I was always aware that I was Asian, almost hyper-aware. I never had a moment of realization that I was the “other”; I just knew that I was. From a young age, which is a bit silly to say considering the fact I’m turning only 20 this year, I knew that non-Asian people, specifically White people, would see me as Asian first and a person second. I knew that my eyes were smaller and that my skin tanned like a golden egg tart from dim sum. I knew that I wasn’t white. Period.
Growing up, microaggressions were common, but blatant racism was a little bit rarer. I was used to these common phrases by adolescence:
- Wow, your English is so good. How come you don’t have an accent? I was born and raised in Florida.
- Where are you from? No, where are you really from? I’m from Orlando, Florida.
- Where are your parents from, then? My mom is from Wales and my dad moved around US military bases.
- Ugh, where are your ancestors from? They’re from Vietnam.
- Konnichiwa *followed by a bow* I’m Vietnamese.
- How do you say “xyz” in Chinese/ Korean/Japanese? I’m Vietnamese.
- Aren’t all Asian languages the same? No, they’re not, and I’m Vietnamese.
- Can you see at all? Yes, I can. I just have myopia.
- Do you eat cats and dogs? No, I don’t.
- ETC… (I’m tired)
I was in high school when I found my voice. I was loud and opinionated. I remember that White people treated me differently from the other Asian students. I wasn’t docile or quiet. I REFUSED TO BE THE MODEL MINORITY.
I was also in high school when I was first called a slur. I was fourteen and in secondary three. I was called a “J*P”. I still remember the way he told me that—he was a student in the same grade as I. No matter how much I asked him to stop, he would follow me and taunt me with a slur dating back to the Second World War. I was not really hurt by his words, but I was annoyed. I wasn’t even Japanese, you lazy fuck! I eventually told my counsellor who got the vice-principal involved. The perpetrator was initially supposed to get suspended, but his mother called the school while my counsellor wasn’t around and said that it was only a joke. Her son only got one day of suspension from school. If it was a joke, where was the punchline on my behalf? It was only then that I was hurt. I realized then that the system would never protect people who looked like me. I was also in high school when someone in my class declared during a discussion about racism that there was no racism in Canada. He then followed that up by saying that people are more racist in the country than in the city. I raised my hand and said that I agreed and disagreed. I countered that our high school wasn’t too far from a big city, Montreal, yet there were numerous instances of racism that happened. He was infuriated and began to attack me. He kept telling the teacher that I was wrong and that I was misunderstanding before continuing to yell at me. I tried to keep my composure as he singled me out. I eventually raised my voice at him with tears streaming down my cheeks and I said,
“I was a victim of racism at this school. The administration did nothing, how do you think I’m supposed to feel?”
Instead of backing down, he continued to attack. Only then did the teacher intervene as I was now having a panic attack and escorted to the bathroom.
These experiences have things in common:
- Both perpetrators were white males.
- They never apologized.
- The school did nothing.
I hope that both of them have grown since then, but I’m still trying to heal the wounds all these years later. These aren’t the first, but they won’t be the last, either. I am forever an outsider.
When I was old enough to date, I experienced a rite of passage for any female-presenting Asian person: FETISHIZATION. I remember going on dating apps and experiencing it for the first time outright. I remember being called exotic, as if I were some foreign fruit or dragon lady. The only exotic thing about me is that I was born in Florida. I was conversing with some guy I matched, and he told me, “You’re not like the other Asian girls.” To which I responded, “Is that a good thing?”. And he replied, “Yes.” I immediately unmatched, disgust pulsing through my body. Once again, I was othered and this time it was for being “not like other girls”. Fuck off, I am exactly like the other girls. I’m not even a girl.
Another time, I was chatting with a French guy —like French-as-in-the-people-who-colonized-Vietnam French. Right after I told him that I was Vietnamese, he sent me a message saying that he wished that France did a better job of controlling the colony of Indochina. In other words, “I wish my ancestors did a better job at colonizing and enforcing imperialism on yours <3”. Once again, I immediately unmatched him. I cursed myself out, saying that I should’ve known better. Colonialism and imperialism still impact Asian countries to this day. The intergenerational trauma caused is close to irreparable in some cases. Fetishization is only one side effect of the Western presence.
To see the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year angers and upsets me. In the faces of the victims, I see aunties, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers, grandpas, grandmas, mothers, fathers, and people who look like me. I live in fear that anyone in my family or community will be the next one appearing in the headlines. I fear that the next time, the victim won’t be so fortunate. I fear that I will become another statistic. Another name. Another face. Another person soon forgotten by next week’s or even tomorrow’s headline.
Then the shooting in Atlanta, Georgia happened. 8 people are dead and 6 of them were Asian women. The man who shot them was a White supremacist and not a lone wolf. This was a hate crime and I refuse to say his name. To see the sheriff say the shooter “had a bad day” makes my blood boil. People don’t shoot up massage parlours when they have bad days. When I have a bad day, I stay in bed and log onto check on my villagers in Animal Crossing. To reduce the heinous nature of the crime is horrible. I get sick whenever I see either of their faces. The gunman’s face is now engraved in my mind no matter how much I try to burn it out.
I know that these hate crimes aren’t new. LOOKING AT YOU MARKY MARK FROM THE FUNKY BUNCH. However, to see the rise and the lack of response from our officials hurts. I’m reliving high school but on a bigger stage.
My mind is tired from seeing images of anti-Asian violence constantly play out before my eyes. I’m tired of seeing performative activism. I’m just tired. I feel guilty that I cannot do more. I want to do so much, but these bones are not strong enough. I feel that I am letting my community down. I am letting down my ancestors who fought to free themselves from colonizers. I am letting down my parents who fled the war. I am letting everyone down. I am perhaps being too harsh on myself. It’s always like that.
Please educate yourself. Protect Asian Lives. You do not get to consume my culture and not protect the people themselves.
An Angry Asian Bitch