I Am Asian-American
As I’ve tried to gather my thoughts and feelings over the horrific events of last week, I keep coming back to this basic, unchangeable reality.
I am Asian-American.
As with so many events over the past few years, the predictable, awful churn of ideas and information has kicked into high gear. Was it racism? Was it a mental health problem? Was it a problem with shame regarding his behavior? Was it sexism?
The answer is “yes.” It is all of those things because we all navigate life through an intersection of everything that make us who we are. I cannot be a male apart from being an Asian American. It’s not possible for me to just be one or the other. I also cannot be an American separate from being a child of immigrants.
This past week—no, this past year—has shown me that I cannot choose to be just one aspect of my identity or the other, even if my safety and security are at risk. The phrase “China Virus” and other misguided rhetoric about the pandemic has made people that look like me into a public enemy. I have had elementary aged kids shout “China! China!” at me while I wait to pick up my kids from school. During this pandemic, I have definitely felt more Asian than American.
As a child of immigrants, I was raised to value safety and security. After all, my parents came to this country to establish a safe and secure foundation for us. We had no time for fear. Keep your head down, get a good education, do good work, and most of all don’t rock the boat. Standing up and speaking our minds isn’t worth the risk of losing our one shot at a better life.
We are lucky to be here.
One of our most admired traits is the perception that we work hard and never complain. We don’t complain because underlying everything we do is the belief that we are lucky to be here. It’s on us to validate our right to be here, and every incident of “othering” sets us back.
“Go back to where you came from!”
“Where are you from?”
I have heard all of these things before.
Growing up, no one ever bothered to answer the question, “Do we belong?” in the affirmative. The pain of this past year is rooted in my anxiety over the answer to that question.
That’s my experience as an Asian American male.
Asian American women are experiencing all of that, interwoven with the additional history and pain that comes with being a woman that looks Asian in America.
Six Asian American women were murdered last week. It has been stated by authorities that they were murdered because some man needed to fix his problem of sexual addiction. They were murdered in the same way he would clear his browsing history.
We don’t need to hear him say he was specifically targeting Asians. It is clear he saw the victims as objects, as things to purge to help him deal with his problems. His warped, dehumanizing objectification of Asian women is an all too familiar one.
There is a long history behind that view of Asian women in this country. In 1875, growing xenophobia and denigration of Asian women resulted in the Page Act, which prohibited the entry of Asian women “for immoral purposes.” The law ended the historically open immigration policy of the U.S. and also led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned people who look like me from coming to this country for “cheap labor.” The result? Reinforcement of the view that Asians don’t belong in this country, and an even greater fetishization and objectification of Asian women.
This sordid history, unaddressed and left to fester in the American psyche, helped pave the road to last week’s tragedy in Georgia.
So what can we do now in response?
First of all, as the Church, we lament.Dr. Soong-Chan Rah says, “Lament is the appropriate liturgical, ecclesial, spiritual response to the reality of pain, suffering, and crisis in the world. There are two parts to this definition of lament. The second part is the appropriate response. But before the response, there is the acknowledgement of the reality of suffering and pain. Take the time to listen and hear the pain of the Asian American community. Review the data on the disturbing spike in hate crimes and violent acts perpetrated on the AAPI community. And lament—not how it impacts you as a non-Asian person, but on how it has actually brought great harm and pain on the AAPI community.”
Secondly, we reflect.
What have we done intentionally or unintentionally to cause people harm, pain, or to feel like they might not belong?
Third, we stand.
We must learn how to stand with those who have no voice, or whose voices are only given the time the news cycle affords them.
Finally, we remember.
The victims of the horror in Georgia are all people made in the image of God, just like you and me.Soon Chung Park 박순정, age 74
Hyun Jung Grant [김]현정, age 51
Sun Cha Kim 김선자 , age 69
Yong Ae Yue 유영애, age 63
Delaina Ashley Yaun, age 33
Paul Andre Michels, age 54
Xiaojie Tan 谭小洁, age 49
Daoyou Feng 冯道友, age 44
In remembering their names, we acknowledge they were not objects or statistics but valued people, with families and life stories.
Americans who belong.
To learn more about resources for understanding and dealing with Anti-Asian violence, click here.