We are mourning the lives taken during the Atlanta shooting last week, and have taken some time to reflect on recent painful and complicated events. To say this past week has been tough in the AAPI community is an understatement as we digest, internalize, discuss, and act. The domestic terrorist attack on the eight people killed in Atlanta, six of which were Asian women, really hit home for us as they could have been our parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, or even us. And while the Asian American experience is unique to each individual, we can all agree that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
It starts with “playful” microaggressions or stereotypical jokes that we may have learned to ignore or even play along with (see internalized oppression). Then name calling and harmful rhetoric. To robberies and exponential assaults on our community and our elders. To now this. Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives in the shootings. This was an evil act and the reprehensible and ignorant response from the county police is infuriating. Enough is enough.
We’ve been disgusted by the hate and inhumanity of late and we ourselves have been trying to wrap our heads around all of this. We’ve been quiet for far too long.
I grew up in Sugar Land, TX – while this was one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., early on it seemed like ethnic communities kept separated from one another. While on the weekends my family would spend our time in the Houston Chinatown with people that looked like us, we were minorities in the neighborhood we lived in and the schools we went to. We did things differently: we had a wok station in our back patio and the whole neighborhood could smell my mom’s delicious cooking in the evenings, my friends would come over for dinner and not only be shocked at the whole fish on the table but at my sisters and I fighting over who would get the fish eyeball, and we didn’t partake in neighborhood popsicle parties on summer weekends because we had to go to Chinese school.
One day in 5th grade art class, I was peacefully painting when I heard snickering behind me. When I turned around, 3-4 of my male classmates were pulling their eyes back to demonstrate “squinty eyes”. In high school, another “friend” told me his parents wouldn’t let him drive a Camry or Civic because they were for “rice bowls”. I drove a Camry. Then of course as an adult Asian woman there were lots of “Ni hao mas” and “Asian persuasion” jokes. Etc. As a child I learned to accept this behavior. This is tough for Asian Americans, where identity may not be as straightforward as one would think. In America we look different, and in Asia, we act different. America is our home, so physical and psychological safety shouldn’t be a worry right?
I remembered in middle school, instead of letting my mom pack me things like jiggly stir-fried sea cucumber for lunch, I made my mom take me to the grocery store to buy “American” sack lunches. From there on, I woke up early to make myself and both my sisters “American lunch”: sandwiches made with only white bread, mayo, and ham, a bag of chips, and a Capri Sun. As a child I learned that however hard I would try to fit in, I would always look like an “outsider”.
For the most part, I didn’t mind being “different”, it made me feel unique. However, while I always hated to admit it and repressed a lot of these memories, we experienced painful discrimination that has left deep, and sometimes subconscious, wounds. “...But words will never hurt me” is a fallacy.
After much reflection this week, I still think about all the times my parents instilled strength in me and my sisters. My dad would always tell us, “If anyone ever hurts you because of who you are, always fight back, even if you get in trouble with the school! Always stand up for yourself.” I can recall countless times when my sisters and I would sit with my mom at restaurants or retail stores, and the store associate would intentionally misquote prices and talk down to my mom and talk to her condescendingly as if she was a child. My mom, who barely spoke a word of English, would always fight back, and she was LOUD. This was all in her “broken” English, and the quarrels would sometimes last an hour, with the whole store staring at us. “Show downs” is what my sisters and I used to call them. As embarrassed as I was at the time, I couldn’t imagine how degrading that must have felt for her, but how brave she was for standing up for herself and kids without really speaking English. I really admire that about her. If she can fight back without even knowing the language, we all can and will fight too.
We will continue to celebrate our culture and we will continue to be proud to be Asian American. Our spirit is not broken but has grown even stronger.
As Asian Americans, we are fortunate to be able to share so many similar experiences together. With that, we have strength as a people, and we can fight for change to protect ourselves.
Although recent events have been disheartening, it’s more important now than ever that Asian Americans stand united as a community and combat injustice together. It’s through communal action that we can change outcomes for ourselves and others.
Rest in Peace:
Delaina Ashley Yuan Gonzalez
Hyun Jung Grant
Soon C. Park
Paul Andre Michels
Yong A. Yue
Instagram accounts to follow:
Minor Feelings - Cathy Park Hong
American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang
Native Speaker - Chang-Rae Lee
If They Come for Us
Interior Chinatown - Charles Yu
Girl in Translation - Jean Kwok
Sour Heart - Jenny Zhang
From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry - Paula Yoo
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
In the Country - Mia Alvar
The Woman Warrior - Maxine Hong Kingston
@laichientherapy – offering Asian American pay-as-you-wish group therapy
Crisis line: 1-800-273-TALK
Asian languages: 1-877-990-8585
Crisis text line: text “CONNECT” to 741741