On Tuesday evening a white man went on a killing spree in Atlanta, shooting up three massage parlors, murdering eight individuals — many of them Asian. It was the most recent and visible instance of Asian hate crime that has been on the rise since last year, when Trump dubbed COVID-19 the “China virus.” According to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US, approximately 3,800 incidents have been reported in the past year.
So, on Tuesday, I cried.
I cried when my friend, who lives near Atlanta, messaged me first thing that morning out of the blue to ask, if I, here in North Carolina, was okay. I cried when they told me that they were going to text their roommate when they left their apartment to make sure they were okay so they can check in one another. They are Asian. I am Asian.
There’s a certain invisibility to being Asian in this country. We oscillate, existing in the in-between of Black and white. At times we’ve been demonized and made to seem unworthy of being in this country (see Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese internment camps and the Muslim ban); other times, we’ve been lumped with white folks in an effort to bring down other people of color, namely the Black community (see model minority myth).
Growing up, I would fall asleep praying that I would wake up white. That I would wake up with “normal” sized eyes. That my hair would be blonde. That I would have white skin. As I grew up, I came to appreciate, love and take pride in my Japanese heritage. It is me. It will be my children. It is everything.
And yet, when hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islanders started happening last year due to the pandemic and racist rhetoric, and again this year, I didn’t hear that much from the people around me — honestly, the non-Asian people around me — about it. We’ve been reaching out and supporting each other, sure. But there isn’t that same sort of rage like when there is a shooting of an unarmed Black person, and that’s to be expected. My experience as an Asian person is not the same as the experience of a Black person in this country, but it does hurt.
We are here. In fact, we’ve been here since the 1800s. We built a lot of the infrastructure that led to this country becoming what it is today (see California railroads).
All I — and other Asians, I suspect — are asking is for people to see us. Really see us.
An odd thing has been happening lately, or really for a large portion of my life — I forget that I am Asian. Not like I think I’m white or some shit like that. In that if I’m out hanging out with non-Asians and then I pass a mirror, I’m like, Oh yeah, I’m Asian. And honestly, I don’t know what that’s about. The simple answer is that I still have some deep-seeded self-hatred somewhere that I have to work through. But the other possibility is that I’ve made myself invisible due to the realities that come with existing in this country as an Asian. Every time I was met with a racist remark, a question of ,”Where are you from? No, where are you reallyyy from?” The insinuation that I am “other,” the narrative that I do not belong, that my race, my identity, I, am something to be demonized and thus erased, has long been a part of my story as it has for so many other POCs.
So. please talk about this. We matter. Don’t just give a shit when Kamala Harris makes history for becoming the first Asian woman VP (did you even know that?) or when you get excited about the new Thai place around the corner. Reach out to your Asian friends and make sure they’re okay. Ask them about their identity. Just in general, give a shit. Honestly, it’s all we’re asking for and all we’ve been asking for, for a long, long time.
To all my Asians out there, I love you. I love us. I love me. I see you.
To learn more and support Asian communities, visit stopaapihate.org.