I was about draft a post on egg dishes I came across this past month but something happened to me today. I felt compelled to share while it’s still fresh. I am still a little shaken from the incident. I believe writing it out will help me.
Disclaimer: This blog post talks about my experiences of racism as an Asian-American.
I was listening to Friday’s “The Daily” on the rise of racism on Asian-Americans as a result of CoVID-19. In fact, I listened to it twice. After work I went to a Chinese restaurant to pick up takeout to declare my support for Asian-Americans.
I unfortunately know some people who called CoViD-19 as the “Chinese virus” because it came from China. I want to tell these people that YOU think you can get away with it because you are a white Christian person. I don’t know a time when white Christian people experienced racism. I don’t think that white Christian people in America can understand racism beyond what they learned in a textbook. Here is the twist and I am almost embarrassed to say this, but these people are my friends. I have white Christian friends — I grew up in a mostly white Christian area of Los Angeles. Ever since I was of school age, I already knew my white Christian friends will never empathize the ugliness of racism. People always asked me where I am from, but they never asked my white friends where they are from. I found these micro-cuts to be somewhat paralyzing.
The thing I want to tell my white Christian friends that they may think it is cute nicknaming CoViD-19 a “Chinese virus”, but there are major consequences where Asian-Americans are getting slurs on the streets and are unwelcomed everywhere they go. At my work I had two international students from China who volunteered at the hospital who then ultimately decided to go on leave many weeks ago. I supported their decision and let them go on leave with no penalties. I can hear the other side saying to me I am encouraging people to slack off. They’re sheltering in place, they’re not relaxing at the beach.
Anyways, back to the podcast. Jiayang Fan shares her Asian-American story. She was born in China, but spent more of her school years and beyond in the United States. It started her not recognizing these little moments as not racist to then getting older and finally recognizing it for what it is. I listened to it twice in one day because I deeply related to her Asian-American story and “otherness”. So here is mine:
I was born in the United States — Chicago, Illinois to be exact. We moved to San Diego, California when I was one because my dad’s job relocated there. A few years later my dad lost his job. My mom, sister, and I moved to the Philippines for about a year until my dad was able to look for work. When we returned, we moved to Los Angeles. We did not live in downtown LA…we lived in the far reaches of LA County. It was a mostly white suburb where the houses were big, bland, and look all the same. The lots were small. You know, the definition of the American Dream.
When I was in elementary school in America, I had to take ESL (English as a second language) classes. I took ESL from 1st grade to 5th grade. What a way to make me feel like I was an “other” from the rest of my class considering English is my FIRST language. I was born in the United States. Even living in the Philippines, English is predominantly spoken. When I was in 4th grade, I read a lot of English literature for fun — many years later these same books were assigned reading in high school. My parents were really trying to pull me out of ESL classes. It took the school about five years to realize that I spoke English and decided I no longer needed ESL. Later on, I met other people who have shared similar experiences. If you have taken ESL classes in elementary school, you probably recognized your “otherness” early on. Since most of my classmates were white, I already knew I looked different the moment I started school.
That was one of many moments of my Asian-American experience. The older I got, the more I realized that Asian-Americans will be the perpetual foreigner even if they were born here and even if they have never spoken their ancestral language. I’ve observed this with other ethnic groups too. Our presence is probationary; if we excel in everything, if we speak English “correctly”, if we don’t eat “weird” food in public, have “normal” names, if we don’t get upset and offended — then we are welcomed to be here.
I remembered a few years ago, my Asian-American supervisor brought up a complaint about me that a someone on the other end did not understand what I was saying over the telephone. At first I was perplexed, but then it quickly escalated to being annoying. The thing that took me over the edge was that the recipient stated I had some sort of accent. My supervisor reminded me it was not the first time someone brought it up asked me, “what was I going do about that?” What did he mean? Should I get an accent coach? Also, he reassigned this recipient to another coworker. Deep down, I was concerned about my job. It was just one small thing, but I worried how much more until I become obsolete?
As much as I wanted to make speech on racism and unfairness to make my Asian-American supervisor understand what I am thinking about, I instead resorted the shortcut. I called him nit-picky and told him how I am not looking to change. Also, how dare he take their side? He concluded that I was stressed out at work and suggested to take the rest of the day off. Maybe I really needed the day off, but in retrospect, the situation was handled poorly. Nothing meaningful came out of it other than throwing tempers.
I was afraid to cry out the r-word. It was easier to throw everything else instead when I snapped. Since then and until I stopped working there months ago, I was always afraid to make phone calls and give speeches. When I started working at my current job, it was like I regained all my confidence. I credit that the people I work with and the people I serve are far more diverse.
It is hard to call racism for what it is. In the podcast, Jiayang created a scenario if she had a conversation with her mother about what she has gone through. Her mom would ask back, “were you hurt? Did they take anything away from you? Why are you making something out of nothing?!” That last part was incredibly relatable. I remembered when I left work early that day, I went to visit my husband at work to tell him what happened. I cried about it too. My husband is an Asian-American, but he seemed to have a hard time understanding why I was really upset. Then again, I feel my husband has met all the criteria of being welcomed here — I don’t know of anyone who complains about him. I talked about it with my parents, they advised me to speak slower even though that was not the complaint. Sharing my story felt like a losing battle…was I making something out of nothing? I decided to shelve this incident, along with many of my incidents of my Asian-American experiences. That was until “The Daily” episode came along on Friday. It reignited me to share my own.