Activists gathered in Detroit March 21 to show respect to the eight people killed in Atlanta and to demand an end to hate, racism and discrimination towards Asians as well as all other races and ethnicities. Photo: AFP / Adam J. Dewey / NurPhoto

Asian-American lawmakers on  Thursday described harrowing discrimination – including a congresswoman’s personal experience in historic abuse by the government – as they testified about the national tragedy of racism highlighted by this week’s Atlanta murders.

A congressional hearing turned personal as Democrats vented about how former president Donald Trump and others have demonized Asians as responsible for the coronavirus, with one warning that such language has put a “bullseye” on the backs of Asian Americans and Pacific islanders.

“I have a responsibility and a moral obligation to speak out about the normalizing of attacks on the AAPI community,” said congresswoman Doris Matsui, a 76-year-old Californian.

During World War II, the US government forcibly relocated Matsui’s Japanese-American parents and grandparents to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona.

“They lived in appalling conditions, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, armed guards on towers, incarcerated solely because of their ancestry.”

Matsui was born in the very camp where her family was held.

“Our government, and many of its leaders, advanced the myth that the Japanese-American community was inherently the enemy,” she said. “Americans across the country believed it, acceded to institutionalized racism, and acted on it.”

‘Please stop’

The testimony by congresswomen Matsui, Grace Meng and Judy Chu, and Senator Tammy Duckworth, came after six women of Asian descent were murdered Tuesday in Georgia.

Experts say anti-Asian violence has risen substantially nationwide since the pandemic took hold one year ago.

Trump famously called Covid-19 the “China virus.” Congressional Republicans regurgitated the rhetoric, and attacks on Asian-Americans apparently spiked.

“Our community is bleeding. We are in pain, and for the last year we’ve been screaming out for help,” Meng, a 45-year-old New Yorker of Taiwanese descent, told the House judiciary subcommittee on civil rights.

The panel heard how Asian Americans have been verbally harassed, slapped, spat upon and stabbed.

When House Republican Chip Roy warned that the hearing was an attempt at “policing” free speech, he drew rebukes.

“I am not a virus,” congressman Ted Lieu, who was born in Taiwan and served in the US Air Force, reminded Roy.

“Whatever political points you think you’re scoring by using ethnic identifiers in describing this virus, you’re harming Americans who happen to be of Asian descent,” he added. 

“So please stop doing that.”

Anti-Asian attacks continue. Nearly 3,800 have been reported since last year, the group Stop AAPI Hate says.

Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at University of Minnesota, said Asian Americans have been “terrorized,” and the ongoing abuse marks “a systemic national tragedy” that won’t just disappear after the pandemic.

“We have heard in the past 24 hours many describe the anti-Asian discrimination and violence as un-American,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it is very American.”