Sherry Cola describes herself as "a proud Chinese immigrant," who moved to America in 1994, when she was just 4 years old. In the years since, Cola, who's now an actress on the Freeform series Good Trouble, has been disappointed with the way television shows and films have depicted people like herself.
"I could talk for days about the fact that the lack of representation in Hollywood or the incorrect representation of the Asian community in Hollywood goes hand in hand with these hate crimes, because America watches us as the punchlines, the stereotype, the supporting character that has maybe one line," Cola tells Yahoo Entertainment. "We'll be lucky if it's in English."
The actress and comic was, of course, referring to the escalating violence against Asian Americans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While federal data for 2020 hate crimes has not yet been released, the group Stop AAPI Hate received more than 3,795 accounts of anti-Asian hate between March 19 of last year and February 28. On the same day the report was released, six Asian women were among the eight people killed in a series of shootings at three Atlanta spas.
"In the beginning of this pandemic, President Trump was definitely, very loosely calling COVID-19... kung flu, China virus. That absolutely was the reason why, you know, Asian people were being attacked on the street, and there were so many attacks," Cola says. "I mean, over 3,000 attacks in the last year against the Asian community. The Atlanta shooting was kind of like the last straw. That night of the Atlanta shooting, I remember calling my mom just in tears….”
Cola remembers her mom tried to console her, but she wouldn't hear it.
"No, Mom, this is not OK. You can't think like this anymore. This is not OK," Cola recalls telling her. "I was just devastated, because my mom also owns a small Asian business, you know? And she also is an immigrant. It could have been her. A lot of Asian kids were thinking this, 'It could've been my mom.'"
The tears just wouldn't stop. Cola turned on her video camera to tell her followers what she thought.
"We've had so many bottled emotions for years as Asian women," Cola says now, "and people were saying, like, 'Oh, I didn't know how to find the words, but you took 'em right out of my mouth."
The tragedy seems to have marked a turning point for her.
"Even eight months ago, we were kind of letting it slide, in a weird way, right?" she says. "And now, it's like, 'Whoa, what? No!' We deserve to be here. We do not deserve to be ridiculed and harassed and assaulted and killed."
In response to the violence against the AAPI community, the Asian America Foundation has launched the "See Us Unite" ad campaign featuring Daniel Dae Kim, Lisa Ling, Naomi Osaka and other Asian Americans. A "See Us Unite for Change" special, with performances by Jhene Aiko, Saweetie, Sting and more, airs Friday, May 21 at 8 p.m. on MTV Entertainment brands, BET, Nickelodeon and Facebook Watch.
— Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove
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