12 Asian & Asian-American Celebrities On Their Experiences With Racism

anti asian racism celebrities
credit: Claire Rothstein/BBCA

In 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150%. In 2021, that number has jumped to 164%.

While those numbers are horrifying, they’re just that: numbers.

When looking at statistics, it can be easy to forget the people behind the numbers. Because these numbers represent thousands of people — mostly women — who have been verbally, physically, and emotionally assaulted. Women have been shot and killed, violently attacked on the street, and more.

To help you fully understand the magnitude of anti-Asian hate in America, we gathered stories from Asian American female celebrities who have experienced it first-hand. Read their accounts below.

1. Padma Lakshmi

 

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“Before high school, I lived in a white suburb of Los Angeles where there were so few Indians that they didn’t even know the ‘correct’ slurs. They called me the N-word or ‘Blackie.’

“For a long time, I hated my skin color…[And] when I started to work as a model, people would on occasion say things to me like, ‘You’re so pretty for being an Indian.’ I’ve gotten to a place where I have a much broader feeling that I’m beautiful because I’m accepted in the culture.”

2. Dr. Tiffany Moon

 

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“I immigrated to the United States when I was 6 years old and life was incredibly difficult, mainly because my parents were constantly working, and I started first grade without knowing any English.

“Kids can be incredibly mean and I was called names, had my facial features mocked, and sometimes was pushed or hit. I once even had my eyeglasses stomped on by a classmate.

“As I learned English and made friends, the overt racism and physical bullying subsided, but (it) transformed into an undercurrent of racism and microaggressions that I still feel to this day. ‘Wow, you’re really pretty… for an Asian girl.’ ‘Your name isn’t really Tiffany. What’s your real name?’ ‘You eat feet? That sounds disgusting.’ These phrases are not uncommon for me to hear.”

3. Kelly Marie Tran

On experiencing racism from Star Wars fans:

“Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.

“And those words awakened something deep inside me — a feeling I thought I had grown out of. The same feeling I had when at 9, I stopped speaking Vietnamese altogether because I was tired of hearing other kids mock me. Or at 17, when at dinner with my white boyfriend and his family, I ordered a meal in perfect English, to the surprise of the waitress, who exclaimed, ‘Wow, it’s so cute that you have an exchange student!’

“Their words reinforced a narrative I had heard my whole life: that I was ‘other,’ that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them. And that feeling, I realize now, was, and is, shame, a shame for the things that made me different, a shame for the culture from which I came from. And to me, the most disappointing thing was that I felt it at all.”

4. Jamie Chung

 

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“I’ve been told multiple times to ‘go back to your country,’ …Or when a white person is screaming, like, gibberish to you and making fun of your language.

“I was really insecure about that because I knew my friends and I were going to be targeted. I always had that fear—it’s a bunch of Asian girls and people are just going to holler or make fun or tell us to ‘go back to China.’ And it’s happened multiple times.”

5. Shay Mitchell

 

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“They’d say, ‘Are you the daughter of my nanny?’ I hated being asked who I was.”

6. Priyanka Chopra Jonas

 

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On experiencing racism after coming to America:

“[There was] a storm of explicitly racist hate mail and tweets… ‘Go back to the Middle East and put your burka on’ and — years later it’s still hard to write this — ‘Go back to your country and get gang-raped.’

“The assault was shocking in its swiftness and brutality; I had not been prepared to be so publicly attacked on my very first artistic foray in America.”

7. Arden Cho

“It was the last day of school and a bunch of us were hanging out in the cul-de-sac enjoying the start of summer break. I was resting on my bicycle, laughing and talking to my friends, I was 10 years old.

“Out of nowhere a teenage boy kicked my front wheel and I fell to the ground, he then proceeded to yell at me and kick me in the face. My two front teeth were knocked out, my bottom tooth chipped, my whole face was bloodied and scraped, my arms and legs were all cut.

“I didn’t know why it was happening but I thought I was being kicked to death, I thought I died. I was unconscious for a while, when I came to, my mom was crying and my head was in her lap. Our neighbor was driving us to the hospital.

“I don’t remember exactly what he was yelling at me while he was kicking me in the head but I believe it was racially motivated. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and I was always the only Asian and I was the only one targeted.”

8. Charlyne Yi

“I think about the first time I met David Cross ten years ago & he made fun of my pants (that were tattered because I was poor). Dumbfounded I stared at him speechless and he said to me “what’s a matter? You don’t speak English?? Ching-chong-ching-chong’.

“Then after he saw I was offended he asked me if I was going to fight with him karate in a southern accent.”

9. Sherry Cola

 

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“Sometimes I walk into a room and I can tell that a non-Asian is shocked that my English is perfect. Society has put us in this box, especially Asian women, to be submissive, keep our head down.

“I’ve always felt foreign, if I’m being candid. so aware growing up that my eyes were slanted. Kids flipping me off and I didn’t understand it.”

10. Sandra Oh

 

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On internalized racism:

“[So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered [a role] that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right?

“After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, ‘Oh my god! They brainwashed me!’ I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.”

11. Brenda Song

 

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On being rejected for a role in Crazy Rich Asians:

“They said was that my image was basically not Asian enough, in not so many words. It broke my heart.

“I said, ‘This character is in her late to mid-20s, an Asian American, and I can’t even audition for it? I’ve auditioned for Caucasian roles my entire career, but this specific role, you’re not going to let me do it? You’re going to fault me for having worked my whole life?’ I was like, ‘Where do I fit?’”

12. Margaret Cho

 

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“I think, at least from my family, we have such a deep well of shame when it comes to racism and how much we don’t want to upset other members of our family, of our community by sharing what happened. I think this practice comes out of PTSD from wartime, you know, and having all of these things occur in your family’s history.

“And then to bring it over here looking for the American dream, for some kind of escape from all of the trauma that we experience there. And then to have this new, new terrible thing, racism, which my family experienced, such intense racism coming to San Francisco from Korea in 1964 that they’ve never discussed. And I think all of these incidents now bring up so much shame, so much heartache, so much past trauma that I’m sure this is so underreported.”

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Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and The Challenge. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her taking an absurd amount of photos of her tuxedo cat Tom.