Karen Enomoto: Rooted issues of anti-Asian racism

Karen Enomoto, a first-generation Asian American, has participated in advocacy work since her freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh.

As a pre-law junior, she commonly talks about making policy and politics more personal and inclusive, in and out of her classes. Part of her motivation comes from wanting to make the Asian community better informed on social causes and the root causes of discrimination.


Karen Enomoto, a junior at University of Pittsburgh, found a place in advocating for politics and personal experiences to help dismantle white supremacy. Photo courtesy of PublicSource.

“If we have oppression running within our circles, there can be no collective action against the bigger problems of heteropatriarchy and white supremacy,” Enomoto said, referring to issues like anti-Blackness and homophobia within Asian communities. “A lot of my work has been focused on making sure that our community is a safer place and a place that can be more productive.”

At Pitt, Enomoto helped put together workshops and panels that get at the heart of issues of xenophobia, racism and anti-Asian violence, now serving as advocacy chair of the Asian Student Alliance.

With the increased attention on hate crimes against Asian Americans, Enomoto said it is crucial that people understand how anti-Asian violence is connected to larger problems of white supremacy, classism and misogyny. But she feels the media, universities and politicians often miss those connections.

For example, Enomoto underscores the connection between oppressive acts against the Asian American community and the history of legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted immigration from China.

The “model minority” stereotype is also harmful because it creates a misleading image of the Asian Americans by focusing on the most well-off communities, at the expense of other minority groups.

“It ignores all the refugees that had to come here because of American imperialism and interventionism,” Enomoto said.

It is also important to see why people have rallied together and attended protests with signs in support of the Asian community — an opportunity to hear from many different perspectives.

Though the work can be rewarding, she sometimes has to take a step back and take time to heal. In a recent online workshop, Enomoto had a chance to decompress from the dire news about elderly Asian Americans being attacked by focusing on her own emotions.

“I think that, for me, having that space was really good,” she said. “Allowing myself to be able to step back and kind of talk about myself in a more vulnerable way than just strictly talking policy.”

Clarification (4/20/2021): This story has been updated to clarify Lena Chen’s living expenses and the organizers she worked with for A Day of Healing and Art.

This story was fact-checked by Megan Gent.

Naomi Harris covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at naomi@publicsource.org.