety networks to protect Asian elders and women are a start to supporting the Asian community,” influencer Anthony Urbano tells Yahoo Life.

Influencers and activists have become valuable resources for allies joining the fight against anti-Asian harassment. “Everyone needs to know about all of the racism, violence, and hate-crimes that Asian Americans face on a day-to-day basis,” says Lee. “I believe and know that we can come together to advocate for the AAPI community, while not invalidating or taking away from the Black Lives Matter movement and message. Knowing that more and more people are standing in solidarity with us and amplifying our voices is powerful and so overdue.”

However, Saira adds that it’s important to continue the work and support beyond social media. “Even though a lot of my activism work is done by creating and sharing posts on social media, in my opinion, it's all pretty insignificant if there aren't any real conversations, reading, and education [that] we're doing offline,” she says.

Lee shares a similar sentiment, saying that the fight against anti-Asian racism is long-term work that should extend beyond this moment in history. “Education and advocacy around the AAPI community and anti-Asian hate crimes needs to go beyond the bare resources offered during Asian American Heritage Month every May,” says Lee. “People need to take the time to have those uncomfortable conversations with their family and friends in order to better understand how to take action and help amplify the voices of the AAPI community.”

They add: “Taking action isn't about performative activism on social media — it's about putting in the work when no one's watching.”

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