I wish I wasn’t Chinese. I would be prettier if I was white. My eyes aren’t that slanty. I would be cooler if I was Black. I just want to blend in. Was that a compliment? No, it felt kind of icky. These are all thoughts I’ve had growing up Asian American. To me, race is an identity, a community, a defining part of who you are. Whether you have deep connections to your heritage or not, it is one of the many things that make up part of our story. Looking back, I fought against my racial identity in so many ways.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the few Asian American kids in a predominantly Black neighborhood. I didn’t understand it then, but when I reflect on it now, I realize how strongly I pushed against my identity as “Asian.” I refused to play Pokemon and I never watched Sailor Moon because I felt like that was what would make me “more Asian” and therefore uncool. My parents got divorced when I was young and my sister and I spent our childhood years living at my grandparent’s house. They didn’t speak English, so we spoke Cantonese at home and my grandmother cooked every night. I remember I never had friends over, I only went to their houses. I was a happy child, but I also deeply buried a lot of traumas. In seventh grade, we moved to a predominantly white community and I was again
one of the very few Asian kids at my school. Looking back, I realize how strongly I avoided being friends with the other Asian kids. I was embarrassed by being Chinese and tried my best to be “white.” When I learned to drive, I made sure that I was considered a great driver and made sure that I parked perfectly every time. College was the first time I was
surrounded by a lot of other Asian people. There was AAPI Club, Asian sororities, and things like that, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t even want to think about those associations. I didn’t want to admit that I was Asian and again, did my best to separate myself from that identity. Now that I wasn’t the “only one,” I didn’t want to be lumped in with “them.” In my career as a chef, I never wanted to put anything Asian on the menu even though I loved to cook and eat Asian foods.
Where did all of this come from? Why did I feel this way? I don’t really remember a time when someone was blatantly racist towards me. It was always offhand comments, what I know now were microaggressions, jokes, and self-depreciation. I didn’t realize I’d lived my whole life with these thoughts and feelings until the racial reckoning in 2020. It took the senseless murder of George Floyd by a policeman for me to truly open my eyes to the realities of racism in America. I felt so deeply for the Black community and I have so much learning and unlearning to do. It made me look within and check my implicit bias, much of which was also about myself and my Asian identity. Even now I struggle with calling attention to my Asian-ness. Why was it easier to stand in solidarity and speak up for Black Lives Matter than it was to shed light on Asian hate? Because it would mean admitting to myself that I was Asian and would call attention to that fact.
The mass shootings in Atlanta on March 16th, 2021 rocked me. I’m no stranger to racist comments, “jokes,” or uncomfortable encounters, but for the first time in my 33 years, I felt fear in my own skin because of who I am. I live in a rural community and for the first time, was extremely conscious of the fact that I didn’t blend in. My subconscious and conscious, hard-fought “proximity to whiteness” wouldn’t have saved me. My English “without an
accent”, lack of Asian friends, self-conscious avoidance of the Asian food aisle, and active rebellion against the “docile, submissive, fragile” Asian woman stereotype meant nothing. I look different. There is so much to unpack. Anti-Asian hate is not new. The racist rhetoric and xenophobia from the previous administration only fueled the fire that led to the sharp rise in the anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 the mass shootings in Atlanta. The swallowed pride, the quiet suffering, and silent fear that many Asian Americans submitted to for so long is over. It’s been so hopeful seeing more people stand up for the Asian community and to see all marginalized groups stand in solidarity with each other to fight for liberation and equality for everyone.
As a country, we’ve been battling racial inequity for so long and the experience is different for every group and community. I don’t want to overgeneralize or hold the Asian community as a monolith when I speak about my experiences. The Asian diaspora is so vast and every group within the Asian community is different. The Model Minority Myth has greatly contributed to racial inequity. This idea was coined in the 1960s and told a narrative that
Asian Americans achieved success and were given praise because they were kind-hearted, quiet, intelligent, and hard-working. At first thought, these things were seen as compliments and something that first-generation Asian American parents were proud of. The praise made them feel accepted by white America and those ideals are still deeply ingrained today. The dangers of the Model Minority Myth however are that the terms of being American are
conditional. Asian Americans only hold this status if they continue to be hard-working, submissive, undisruptive members of society. Historically, this idea also drove a wedge between Asians and other minorities, particularly Black people, and disregards the fact that not all Asian Americans fall into this so-called ideal. Ultimately, it allows white supremacy to continue to uphold the oppression of minority groups.
The Model Minority Myth dismisses the fact that Asian Americans still experience othering and are viewed as foreigners in their own country. In film and media, there is very little to no Asian representation. Characters who are Asian are often tokenized or portray harmful stereotypes. Asian women are often hypersexualized, fetishized, and viewed as docile, submissive objects or dragon ladies, and Asian men are often emasculated and diminished or viewed as lesser men than other minority groups. I never felt proud of being Asian. Now, we’re in a time of racial reckoning. Hate crimes against minority groups, racism, and implicit bias are not new, but our country feels more awakened than ever before. There is so much intersectionality between these racial, social, and human rights issues. How do we move forward to create a better world? We first have to look within and work to dismantle biases within ourselves and those closest to us. We need to truly listen and learn from those who are different from us. We need to acknowledge and recognize that our races, sexualities, gender identities, and experiences do affect how we are perceived and treated and take action to move towards true justice. It is a long road and lifelong work, but if we walk together we truly can make a difference for future generations.