People hold signs during the Rise up Against Asian Hate rally in New York City on February 27.

The history of attacks against Asian Americans is complicated. Addressing it will be, too

Updated 7:49 AM ET, Thu March 4, 2021

(CNN)The quote has been ringing in Jose Antonio Vargas' ears ever since he came across it.

"Nobody came. Nobody helped. Nobody made a video."
They were the words of Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino American who on February 3 was slashed across the face on the New York City subway. He was describing his experience to journalists at the Washington Post and would later echo the same sentiment to city leaders during a recent rally protesting violence against Asian Americans.
For Vargas, Quintana's remarks underscored how he feels Asian Americans have long been seen in the US: as "the invisible within the invisibles."
Demonstrators hold signs at rally to protest violence against Asian Americans on February 20 in New York City.
Despite being the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the country, despite consisting of 20 million people with roots in more than 20 countries, the racism, discrimination and disparities experienced by many Asian Americans are often overlooked, he said. Now, as a string of high-profile attacks has made more people pay attention, that's starting to change.
"It's been really quite stunning to witness 'mainstream America' wake up to this invisibility," said Vargas, a journalist whose organization Define American seeks to humanize immigrants through storytelling.
Wider recognition of the racism Asian Americans have been facing since the start of the pandemic is a critical step, advocates and experts say. But this mo