(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this letter are not necessarily those of The PV Student Publication or its staff.)
For quite a while, I have been contemplating sharing my perspective on the recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country. It seems that nearly every day now I see some horrific incident perpetrated against an Asian American on social media or the news. The anxiety that the next victim will be one of my family members or friends has kept me up many nights, as has the anger I have accumulated at the injustice of it all. I’ve become frustrated trying to guess how long it will take until racist bigotry becomes a thing of the past and why on earth I can’t just flip some imaginary switch and make all these atrocities come to a halt. But the reality that I’ve come to understand is that this issue will be dealt with largely in small steps and actions, and I feel a duty to contribute to an issue that is so deeply urgent and personal to me.
Growing up, racism wasn’t a topic that I fully understood or knew how to deal with. Granted, race is no simple issue to discuss, but in elementary school, it was something I hardly even recognized; though I didn’t know it was wrong at the time, I remember feeling quite uncomfortable in these situations. I recall many of my classmates pulling back the corners of their eyes to mock East Asian eye shapes, but I didn’t even realize what that gesture entailed, and I’m sure my classmates didn’t either. My biggest questions now are how this “joke” spread to them and why no one ever intervened.
In middle school, I began to understand more about my identity and how it related to the comments and incidents I was involved in. I realize now why a random student I passed in the hall jokingly yelled at me to do his math homework for him, or why some teachers and peers would frequently confuse me for my fellow Asian classmates. I began to understand that I was a minority in a majority-white town, and that there were some things that I would have to experience that others would not have to. But I still hardly reacted to prejudice against Asians; it was something I thought I just had to silently endure. I thought of my parents and grandparents, who in all likelihood had to deal with levels of racism beyond my comprehension, yet whom I seldomly heard openly discuss the topic.
It is only recently that I’ve become upset whenever I see Asians casually derided with stereotypes by comedians or in TV shows and movies. But how many times have I seen those same caricatures growing up and simply shrugged them off as normal? How many times have I seen ridicule against my race be so normalized that even I hardly realized it was occurring right in front of my eyes? How much of that casual prejudice have I and other Asian Americans internalized?
I’ve come to realize the great satisfaction that comes with fighting against this hate. I remember two girls coming up to me and mockingly greeting me with “ni hao” while I was in a CVS with my family— then, I remember my older sister overhearing and walking up to the two and sternly reprimanding them. It was cathartic to finally see some retaliation against something I had never really seen countered. Many times, I felt ashamed that I never took the chance to call these people out for their actions and that by letting it happen, I was simply perpetuating a docile and non-confrontational stereotype of Asians and even letting anti-Asian racism go unchecked.
While I still have these regrets, I now realize that none of these negative experiences or my reactions to them were any fault of my own. I’m still constantly learning about my identity as a Korean American and how I should carry myself and promote a more equitable and tolerant world. I’m beginning to understand the depth of the stories my relatives have relayed to me. I remember the disgust I felt when one of my family members told me a friend of hers made a comment about how all Asian men are ugly, or another being told that she was “good-looking for an Asian.” Yet another incident involved a stranger yelling “c***k,” a racial slur aimed at East Asians, or another relative who nearly got spat on, both of the latter incidents occurring during the pandemic.
It pains me to wonder whether Asian kids growing up in this community are still experiencing the same difficulties that I did growing up, and to realize that the answer to this is that it’s most certainly true. It pains me to think that they will continue to be confused about what is happening to them or even ashamed of their own identity because the right conversations are not taking place and people are not aware of the implications of being an Asian in this country. But I still know there is hope and I realize more and more the power that educating and spreading awareness has on communities. The truth is that anti-Asian racism is still a seldom-discussed topic in this community and I maintain hope that by sharing my thoughts, I will help, even in a small way, to bring this very real and poignant issue to light.
Though there are some who will complain—“why make everything about race?” The truth is racism against Asians has been alive and well for centuries in this country and continues to pervade our society and be passed down through generations; I know it well because I’ve lived through it, as have my family and friends, and it’s not the duty of Asians to convince anyone of this. If we really want to make race a trivial subject, it is clear that this will not come through any method except recognition and tangible change.
And to my fellow Asian Americans, I want you to know that you are not alone in your thoughts and struggles. I am thinking of you and so are many others well-versed in our fight, which should give us all hope that positive change is coming as long as we participate in it. Despite the obstacles we face, we have persevered and are blessed with a unique perspective and culture, and for that, if not any other reason, we deserve to be proud of our identity as Asian Americans.