Growing up, I was ashamed of being Chinese. I hated my Chinese name. I was embarrassed by anything that showed my heritage. I remember using my allowance money to buy a light color foundation hoping I could transform my race. The girl at the makeup counter looked at me like I was crazy. But I was convinced that the foundation would make me appear white. Being Chinese could be my secret.
I never understood why kids would use their fingers to pull their eyes so that they looked like slants and taunt me. I shrugged it off. When people uttered racial slurs I kept quiet. In my culture, I was taught it was better to keep harmony, to save “face” and avoid conflict and confrontation.
The jokes changed as I grew older. Suddenly being Asian was exotic and sexy. There were white guys who would only date Asian girls. I was in my twenties when Caucasian guys started to pay attention to me. So I played up the hot Asian girl fantasy and made that a part of my identity. This was acceptance, so I thought.
I’ve grown such a thick skin to all of it – I’ve adapted many coping mechanisms to navigate sexism and racism that I thought was just a normal part of life. Along the way, I’ve stayed silent. I’ve laughed at Asian centric jokes and even participated in them. I prioritized blending in versus causing a stir.
Minimize your reaction to the pain. Play it down. Shrug it off. That’s the approach I’ve taken my whole life. I’m realizing now that this approach of sucking it up doesn’t make me stronger, it numbs me to the injustice. It’s created a pattern of me disassociating from the discomfort. It perpetuates racism.
I’ve also never wanted to make a ‘big deal’ out of these things, because I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m also learning that I can feel angry, sad and hurt and those emotions don’t negate my gratitude.
I’m heartbroken over what’s happening to the Asian community. I’m also starting to recognize the feelings I’ve dismissed for so long need air to breathe. I stopped myself from crying multiple times yesterday as I was glued to the news about the shooting at the Atlanta massage parlors where six asian women were killed. I scrolled feed after feed of the different stories of asian hate crimes, including the 76-year old Chinese woman who fought back at the 39 year old attacker. I imagined how I’d feel if that was my mom or dad. And then I imagined how it must feel for the family members of these targets of vicious racism.
Today, after listening to more news about what’s happening, and receiving some loving texts from friends checking in, I cried. I feel the pain of the asian community, and am starting to feel my own.