I share a room with my little sister, which has it’s downsides, but it is a predominantly good thing. because I love having conversations with her before going to bed and my dog also loves having us in the same room as much as possible. There was a night this week where I could tell that she was visibly upset about something, and I was shocked by what she said.
She said that she was upset because of this tweet she saw on Twitter from a half-black, half-Vietnamese woman. In short, the woman said that there’s no need to worry about the Asian community because the Asian community is racist anyway, and it isn’t like the cops are targeting Asian people.
With everything going on, I have a lot of thoughts on the matter as an Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAIP) person, and there is a lot of pain and hurt from that statement and everything else. In light of the recent events in Atlanta, and the way that Asians have increasingly become the target of hate crimes in the past year, I wanted to take the time to talk about what my experience has been like as an Asian American.
I don’t want to say that every Asian has experienced what I have, because I can’t represent every Asian person in the world. I don’t think my experience is unique to me, but instead believe that each Asian person can relate to my experience to some degree.
The influence that I felt to write this post came from a Vietnamese girl who grew up near me and our moms were friends. Van is someone I used to lend books too (I am still the girl that spends a majority of my money on books), and I have always seen her as someone who was always smiling. It triggered something in me to know that she went through such hard times.
As of late, I have been in a state of anxiety. I’m pretty vocal about how much I love and appreciate my grandmother, and this past year I’ve been extra paranoid and cautious about not bringing home COVID-19. Being 90 with a variety of health conditions, I did not want to leave anything to chance. Then as the vaccine rolls out and as violence against the Asian community starts to make the news more and more, my grandpa passes away of COVID-19. I spent a lot of days recently waking up extra early to try and get my grandma on the list of people to get the vaccine. It only gave me a little peace of mind that she hardly leaves the house.
That’s a lot of stress and anxiety, but my experience growing up as an Asian American is so much more than that.
Starting kindergarten, every kid goes in wanting to just make friends and belong, but I remember realizing in the first week that I would never belong. I was one of two Asian kids in the class, and everyone was always trying to put me and Anthony together. The ironic thing is that we didn’t want to hang out with each other. Maybe it was the gender thing, but maybe it was that we wanted other friends, other people to accept us. So instead, we denied the existence of each other to try and fit in with the people around us.
This became a pattern in my life. At some point I adapted by learning to make friends by making jokes about being Asian. While I took comfort in the fact that I had friends, these comments also had an impact in how I saw my worth long-term. It probably contributes to the fact that I still have a hard time seeing myself as enough, and I’m constantly questioning whether I’m deserving of love.
I don’t know what triggered the change, but within my high school experience I decided that I didn’t want to be the Asian joke anymore. It seemed to happen cold turkey, the day I quit the friendships I had developed as a result of making myself the butt of the joke. I don’t think those people were bad people, because I think I gave them the permission to think that I conformed to the stereotypes that they were so familiar with.
My eyes seemed to open more to the world when I made that decision, and while it was subtle, it was very humbling. There was so much I didn’t really know and understand about my culture that I suddenly wanted to know. Like a few years ago, this Tweet was circulating from this chef about Thai food. And when I read it, I realized that it is something true about how Vietnamese people refer to food. It stood out to me, because I remember that every time my parents said it, I felt like they were trying to say I didn’t know any Vietnamese, when what they were actually saying was pretty accurate.
Growing up with immigrant parents, I can say that I was lucky my dad would wake up to make me breakfast before walking me to my bus stop for school. My mom was too tired to wake up, so I would then sit in the bathroom and try and talk to her while she was in the shower at the end of the day. Other than that, I hardly saw them as a kid, because my grandmother was my live-in babysitter.
Sometimes the hurt child in me is as upset as the “entitled people [who] would rant and speculate that Asian nail salon workers must be talking shit about them in their native tongue because they couldn’t understand it (Van’s words that I couldn’t say better).” However, my parents were busy and tired from working long hours with customers that could be pretty demanding so that they could earn a living. They didn’t have time to learn English if they could hardly spend time with their family. My dad was reflecting recently on how he wishes that he had the time to teach me and my sisters all about his culture and the traditions we should have as Vietnamese people. I find myself wishing for that too, because that would have meant that we could have spent more time together as I grew up. That would mean that I would know and understand more about being Vietnamese, and maybe that would mean I would have a deeper appreciation of it too.
I want to say that I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, but there’s a part of me that feels like I will never make as much progress as I want to. There’s a part of me that is so ashamed of the girl who used to make Asian jokes, because that girl propagated Asian stereotypes. As much as I am ashamed, the existence of that girl makes me aware of how much growth I have had. I’m constantly feeling this off center balance in my day-to-day.
Since growing and learning in high school, I believe that I have become a person who actively speaks against racism or any sort of bigotry, because I believe that every human deserves human rights. Take the time to understand and be patient to the people around you. It should be as simple as treating each other with respect and human decency, especially since hate has such damaging effects for everyone involved.
To close this out, I’m going to leave a video here from a YouTuber who I thought voiced some of my feelings better than I might have voiced them:
As a human, I’m feeling so many emotions and I have so many thoughts, but I’m not sure if I’ve clearly vocalized them with these highlights. I’m willing to continue the conversation in the comments below. What are your thoughts? How are you doing your part to speak out against racism and bigotry? Do you have a story that you’re willing to share with me? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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