(A Response to the Asian American violence in our country)
I got used to feeling part of the group; maybe a little shorter than the rest with black hair and almond eyes, but for a period, the introduction and acceptance of different cultures entered the mainstream and discriminatory language was policed by political correctness. Being different was cool. And in the 00’s and 10’s, I believed the word “exotic” meant alluring not kinky and “brown is beautiful” was positive, body affirming, and real. Discerning these definitions from the past, I thought, was evolution.
Growing up in a Southeast beach town whose roots were farmland only two and a half decades before I was born, many times me and my family stuck out like the brown kernel in a box of white rice. We were easily spotted at the park, the grocery store, and the beach. I grew up in a Filipino home with highly educated parents guided by their strong internal compasses. I would never change my upbringing as being different meant embracing two cultures as well as the struggles that go along with it.
Last week, I asked my mother if she had taken her usual evening beach stroll.
“Oh no. Oh no. I can’t do that anymore. All of us older people can’t do that anymore. We are all scared someone might hurt us.”
I felt the stings I had long buried from the 80’s and early 90’s; the wounds I thought had scabbed over were now being pulled and prodded with the pointed actions of countless individuals singling out Asians all around the country. Every Asian immigrant kid no matter what ethnicity, is an easy target. And as much as their parents want to preserve their unique culture, all the kids I knew felt a need to assimilate. No matter how well intentioned the questions are: Why do your eyes slant like that? Do you live on top of a trash heap? (Probably after watching documentary videos of the poorest areas of Asia), What is that smell in the kitchen? As a kid, another’s ignorance can feel like a tidal wave of criticism.
Amidst the shocking anti-Asian violence and ignorance sweeping the country today, I once again hear very clearly what my father said when I was a child.
“No matter what you learn in your head, the degrees you attain, the status you earn, others will first see and judge you from what you look like. This is why it is so important for you to know who you are and where you come from.”
His words spurned weeks of waking up at 3am thinking about the social constructs of our society and the overall consensus of pandemic resentment and anger towards Asians. My first instinct was to blame the verbiage of the past administration but then recognized a pattern. It seems by default, humans immediately blame without pause similar to the same individuals I was angry towards who quickly misdirected their fury. I thought of our response to the French’s lack of support during the the Iraq war and our need to change French fries into “Freedom fries”. Although we are fighting a virus and not another country, judging someone’s nationality/ethnicity echoes a similar sentiment regarding HR 908, the bill passed by Congress to eradicate the term “Chinese Virus” because of the undeniable attacks on Asians. The added distinction is that Asians are easier to identify in a crowd.
Confusing an entire race of human beings with the actions of foreign governments is wrong. It is not one and the same.
It’s inspired me to look at my life and my children’s lives in full context, knowing we were born after many of the fights were fought for us. However, today, as Asian Americans of varying ethnicities are being savagely assaulted and when two days ago yet another Filipino American woman in NYC was beat and hospitalized for being in the “wrong country”, I knew the chapter, The Model Minority had long ended.
I fully acknowledge a lack of mental health support or the failings of the incarceration system or even genetics may have played a hand in these attacks. But in the end, there are NO excuses. People have been killed. Others have been severely hurt. Needless suffering abounds. Quite frankly, whether it’s happening directly in a community or not, many in the Asian populace are apprehensive to downright scared.
I can’t help but think their actions may point to what was never healed from the past and is now being stirred in a cauldron so quickly, the settled debris can only rise.
Now is the time to filter what’s been released, to fully identify it for what it was and may still be. We are in a remarkable place in history, where Asian Americans have a platform to highlight the inequalities and years of discrimination our ancestors once swallowed.
Today we walk on the shoulders of what past generations have built. The difference is all Asian Americans can now speak openly about their own wounds, anger and resentment. Without repression, we create an outlet for healing.
My hope is that the Asian community is supported by other allies in all communities to end the current violence and misdirected rhetoric towards Asian Americans.
We must not let the past dictate the future.
To learn more about Asian-American History:
To become more involved in Local, State, and Federal Initiatives for Asian-American Issues: