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Two Asian-American Friends Reflect On Navigating How They're Treated In Rural Washington

After a year of hate speech culminating in the murders of Asian women in the Atlanta area, rural Asian Americans are recalibrating how safe they feel in their own communities. 

This week President Joe Biden signed an anti-Asian hate crimes bill. And a recent survey found nearly 80% of Asian Americans don’t feel respected and say they are discriminated against.

Correspondent Anna King talked to two best friends living in Washington’s Tri-Cities about how they’re redefining boundaries and educating even their own closest relationships about anti-Asian hate.

Mysti Meiers and Danielle Kleist say they don't define themselves as Asian Americans first, but as human beings. And that’s how they wish the rest of us would see them. 

This is part of their conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Danielle Kleist, 36: “All of the stereotyping: ‘Hey you're a bad driver. Do your parents own a dry cleaners?’ All Asians are lumped into this one category. So, ‘Do you speak Korean? Do you make Korean food? Do you like rice?’ Yes, I do like rice. No, I don’t speak Korean.’” 

Mysti Meiers, 40: “I have had experience with Asian hate growing up and being categorized and targeted once people know that I am of Japanese descent, that that has been used against me. And I have been targeted because of that. And when I say attacks I don’t necessarily mean just physical, I mean the verbal attacks as well. One of the very instances. I don’t think my family or my husband knows this story, but I was probably very young in my college career -- a freshman or maybe a sophomore. I was in the corner (of a table). I think we were joking, because I was the only Asian there, and it was ‘hah, hah, hah.’ They were making these funny jokes. Somebody released that I was Japanese. And this guy who I didn’t know that we were playing this game with right across from me started verbally attacking me. And saying that my grandpa shot your people in the war. And he would hate you. And if I brought you home, he would kill you. And nobody did anything. So one, this kid attacked me. And then two, nobody in the room came to my defense.”

Danielle Kleist: “I think I’ve been very lucky and blessed in my life because I haven’t been around that. But, I have things that have made me feel bad about myself. But I guess I give people the benefit of the doubt and not necessarily think they are being mean. When I was in college, when I got my first ‘C’ and my professor (it was a sociology class), he looked at me and said, ‘But you’re Asian, you shouldn't get Cs.’ And we laughed about it. But then I felt really bad about myself.”

Mysti Meiers: “We were in Packwood (Washington) when the pandemic hit. Just to see my husband kind of process through what I’ve been experiencing and learning over the last year. He’s always known me as this independent person who could care less where I am. But, because of what was happening in the media and (President Trump and others saying) the ‘China virus’ and people being verbally or physically attacked on the street because they were Asian, and being told to go back to their country. I was really scared.”

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.